In the fall of 2005, a wise, kind editor introduced me to my now dear friend Camille Ricketts. At the time, he simply thought two young journalists might benefit from knowing each other. There was no way to know we’d spend the next decade writing back and forth, weathering the toughest moments in our careers together and bouncing our biggest decisions off each other. In chats and emails, we shared our fears and uncertainties about working in journalism. Both of us had landed at The Wall Street Journal around the same time, and we talked often — her writing from London, me from Hong Kong — about what we wanted from our professional lives and how we planned to get there, often through the lens of our shared passion for gender equality. At the time, we couldn’t see how our work and friendship might eventually intersect with that world.
Even though our careers eventually went separate ways — I stayed in journalism while Camille went into marketing and venture capital — we continued to support and cheer each other on personally and professionally. Perhaps more importantly, we continued to trade emails about the issues most important to us: representation and equal opportunity for women and minorities. While we were both happy and flourishing in our respective careers, neither of us could shake the feeling that we could be doing more to contribute to the causes that mattered to us most.
A few years ago, we started emailing about an article I’d spotted in The Washington Post. In it, former Wall Street CEO Sallie Krawcheck said, “We may be at a tipping point. I’ve had numerous groups of women say to me they would stop buying from a company if they understood what their gender makeup was. That information’s not available.”
As a journalist, this statement really struck me. Was that information really not available? After some quick research, I had my answer: The data was largely available, at least for boards and executive teams. It just wasn’t all in one place — which kept it from being useful in the way Krawcheck described. Excited, I dashed off a note to Camille. What if we created a site that tracked how individual organizations performed on the metric of gender parity in the C-suite and boardroom? What if we organized it by brand, not just company, to make the data more relatable to a popular audience — people who make purchasing decisions every day?
She responded almost immediately. “I think you and I need to sink our teeth into something that matters to us,” she wrote. “I’m in if you are.”
Thus began our journey of nights and weekends pecking away at a spreadsheet. In 2015, we won a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Fund at the International Women’s Media Foundation, which allowed us to hire a fact checker and build a striking, data-intensive, visually interactive site looking at how over 2,000 major consumer brands perform when it comes to female representation in top leadership. We brought on the amazing Ipsheeta Furtado as our technical advisor and the incomparable Annie Siebert as managing editor. We launched the site in June 2016 with some interesting analysis that led to press from outlets including Fortune, Forbes, CBS News and CNNMoney, a mention in a TED talk. Incredibly, Sallie herself even gave us a shoutout!
To sum up our findings — and perhaps to no one’s surprise — very few women are in leadership at major consumer brands. Shockingly few companies that produce and market products explicitly for women — think women’s apparel, beauty products, makeup — are actually steered in a meaningful way by them. Women control an estimated 70–80 percent of the purchasing power in the U.S. alone. Yet their board representation in the S&P 500 is around 22 percent.
Think about that: 80 percent of the power, 22 percent of the representation.
At LedBetter, we see that disparity and are seizing the chance to bridge the gap. In what’s perhaps a callback to our journalistic roots, we want to shine a light and bring transparency and accountability to the table on matters of diversity and equality. So now we’re building LedBetter out further, working to create the first fair, data and fact-driven way to assess how organizations are performing when it comes to diversity and parity. We want to see a society in which leaders reflect the communities they serve. And we’re excited to announce that today, we’ll be doing this work as new members of the Matter Eight accelerator cohort.
In Silicon Valley — and within our industries of news and media — we’ve seen companies rocked by sexual harassment scandals, racial discrimination lawsuits and pay equity problems. Brands and entire industries have been tarnished. Careers and lives ruined. Abuse, assault, harassment and denial of the same opportunities afforded those in the majority. This behavior is completely unacceptable. But it’s not just tech or media that’s the problem. While they rightfully catch flak, it’s worth noting is that they’re not unique in their poor performance. As our research has shown, disparity and a lack of diversity is rife in every industry, from energy to transportation to banking.
At LedBetter we’re committed to contributing in a meaningful way to the progress and momentum around diversity and equality. Even with all the attention focused on this issue, we continue to see major brands publish racially offensive advertising, a lack of representation in leadership, and pervasive problems with discrimination, harassment and pay equity. This must change.
That’s why we’re excited to be a part of Matter Eight. The accelerator is dedicated to building a society that’s more informed, inclusive, and empathetic. We share those values, and we can’t wait to use the next few months to build our work out further, refine our ideas and find ways to engage organizations and consumers in a shared journey towards progress.
At our current pace, women are still 100 years away from equality. That’s just women, to say nothing of other underrepresented groups. We want to help create a world led better, and we’re not going to wait 100 years for it.
You may have heard of the Hollywood campaign to push back against sexual harassment and assault in the industry, #TimesUp. We agree. Time is up for the powerful organizations that shape our world to do better. And the time is now. We’re more excited, proud and energized than ever to help create change we want to see, and we’re thrilled that Matter will be a partner on our journey. Their program includes design thinking workshops, powerful mentorships and a rigorous programming schedule culminating in two Demo Days (SF and NYC, be on the lookout!) Being a part of the accelerator gives LedBetter the support and structure that we need to take root and grow from a passion project into a successful company. We hope it’ll be a catalyst in our drive to create not just a startup, but real, lasting change.