I’ve got a bone to pick with the organic and natural industry. Where are all the women in leadership? Where are the female CEOs and women sitting on boards?
It’s 2018. We’ve had plenty of time to get this done.
The lack of representation of women (and people of color) in the natural industry is breeding bad behavior and an air of “I’m better than you” not only to women, but to the consumer in general. And some adjustments need to start happening. The year 2018 has brought with it a hyper-sensitivity to matters of social justice and representation for good reason. Other industries have had a moment where women are speaking up about their frustrations surrounding how they are treated by men…perhaps it’s time to start having that conversation in organics.
Where We Don’t Have Representation, We Don’t Have Respect
Representation allows people to have a voice at the table. And that’s important. But what happens if you don’t have a voice at the table? Well…important decisions are made that may not be in your best interest.
Last Thursday, I went to Expo West with 85,000 other people. I hosted their official twitter party, sat on a panel about digital storytelling, and hosted an influencer event. Expo West is literally THE place to go if you want to see all the organic and natural brands, new products, and get involved in conversations like sustainability, climate change, better gut health, organic food, CBD oil and anything else your heart desires. The expo has over 6,000 brands you can visit with, try their products, ask them about their business practices and ingredients, etc. There’s no other place like it.
But I refer to Expo West as “a big sausage fest” because all the people making decisions for all the companies there are men. And women stand at the sidelines as cheerleaders working in communications, social media and marketing…but not making any of the decisions. And when your products are purchased by women and there are no women making decisions FOR THEM, what’s actually happening? Well I’ll tell you what is happening…
Lots of safer products soured by sexism.
And then an interaction I had last Thursday was a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s literally the perfect example of how to not treat a woman in public and it was done by a powerful man in the space. So powerful that it’s almost unbelievable. But it happened.
How to Get an Influencer So Mad She Writes About You
Common decency is just a practice that keeps you out of trouble in social media. If you treat people with respect you’ll never find yourself as fodder for blog posts such as this. But there is always some asshole we can capture as an example of what to never do at an event with 85,000 people around. At least if you don’t want to be called out publicly. Okay ladies, here’s the juicy story…
FACEBOOK UPDATE SUNDAY, MARCH 11th (Click here to see original update on Facebook)
“You know when something happens to you and it completely throws you off your game so much you have to leave or you’ll erupt in tears?
That’s how I feel today and I’m leaving Expo early.
I had a really negative experience with two older men on Thursday. It made me feel very unsafe, scared and it was incredibly sexist and jolting. After it happened (which btw there was a witness in person and one on the phone) I went about my day angry. But my dreams took over last night to work it out of my head to let me know how scared this really made me feel. So my nightmares last night lead to me waking frightened, angry, frustrated….and then I can’t stop crying.
Then it made me wonder if what I felt has happened to other women. So I’d like to ask you…
Has an older man ever told you to shut up?
Let me rephrase this.
Has someone older with more power and prestige ever made you feel small and inadequate on purpose? And you let them because you were so shocked it was ACTUALLY happening? Then you get mad at yourself that you didn’t say more back? Like…f*ck I should have said this!
This is what I’m working out in my head. Here’s how it went down.
I’m in a hotel in a common area and find the only two spots to sit with a friend that was helping me. She’s awesome. We started talking about things we had to do when two older men sitting across from us interrupted our conversation to tell us to be quiet.
I’m not joking…in a loud hotel in a public space.
I’m looking at him like…do you not understand what public areas are for? And I’m hard of hearing so sometimes being quieter means that I can’t communicate at all. So effectively I’m being silenced.
I guess they thought their conversations and their livelihood was more important than mine. #obvi
Then I took a call from Penguin/Rodale, my Publisher, where we had to discuss some important things regarding my book tour. And again after about 5 minutes, this same guy turns to me again, raises his voice and tells me to be quiet.
And this gets crazier…he threatens me.
He told me that he was going to call security on me for being too loud.
Again, I’m dumbfounded. Perhaps this dude is confused. Does he think we are in a private area? Public areas are for public things. Does he not realize there are 85,000 other people at this conference.
No I’m sure he understands all that. He was mad because he feels like he’s more important than me…his conversation is more important than mine. He had to remind me he was more important and therefore this hallway was his.
How stupid of me!
So I’m like what is your problem?
And again more threats of calling security.
At this point I would WELCOME security because I’m starting to feel incredibly scared at how aggressive he was towards me and how unsafe I’m starting to feel. I look over at the other guy and he was reflecting the same anger and intensity.
Two older dudes in suits coming down on me…
What the actual hell is going on here?
Didn’t we just have international women’s day? Please tell me that wasn’t Thursday.
Then he says to me “what’s your name?!” as if he was going to try to get me fired.
Um, yeah I work for myself dude.
I’m Leah Segedie, what’s your name? Greg Horn.
Well well Mr. Horn…it turns out this guy has written a book. His publicist sent me a copy. It’s a “how to be healthy” book. Nothing earth shattering…I never used it for anything.
Perhaps he forgot his chapter on how positive vibes makes you healthy…you know like not attacking young women verbally in public hallways and making them feel unsafe and scared. That would be an example of an unhealthy behavior.
At least to the woman…
He was also ironically the ex CEO of a company we’ve had at ShiftCon before. *ahem Garden of Life*
Were they just acquired by Nestle? Yup they were.
Maybe Greg has forgotten women do most of the grocery shopping still.
No worries this brand will never be back at ShiftCon. Never.
Did I say never?
My 10,000 influencers are off limits now.
