Do We Need Women Leaders to Head Women's Brands for Women's Products?

Sophia Amaruso, founder of Nasty Gal and author of #GirlBoss is a billionaire entrepreneur of a brand for women. Photo by Tech Crunch. It’s not that often that women leaders serve on an all-woman board, encounter all-women conference rooms or even are part of an all-women team in the organization. Never mind the low odds of serving on a panel that consists entirely of women— unless it is a conference for women.Of course, that has not been historically true for men. Very often companies have all-male boards, male-only teams, and all-male conferences and panels.And yes, it is true, marketing aimed at women consumers is different than marketing aimed at male audiences of consumers. But when creating niche marketing for women for products that are traditionally catering to males, does a woman need to be at the helm?You might draw that conclusion from the first-ever all-female cover of Forbes magazine featuring nine billionaire women leaders and entrepreneurs.  Clare O’Connor writes: ”They include a Silicon Valley CEO, a supermodel-turned-mogul, and a billionaire inventor. Between them, there are as many Harvard MBAs as there are community college dropouts.”Four of the nine women leaders head companies with products aimed almost exclusively at women. There is Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx, a company worth $400 million; Sophia Amoruso, CEO of Nasty Gal and the creator of #GirlBoss brands; Toni Ko, founder of NYX Cosmetics and Katrina Lake, founder of Stitch Fix.Hoping to eventually join that list of billionaires and create a market for women in craft beers is a new player in a traditionally male industry.“Enter High Heel Brewing, a new producer run by female master brewer Kristi McGuire,” writes Kristen Bellstrom in Fortune. “As you might have gathered from the company’s name, McGuire is targeting the women’s market. In fact, USA Today calls High Heel the only woman-run brewery ‘to cater specifically to women.’ One of the company’s two beers, which are expected to hit shelves in June, is called ‘Slingback,’ after the shoe style, and the packaging is heavy on traditionally feminine colors like pink and purple.”Is this victory, logic, or sexism in reverse?According to Geri Stengel in Forbes, “Women currently control 51 percent or $14 trillion, of personal wealth in the U.S. and are expected to control $22 trillion by 2020, according to Financial Concerns of Women, a report by BMO Wealth Institute.”That may mean women leaders are investing in great ideas, and some of those ideas may be aimed at benefiting women.However, according to Center for Venture Research, angel investors saw shrinkage last year, about 3 percent from men.  Stengel writes, “The number of women angels shrunk even more  – 7 percent –  from 83,000 in 2014 to 77,000 in 2015. Women represented 25 percent of all investors in 2015 – about the same overall percentage of investors they represented last year.”Perhaps that may mean fewer products, services, startups aimed at women will get the green light. Perhaps good ideas are gender blind. Or maybe not.Katherine Hays, the co-founder and CEO of venture-backed Vivoom, tells Knowledge@Wharton that there is a gendered slant to what gets funded by venture capitalists. And as a female entrepreneur looking for funding—mostly from male venture capitalists, she felt that imbalance.[bctt tweet=“There is a gendered slant to what gets funded by venture capitalists.”]“Male VCs — and obviously most are — are very comfortable now giving female entrepreneurs capital for ‘girl stuff,’” she says. “Want to rent dresses or sell baby wipes as a subscription? No problem. The VCs ask their wives or girlfriends if the idea is cool, and they’re good to go.”Hays adds, “But female founders pitching hard-core, proprietary technologies — Vivoom’s platform, for instance, renders Hollywood-quality video in the cloud for millions of mobile users at a time — face an altogether different dynamic, she says. “Sometimes I believe if I were a 21-year-old male in a hoodie, Vivoom would be even more appealing to VCs,” she notes.According to the Wharton site, “A recent report from early stage investment firm Female Founders Fund provides a vivid illustration of just how few women-led startups are backed by venture capital. Of the more than 200 Bay Area startups that last year received series A funding — loosely defined by the Female Founders Fund as a financing round of between $3 million and $15 million led by an institutional investor — a mere 8 percent were led by women, a decline of nearly 30 percent from the previous year. The percent of New York companies founded by women that received series A funding last year was only a little better at 13 percent, the same as 2014, according to the study.”More from Wharton: “When it comes to backing women-led businesses, one of the biggest impediments is that there simply aren’t a lot of them to back. The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity data shows that while the percent of men starting new businesses from 2013-2014 increased by 21 percent, the percent of women starting businesses has stagnated.”So there are fewer funded women entrepreneurs perhaps because there are fewer female funders. And there are fewer female-backed projects to fund. Perhaps having more women on company boards will result in more products and services aimed at women’s needs and wants.[bctt tweet=“There are fewer funded women entrepreneurs perhaps because there are fewer female funders”]That is not certain, of course. But the positive result and what is quantifiable is that the slow move to have more women on company boards has resulted in better pay for top executives at those firms.According to the New York Times, “Appointing more women to corporate boards has long been viewed as a good thing for a company’s performance and for society as a whole. But gender diversity among directors carries another benefit, 2015 proxy filings show: a bigger paycheck for the company’s chief executive.”