Over the last two years, we’ve been faced with several social challenges such as the Black Lives Matter movement, #MeToo movement, and, of course, this year’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. With such important issues on the table, CEOs and business leaders are more tested now than ever before on how they publicly respond—if they do at all. At Marie Claire’s 2022 Power Trip conference, MC’s Senior Editor Tanya Benedicto Klich sat down with four women who are using their companies as a vehicle for change. Panelists Mutale Nkonde, CEO and founder of AI for the People, Laura Modi, CEO and cofounder of baby formula company Bobbie (opens in new tab), Amira Fouad (opens in new tab), Director of Society Communications at Google, and Sali Christeson, CEO and founder of women’s workwear line Argent (opens in new tab), spoke on how they are hoping to make a difference and what the cost of staying silent is for businesses.
At AI for the People, one of their core missions is to increase civic engagement around algorithmic bias, says Nkonde “So many people in this room are either investors or they're building tech products and or they're thinking about ways of scaling into markets, but not always thinking about the ways that technology itself can express racial bias, can express gender bias, can express all the things.”
In 2020, Nkonde and AI for the People researched the U.S. Top 50 companies’ $50 billion pledge to fight racial injustice. What Nkonde found may not be all that shocking: Gen Z-ers really care about companies that do what they said they're going to do and how a company treats their employees. But what may come as a surprise is that of the $50 billion pledged, only $250 million has been released to the public, “with a majority not going to systemic change,” Nkonde pointed out.
Meanwhile, Christeson got inspired after reading an “insane” statistic on how women are judged based on what they wear: How you dress impacts "your bottom line of your lifetime...20 to 40 percent," she said. So, in 2015, Christeson quit her job in tech and went on a personal mission to find clothes that were catered to working women, which became her workwear line, Argent. Fast forward to 2020, and Argent partnered with Supermajority, a non-profit focused on bringing women together and harnessing their power as the majority of voters. The partners launched a pink suit on the day of the vice presidential debate to serve as a visual representation of that movement. And it worked. “We drove hundreds of thousands of women to phone bank, call, and really drive impact,” says Christeson. Now in 2022, Christeson uses her brand to continue her work supporting women. “We exist to give women the tools that they need to optimally navigate their careers, starting with the product, which is a physical connector, [a] reminder that when you are the only woman in the room, you know there's an army of us behind you and that you're paving the way.”
As for Modi, she told the crowd that, “You don't grow up dreaming of starting a powdered milk company,” but she did anyway—and has since taken over the industry with her line of organic formula, Bobbie. Since launching in 2021, Bobbie has become the fastest-growing formula since the ‘80s, she said. After this year’s baby formula shortage, Modi was even more fired up to change her industry. “It was entirely in me to fight for change in this product and industry. [An industry] that we quickly came to learn was complex, very controversial, and—now you've all come to learn—even slightly corrupt. And, my God, did that fuel me to know to drive change,” she explained. With the help of celebrity voices like Tan France and Ashley Graham, Bobbie has co-developed a bill to improve domestic manufacturing practices, which will be on the House floor in the coming weeks.
Lastly, as the Director of Society Communications at Google, Fouad worked to implement tangible differences for the company's employees and users following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. From a tech perspective, Fouad wanted to ensure that when anyone wanted to find information on a hugely important decision like abortion, that information was readily available to them. Secondly, Fouad wanted to ensure that that person’s privacy was protected. “So we went ahead and let the courts in the world know that if anybody were to go ahead and make that search, that that privacy was theirs, to have that choice was theirs to have, and that they wouldn't be able to have that information shared,” she said. “It wasn't about the PR wins, it was very much about doing the right thing.”
While how these companies advocate for change may look different, all four women agree that silence is not an option in this day and age. “I think historically companies have opted on the side of silence and I think that today's consumer wants to know where companies stand on issues they care about; if their values align,” explained Christeson. Nkonde added that if companies stay silent, they won’t be able to capture future markets. “If you look at even the midterms and the way Gen Z showed up and the issues that they showed up for… If you're showing up for women, you're showing up for the future market. If you're showing up for the environment, you're showing up for the future market. If you're innovating to the fact that we are gonna be a much more brown country in the next 20 years, you're showing up for your market.”
Brooke Knappenberger is the Editorial Fellow at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from books and celebrities to fashion and beauty. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. Brooke is a proud St. Louis native and is currently living in New York City. Outside of work, you can find her either jamming out to Drake, reading a Sarah J. Maas novel, or shamelessly online shopping.
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