Word of advice for Greg. I’m not sure if you were ever taught how to treat women….or just people in general. But you may want to start surrounding yourself with some empowered women to teach you how to do that.
It’s 2018. We just had all the Weinstein drama. As women We’ve been listening to our voices. We’ve been finding our voices. We’ve been using our voices.
It’s not a good idea in this age to tell a woman to be quiet.
It’s not okay to be aggressive in public to a woman.
It’s not okay to make a woman feel unsafe.
And it’s not okay for your friends to back you up..,that’s also part of the problem.
I needed to get this off my chest. Thank you dear friends for listening.”
Since this happened, several women in the space came to me behind the scenes and thanked me for what I did. Instead of getting bullied and suffering in silence like we normally do, I exposed it out in the public for others to see. I’ve made this behavior unacceptable. And it’s not an isolated event. These women feel like they are getting left behind. They feel like the “big boys” treat them dismissively. They get passed over for promotions, get their ideas hijacked by other men during meetings, and aren’t paid as much. They don’t feel heard or valued at times and it’s frustrating for them. And the irony of the situation is it’s happening inside an industry that promotes itself as “better” and in the case of having female and minority representation in leadership positions, they are no better.
Even Pepsico has a woman of color as CEO.
Your Values Are Communicated by Your Behavior
This was just an isolated incident and although it doesn’t represent the natural and organic industry, in a way it really does. When I was asked to be silent in a public area, that was incredibly telling about the value two older men of power in the industry placed on my business conversations. And why is my business less important than theirs?
Was it because I was a young woman?
I think so and here’s why. When you attempt to shut down the conversation of a man like that you run the risk of elevating the situation to violence. I’ve seen this happen a hundred times in high school. And these older men have been around the block a couple of times. They understand that. But I wasn’t a man. I was a woman. Therefore, they felt it was safer for them to act aggressively towards me because I was less likely to break their face.
And they were right.
So really this was because I was female. And it’s a shame because I would expect someone in leadership in this industry to behave themselves ESPECIALLY at Expo West when everyone’s eyes are on them. But these two felt their behavior was perfectly acceptable.
I got a picture of them when I was sitting there just because it was so upsetting to me, I wanted to find out who they were.
Is this acceptable behavior? Well, it’s acceptable if it’s tolerated. It’s as simple as that.
And there was also an assumption that I didn’t have the power to put them into hot water. They were confident in that without even knowing who I was. Heck, they wanted to know my name to get me into trouble. That’s how confident they were that I was a nobody and they were somebody. And take a look around…I don’t blame them for feeling that way. Women are working in this industry, but not really leading it.
Where Are All the Boss Ladies Hiding?
From the top of my head, here is a list of the female CEOs that I know about. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, so please leave me a comment with other women that you know about, but even this list was hard to come up with. Disclosure: I’ve worked with or are friends with a ton of these women so that is why I was able to easily recall who they were.
Sarah Bird, Bhakti Chai
Naomi Whittel, Twin Labs
Priya Kahn, PhD, NutriGold
Nova Covington, Goddess Garden Organics
Rose Marcario, Patagonia
Stacey Kelly Egide, Andalou Naturals
Monica Leonard, Molly’s Suds
Amy Cazin, Primal Pit Paste
Gay Timmons, Oh Oh Organics
Marci Zaroff, Under the Canopy
Sheryl O’Loughlin, REBBL
Nicole Bernard Dawes, Late July
Angela McElwee, Gaia Herbs
Julie Bailey, Mountain Rose Herbs
Melinda Olson, Earth Mama
Gregg Renfrew, Beautycounter
Kim Gibson Clarke, Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss
Betsy Opt, Bestsy’s Best Organic Nut & Seed Butters
Susie Hewson, Natracare
It’s not a very long list at all. I wish it was longer. I think it can be.
The other day I had a conversation with a guy who worked for General Mills and his job was to find companies to acquire. I asked him if they had any focus on acquiring companies owned by women or people of color…and he looked at me like I was nuts. So there is your answer.
It’s not happening.
How to Make Space for More Women Leaders
What do I think the solution is? Well for starters, I want to see more women serving on board of directors of these companies. There were over 6,000 companies at Expo West this year. Could any of them make a promise to me that they will bring in other women on their board? At least two if they are small. If you have a board of thirteen, perhaps having closer to five women would be better. I’m thinking at least 30%.
Will other companies “out” themselves as a company that has women or people of color on their board of directors? I want to know who you are.
And then let’s make a list of all the #bosslady women we have today and support them. And then another list of amazing women who SHOULD be serving on boards because they are worthy and amazing and shop that list around to companies as a “you may want to know about these women because they kick ass and are amazing!” Then as women we can go purchase their products, which is basically like voting about how we feel by using cash–that’s what men understand.
Women supporting other woman publicly–That’s what my solution is.
Just One Last Thing…
The other day, I was at my son’s elementary school. One of his little girlfriends came up to me and gave me a hug and said “I just realized what I want to be when I grow up..wanna know what it is?” And of course I was interested and said “Sure!” Then she told me she wanted to run a company one day and be in charge of all the decisions. She wanted to be a boss.
I told her she would make an amazing CEO one day and that it was a very good choice for a career…she could do anything with her life.
Don’t make me a liar!
Please comment below with any companies you know of with at least 30% women on their board of directors. I’d also like to know about more companies that have women calling the big shots as CEO. Tell me about more of them. And I’d also love to hear your experiences. Has this happened to you? Do you feel supported by natural industry? Are you happy with the way things are right now? Do you think change is possible? What are your ideas on how to get us there. Tell me!