How A Humiliating Boardroom Experience While Pregnant Sparked A Business Idea


Once upon a time, there was a woman in a man's role. As she advanced in her career, she increasingly found herself the lone woman in the room. She became used to sticking out, but worked hard to make sure no one noticed that she noticed. One day, she became pregnant...with twins...and there was a whole new meaning to 'sticking out'.

When she was 7 months pregnant, her company began acquisition talks with a much larger company. By this time, she had gained so much weight that very few things fit her, including her shoes. She found that the only shoes that she could wear were house slippers, and so she went to an important meeting, with the CEO and CFO of a large multinational company wearing her house slippers. She was the only woman in the room, and she was the only one who had to wear slippers. She did not feel confident. She did not feel like a powerful executive who was getting ready to make a big deal. She felt like less, and she felt very conspicuous.

Woman after woman told me where they usually shop and what they usually spend on clothes, and then described how they completely changed their entire shopping strategy after they got pregnant.

That is my story and although the men in the meeting could not have been kinder or cared less about my slippers, I still felt humiliated. At the exact moment when I wanted to look and feel like a real badass, I felt instead very, very human. As big as I was, I felt quite small.

But from that experience, my business was conceived. I didn't even fully realize the impact it had made on me until several months after my twins were born. My husband and I had put the boys to bed and were enjoying a glass of wine together when he asked me what I wanted to do next. He knew I had grown bored at my job, but it was just so convenient that it was hard to give it up. Being the supportive partner that he is, he challenged me to get back the fire that I always had about my career. The answer flowed so easily from my lips, and yet it almost surprised me to hear it. “I want to start my own company," I said.

The answer flowed so easily from my lips, and yet it almost surprised me to hear it. “I want to start my own company," I said.

Photo Courtesy of Hey Mama

From there, I told him everything that I thought was broken in the process of buying maternity clothes and how I would change it. I hadn't even realized how much I had been thinking about it, but it all seemed so obvious to me. Retail was changing, the sharing economy was growing and millennials were embracing new ecommerce brands. All of this was happening, but maternity was the last area to adopt the trends, which really was no surprise. Maternity seemed like it was always the forgotten stepchild of fashion. I wanted to change all of that. I wanted to bring the best brands together all in one place and create a boutique experience with outstanding customer service. I wanted to give women a new way to buy maternity and create a marketplace for gently worn maternity clothes. I wanted a store that recognized that getting dressed after pregnancy, when your body hasn't yet gone back to its previous shape and you may need functional clothes for nursing, was even harder than getting dressed during pregnancy.

Photo Courtesy of Hey Mama

One of the things I really wanted to address head on was the guilt factor in buying maternity. When I was exploring the idea of Mia Tango, I interviewed dozens of pregnant women and new moms. I started out asking them to tell me about their pregnancies. Every last one of them described their pregnancy in joyful terms. Mind you, many of these women suffered horrific physical effects: debilitating morning sickness; a full body rash that itched like mad; preeclampsia; gestational diabetes. These are not little inconveniences – these are painful and frightening experiences – and yet, the women still felt their pregnancies were wonderful, because they all know, as every mother does, that the birth of a healthy child is a miracle.

Then I asked them to tell me about getting dressed for pregnancy and I got an entirely different reaction. Frustration. Resentment. And Guilt. A lot of guilt, which is kind of bullshit given the burden they're carrying. Woman after woman told me where they usually shop and what they usually spend on clothes, and then described how they completely changed their entire shopping strategy after they got pregnant.

They went from buying high quality, well made and fashionable items to cheap basics. Most often, the brands they knew and loved didn't care maternity, so they were forced to shop brands they weren't familiar with. The service was nonexistent at most big box stores and online, and they felt confused by what to buy and how to make a new wardrobe. The bought as little as they could get away with, focusing on plain tees, leggings and jeans. The result? They hated their clothes. The poor quality made their sensitive skin itch. The colors faded and the materials pilled and sagged. They wanted to burn their clothes in the end. Worse yet, like me, they felt like a lesser version of themselves. At the exact time they should have felt their most beautiful, they felt anything but.

I thought about all the things we sacrifice when we become pregnant, from daily indulgences (coffee and wine) to the embarrassing (bladder control) to the obvious (our former shape) and to the extraordinary (physical complications). So why, in the name of everything that is good, should we feel guilty about wanting to feel comfortable and look stylish?

The answer flowed so easily from my lips, and yet it almost surprised me to hear it. “I want to start my own company," I said.

From there, I launched Mia Tango and it has become my passion. We started with only four designers and limited inventory, but we've since expanded to carry almost twenty brands from all over the world. We've added pretty and functional lingerie, every day basics, performance athletic wear and diaper bags. We generate content for mothers by mothers, and we've got much bigger plans. We will continue to add cool new designers that make the best clothes - clothes that make you say, “can I wear that even if I'm not pregnant?" (Answer, yes! I do). And we'll continue to innovate how women buy and use maternity clothes.

In the end, I'm grateful for the slippers and for being the elephant in the room. It led me to Mia Tango and opened the door to a whole new community of women that I work with, from our suppliers, to influencers who tout our store, to our web designers and of course, to my incredible co-founder, Stephanie. Just when I felt like I'd reached the top of my career in finance, I found this new opportunity that has completely re-energized me. At times, it keeps me up at night.

Founding a company is a crazy ride and the hardest thing I've done in my career, but the personal and professional growth has been simply awesome and I'm so happy that I went for it. I wonder if Robert knew what he was starting when he asked that simple question: “So, what do you want to do next." My guess is that he did.

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Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.

Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."