Bras and BB cream: Why aren’t brands for women run by them?

2020/10/12 Innoverview Read

Brands’ executives Andrew Meslow and Stuart Burgdoerfer on the retailer’s second quarter conference call referred to its customers as “she” or “her” over 10 times. And for good reason: The company operates beauty business Bath & Body Works and lingerie behemoth Victoria’s Secret, both of which skew heavily toward a female customer.

Yet, nearly all of L Brands’ top leadership is male. In late September, the company’s top brand leadership included just one woman: Amy Hauk, CEO of Victoria’s Secret’s Pink. The CEOs of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret Beauty, the international business and the new company set to contain Victoria’s Secret are all men.

In general, retail’s executive ranks remain dominated by men, but in spaces like lingerie and beauty, pressure has begun to build around companies that create products for women and remain run by men. Abby Morgan, co-founder and chief marketing officer of DTC bra brand Cuup, created her company partly for that reason.

In her mind, she said, traditional brands weren’t providing what women wanted anymore. They were pushing up, when women wanted to embrace their natural shape. There was a design gap between what brands were offering and what new models like the bralette promised — a bra that functioned as much as a statement accessory as it did a supportive undergarment.

Describing her a-ha moment, Morgan talked about finding out she was a size 30E — something she “didn’t know existed” — and having only one purchasing option in her size as a result.

“It had molded cups and lace wrapped around, and it was in a band-aid nude color,” Morgan said. “And I bought it because it fit me and it was the most comfortable thing I had, but it was something that I didn’t really want to be seen topless in and so that was kind of an unlock.”

Startups have cropped up in both lingerie and beauty to take advantage of the disconnect between traditional brands and their consumers, with Marla Beck’s Bluemercury being arguably one of the first beauty challengers, but few large retailers are run by women. Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon, who has successfully run the major beauty retailer (previously led by interim CEO Dennis Eck, and Carl Rubin before him) since 2013, is a notable exception in the realm of sectors selling products for women that are run by men. Dillon’s high profile role may be a sign of change on the horizon.

“Investors are going to demand it. Boards are going to demand it. I think I see it as inevitable,” Bluemercury CEO and co-founder Beck said of women taking over leadership in the beauty space in an interview earlier this year. “The feminization of leadership at companies will come. It will come in beauty companies before other industries.”

Already, companies are recognizing the need for more diverse leadership, not only to appease customers that are dissatisfied with not seeing themselves represented in leadership, but also because it makes good business sense. In a May report from McKinsey & Company, the firm found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams outperformed those in the fourth quartile, with a 25% higher likelihood of above-average profitability.

Racial diversity, too, bolsters businesses, with the top quartile outperforming the fourth by 36% in terms of profitability. In fact, McKinsey found that racial diversity is more likely to create outperformance than gender diversity, but both provide a strong business case for diversifying leadership.

“The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability,” the report said, noting that the relationship between diversity and financial outperformance has gotten stronger over time. Still, laggards remain. Over a third of the companies McKinsey tracked for the report have no women on their executive teams.

While gender diversity is a topic that goes far beyond just the representation of women, given the difficulty of ascertaining if executives identify as non-binary or as a member of the LGBT community, this piece is centered specifically around the representation of women at these companies.

Karen Dahms, a research director for Diversity Best Practices, noted that at the least, retailers are beginning to pay more attention to who is buying their products and ensuring their workforce mirrors that, even if it’s only because it’s better for business.

“Fortunately there is a business case,” Dahms said. “Unfortunately we have to make the business case sometimes.”

Why men have stayed at the top of a women’s world

“I can go on this topic forever. It’s bull----,” Morgan said, pointing to Les Wexner’s rule at Victoria’s Secret, as well as men that run several other major players in the space. “That’s why the market is still in my opinion operating with a 50-year-old man mindset. And my issue with this is when men control a female-focused industry, it translates into a fundamental misalignment ... of what the actual product functions as and feels — the comfortability of it, the matronly look as you get to bigger sizes — there is an absolute fundamental misalignment if you cannot wear the product and actually translate that back into the design of these things.”

Looking at the reasons for why women have been held back over the years, there’s a variety of factors that play into it. At a base level, women are often pushed onto career paths that do not end up leading to the CEO spot. Specifically, roles that are not tied to the company’s income.

Lauren Bitar, head of insights at RetailNext, also noted that while many companies set quotas for the percent of underrepresented groups they should have in their organization, they don’t consider where in the company those quotas are being met.

“What you end up seeing in a lot of places is that women will more than likely end up being in more support roles versus the line roles,” Bitar said, meaning they’re less likely to make it to the CEO spot eventually. “You’re technically meeting your overall quotas, but not really level by level.”

In some jobs in retail, women are over-indexed. For example: as sales workers, and office and clerical workers, according to Retail Dive’s analysis of data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Andy Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, likewise said that 73% of employees in apparel retail are women, but that doesn’t mean they’re reaching the top ranks.

“These organizations understand that representation on the ground level is important … but that might not be reflected up at the C-suite,” Challenger said.

(Source:Retail Dive