Opinion: It’s Time to Start Holding Male-Led Corporations Accountable

It’s tempting to be thrilled every time a woman is named an executive of a company.

This is something that has been happening more frequently in recent years, and it’s exciting that women are finally staking a place in the power structures of corporations. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”

However, when Revlon named Debra Perelman as its first female CEO, it sparked a few questions for me. Revlon is a cosmetics giant and is the parent company of dozens of drugstore makeup brands – brands whose primary customers are, you guessed it, women. Perelman’s promotion to CEO was a seeming moment of progress that hid a more insidious truth – for the first time in its 86-year history, the mostly-male board decided that finally, in 2019, a woman would be able to run a company who targets and is overwhelmingly supported by women.

Revlon is hardly the only offender, however. Almost every cosmetics, fashion and health company you can imagine is male-dominated at the corporate level. Victoria’s Secret famously had their transphobic and fat-shaming CEO Ed Razek resign, only to immediately replace him with another man. In a truly ironic twist of fate, men even run most of the tampon companies in the United States. Summer’s Eve, the feminine care, company has – you guessed it – a man at its helm.

The problem with these numbers isn't that men can’t inherently run companies supported by women. Companies worry about profit, and if a man is truly best for the job, then, of course, he’s going to be chosen to lead it.

The problem instead is that men in both executive positions and on corporate boards are profiting from deeply ingrained patriarchal beauty standards that are designed to shame and humiliate women into constant consumption. The average American woman will spend $300,000 on cosmetics in her lifetime, and that is on the less sinister side of things. Summer’s Eve, the feminine care company I mentioned earlier, peddles in shame, humiliation and fear. At the very least, their foundational message – that vaginas are gross and dirty –  is sexist garbage that makes women self-conscious. At the worst, their products like douches and deodorant sprays can cause irritation, infection and pelvic inflammation. Woman are spending more and more each year on makeup, clothes, shapewear, push-up bras, waxing, feminine care products and now, plastic surgery. Although these are perfectly acceptable personal choices, what is unacceptable is the voices from the top telling women we need these things to be desirable, successful, attractive and feminine, all while they rake in billions from our insecurity.

The good news, however, is that the hypersexualized and airbrushed images I remember so clearly from my childhood and early teens are beginning to fade away. Companies like Victoria’s Secret, built on size exclusivity and male-gazey sexuality, are seriously struggling –  VS just recently had to close 53 of its stores. Ad campaigns led by women tend to be more realistic and show things that make the patriarchy shudder with fear: cellulite, stretch marks, fat, blemishes and body hair. Plus, some of the most socially-conscious and consumer-friendly companies on the market right now are run by women. We shouldn’t be mistaken: companies still exist to make a profit. However, there is a growing desire for companies to be more in touch with their consumers and to make a positive social impact, whether it be through inclusive sizing, better shade ranges, diverse models and corporate philanthropy. Some of my own favorite brands have taken this message to heart; ThirdLove, Glossier, Flesh Beauty and Fenty Beauty, and they all unsurprisingly led by women.

It’s important to remind ourselves, even when it seems impossible, that we have the power in this situation. Our consumer choices determine whether we allow companies to continue to get away with shaming us for our body size, skin tone or anything else the men that run these industries have decided makes us undesirable. Beauty standards aren’t just archaic, they are actively upheld for their profitability. Knowing this, it’s essential to use your spending power to demand companies work for us rather than allowing the men at the top of society to continue to tell us what beauty is or is not. The lack of female representation on corporate boards goes hand-in-hand with a lack of inclusivity in their products. We need to demand that women leaders are an equal part of the businesses we finance. Frankly, brands that both refuse to recognize women as both competent leaders and worthy consumers don’t deserve our support.