Meet Iris Kuo and Camille Ricketts, Creators of LedBetter
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]D[/dropcap]id you know women only make up 4.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs? The stats around women in corporate leadership are discouraging, to say the least, and it can often feel like there’s little we can do as people who aren’t industry decision-makers. But in reality, some of our everyday choices can affect women’s opportunities! One of the best ways you can have your voice heard on this issue is to vote with your wallet. What better way to support women in leadership than to give your money to companies with women leaders? That’s what LedBetter wants to help you do. The women behind the incredible initiative have created a database that shows how many women leaders the world’s top companies have. This week, we chatted with Iris and Camille about feminist activism, doing the tedious work, and what’s next for LedBetter.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]
Introduce yourselves! Tell us who you are and what you do.
We're Iris Kuo and Camille Ricketts. Iris is a writer and journalist who has written on business, race and energy for the past nine years for publications including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. She just completed a Knight-Bagehot fellowship at Columbia University. Camille is a marketing leader who founded and edits First Round Review, the technology and venture capital publication at First Round Capital in Silicon Valley. Previously, she worked at Tesla, Google, The Wall Street Journal and Kiva. Both of us are extremely passionate about diversity and representation of women and minorities in business, government and beyond. We also love cake and bourbon.[divider type="white" spacing="5"]
Can you tell us a bit about how you define feminism and how that plays a part in the work you do?
We see feminism as a movement to guarantee equality that has long been denied to women. This includes equal pay for equal work, equal representation on boards and governments and equal treatment - as opposed to sexism and double standards. We both proudly count ourselves as feminists, and feel it's unfortunate that feminism sometimes takes on these negative connotations that makes women and men who would otherwise call themselves feminists avoid doing so.
LedBetter got started when a few years ago, Iris was reading a 2013 Washington Post interview with former Sanford Bernstein CEO Sallie Krawcheck, who after making a name for herself on Wall Street now runs the women-focused companies Ellevate and Ellevest. She made the comment that a lot of women tell her they'd shop differently if they just knew whether or not they were supporting products made by women-led companies. Iris immediately emailed Camille and suggested that we could put together a database that would showcase exactly the information that Krawcheck was talking about. We plugged away at the spreadsheet on nights and weekends, and had a few volunteers step up to help out. Last year, the International Women's Media Foundation awarded Iris a $10,000 grant to build a web application to display our data. We were thrilled when Krawcheck tweeted about LedBetter![divider type="white" spacing="5"]
What's the most challenging part of your work? The most rewarding?
The toiling over spreadsheets and data is probably the most challenging. Iris' head nearly exploded while trying to run spreadsheet analysis on the data in preparation for our launch - nothing was really working and it took a solid day of trial and error in Google Sheets before everything came together. It can also be challenging to come up against people who don't feel women should be in power or that there aren't good reasons problems like the wage and leadership gap exists that should force institutional and personal reexamination of policies and biases.
What's been really rewarding is the feedback we've gotten, which has been awesome. It's been really encouraging to see men reach out and ask how they can help, and to hear from women who say they won't shop at certain brands any more. We were also really fortunate in that our launch was covered by Fortune, Forbes, The Huffington Post and others, which was a nice validation of all of the work we've being doing for the past few years.[divider type="white" spacing="5"]
What advice would you have for other women who are feeling discouraged about the lack of women in corporate leadership?
Focus on how you can change what you can control. We suggest reading books like "Playing Big" by Tara Sophia Mohr and resources like Lean In circles and Ellevate to think about ways you can propel yourself into the top echelons of business and/or government. Without you thinking that it's possible for yourself - and pursuing it - we won't ever see meaningful change. We really encourage women to see themselves as future leaders and not limit themselves to, say, where they are now. Encourage other women to do the same. Support is important. And, of course, consult the LedBetter Index about where to shop to support companies that have promoted high numbers of women to their top management positions![divider type="white" spacing="5"]
Any upcoming initiatives or projects our readers should know about?
We're planning to expand the database to include more companies and types of companies and different metrics, and hope to one day also cover other institutions such as governmental ones. Both of us also care deeply about racial equality. LedBetter is currently looking at ways to institutionalize our mission and become a bigger force in the fight for equality. So stay tuned!