I didn't really expect to start my Monday writing about living my company and personal values, but sometimes what you need to talk about just comes to the surface at the right time.
One of the core values of Queen of Cups Lingerie is the empowerment of women in all things.
Sounds wonderful, right? Well, sometimes that means you have to make uncomfortable choices to live that value. In the past several days, I've been challenged to live that value twice, and I wanted to share my experience with you.
Sexy as a side effect, not a focus
"Do you make sexy lingerie?"
We get this question infrequently, but when we do, it is usually from a person looking to purchase lingerie for their partner, not for themselves.
The short answer is, yes. It is also no.
An empowered, confident, comfortable woman is, in our view, sexy as hell. That's why we do what we do. Do our bras look good? Yes. Do many of our clients feel attractive wearing them? Hell yes.
So do we make sexy lingerie? The answer is Yes.
It is not our company focus to make seduction lingerie. If that's what you're looking for, there are many options out there for you.
One of the reasons we started this company is that mainstream lingerie companies, for too many years, have been making products that visually appeal to men and are not designed for women's comfort or needs. That's why companies like Victoria's Secret are failing, while women-centric brands are growing and thriving. This doesn't mean there isn't a market for seduction lingerie. It doesn't mean that seduction lingerie can't be empowering. It just means it's not our thing.
So do we make sexy lingerie? The answer is No.
When you are a small company in a recession, and someone wants to give you money to make a product, it can be hard to say no.
So I explain to the people that make these requests what we make and why. If it is a man purchasing for woman, I explain the styles and types of products we have, and suggest that, if they want to purchase lingerie for someone else, they instead buy a gift certificate so I can work directly with wearer on a product that they will feel empowered wearing. Will I make that sale? Highly unlikely. But I'm not compromising our values to make a dollar.
That's the first instance of living that core value.
Speaking truth to power
The second example happened in a business training session I was attending for women entrepreneurs. The experienced, knowledgeable coach delivering this training happened to be a man, but this isn't the issue - he has knowledge to share and I was there to learn it.
In this particular session, we were learning about identifying our core customer(s) and how we should keep them front of mind in our strategic business planning. It's a solid strategic concept. Think Amazon and their empty seat in every meeting representing the customer.
However, as an example, the coach spoke of a company whose core customer was a woman. The leadership team of this business chose to represent that core customer with an inflatable French Maid sex toy that sat in their meetings.
Nevermind how poorly they must understand their core customer if they think she can be represented by an object for male sexual gratification. The example was completely, entirely, and wholly inappropriate to use in any setting, but in particular to a group of women entrepreneurs. It's freaking 2020, not 1970. This is exactly the type of culture that keeps women under a glass ceiling and out of the c-suite. I certainly wouldn't want to be part of a company leadership where I had to sit with a blow up doll every meeting.
My stomach rolled and I felt physically sick when this happened. Did other women on the call feel the same way? I don't know. However, by my values, and by the company values, it was wrong.
The coach was the authority in this situation. We were the students. So I needed to speak truth to power.
I started drafting an email immediately. It took several attempts to get the clarity I wanted, but I sent it as soon as the training session ended to the coach, and to the organizer of the event.
What did I say? I identified the specific example that was problematic, and why it was problematic. I explained how it made me react, both the physical reaction and how my trust/respect for the coach was reduced as a result of it. It ended with the hope that the example would never be used again. It was short and to the point.
Fifteen years ago, I would not have been able to write that message. I would have let it go, because I wasn't in a position of confidence in myself to stand up that way. I would have let my emotions overwhelm me, and rage about it to a friend, but that would have been all.
I didn't write a lecture on systematic patriarchy (though I could have.) I didn't continue on into a critique of every other issue I had with the training content. I didn't turn it into a personal attack. I made my point clearly and hit send.
Given my past experiences in speaking truth to power, I was expecting a non-apology apology along the lines of "I'm sorry you were offended or uncomfortable." That was exactly the response I got from the organizer of the event, much to my disappointment.
However, the response from the coach was wonderful. He apologized, agreed that the example should not have been used, that he would not use it again, and he would examine his materials for anything similar.
I responded with:
Thank you for your apology, and your quick response.
The empowerment of women, in all things, is one of the core values of my company. As you taught, if I’m not willing to live that value, it isn’t one.