4min readCareer 13 August 2019
Working Girl, 1988. It's a beloved little comedy centering on Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), new to the cutthroat business world and secretary to Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). When Katherine steals a tip from Tess to further ascend the corporate ladder, Tess "borrows" Katherine's identity to regain what is rightfully hers. The movie closes with Tess winning the showdown while a scorned Katherine fades into irrelevance with her tail between her legs. Oh, and Tess also manages to steal Katherine's boyfriend along the way. It is a heartwarming tale about two women battling for a seat at the boys' table that just so happens to be written by a man.
Pop culture, literature and real-world anecdotes have been telling us for decades that women are in competition with one another. The mythos surrounding Corporate America says that everything is dog eat dog, which often translates to woman versus woman. This, unfortunately, is not entirely untrue and is likely due to the fact there are so few seats available at the countless tables where women rightfully belong but are conspicuously absent from. It's a grueling climb to the top, and it seems like every woman for herself along the way. As of this year, women hold 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEO roles. That does not occur by happenstance; it is systemic. But we at VIPER want to have a hand in changing this.
VIPER is an all-female nightlife team in Los Angeles. We're no strangers to the occasionally nuanced, but more often blatant, patriarchal paradigms of working in a world that was built for men. Because of this, we understand and embrace the idea of collective evolution: leaving doors open for women wherever we can. From the beginning, we knew that we wanted our company's principles and culture to be unmistakably female-focused; it has never been a gimmick for us. As Co-CEOs and founders of VIPER (born under our parent company KCH Group), not only do we look to leave doors of opportunities open, we also work to empower the individuals who will eventually walk through them. While we are highly selective of who we employ, the number one characteristic we search for in a potential VIPER Girl is enthusiasm. There is so much room for growth, independence and creativity in our company; we seek out the people who will be inspired by the environment we strive to cultivate. This is why we never want our VIPER Girls to feel they've been simply "hired." We want them to feel brought into the fold.
We know firsthand that it is entirely possible for a woman to carve out a path for herself without the help of women in positions of power. We also know that it is entirely unnecessary. There is no hesitation on our end to lift other women up, nor should there be from any other females in high places. There is a huge danger in fanning the flames of resentment and competition. Every day, our bodies, our livelihoods and even our rights are threatened by middle-aged men in power. Furthermore, our victories are ridiculed and consistently opposed by those exact men who are maintaining a status quo that exists to hold all others back. We cannot keep putting up with relentless discriminatory restrictions placed on us in retaliation to our brave steps forward. We need to take back the standards and redefine them for ourselves, together. We don't require assistance from men in setting the bar. We set the bar higher than they could ever hope to. We want to prove, through positive influence, that professional growth and economic independence is possible for women and we want to show that it isn't without sacrifice or mistakes. Since day one, we've chosen to be transparent about our flaws as leaders. Our VIPER Girls have seen us stand up for ourselves and soar. They've also seen us fumble and deal with the fallout. In order for us to evolve together, we need to show one another that we don't have to be perfect to build a beautiful world. If the world were perfect, it would never be beautiful.
This is what we've always believed in... And maybe that's how we were always able to believe in ourselves. We started our company in our early twenties with only fifteen hundred dollars. In the last three years we have dominated the nightlife industry and gained clientele that is unmatched. We understand, now more than ever, the impact women are capable of if we support and provide agency for each other. If we can thrive in the male-dominated business environment, we can certainly work to fix it. We will expand our reach and bring insurmountable change. Our futures can be reimagined and renegotiated. We can do it, together. We must.
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When their frustration with current fabric care options had fashionistas Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd worn out, the two entrepreneurs made it their mission to start a new niche and launch their very own at-home, eco-friendly laundry detergent line.
With a mission of turning an everyday domestic chore into a luxurious experience, these entrepreneurs not only conjured up an idea for an unconventional product line, but they successfully built their business while turning down the offer of every venture capitalist to knock on their door.
Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd co-founded The Laundress in 2004 after dealing with their own personal frustrations with limited clothing care options. Whiting, having worked at Ralph Lauren in design and Boyd having worked at Chanel in corporate sales, soon accumulated a stylish wardrobe of designer pieces as perks of their jobs in the fashion industry. However, the duo quickly realized that the maintenance required for upkeeping these items were far from adequate. Laundry products on the market at the time did not cater to delicate textures and fabrics such as tweed blazers, cable-knit cashmere and silk blouses. Taking their clothing to the dry cleaners also proved hopeless as their clothing would often come back with stains or even be ruined despite the overload of chemicals used to clean them. With nowhere left to turn, Whiting and Boyd were determined to create their own laundry solutions designed for specific fabrics.
Not only did the entrepreneurs develop the business expertise needed to finally begin their own company, but they also shared the same educational background that equipped them to pursue their unconventional business venture. Whiting and Boyd met in college as students at Cornell University majoring in Fiber Science, Textile, and Apparel Management and Design. The pair was introduced by a mutual friend and instantly knew they would become business partners. "It was inevitable that we were going to have a business together. We are both extremely entrepreneurial by nature, and it was one of the connections that we instantly shared" said Whiting. After focusing on pursuing their own individual careers for a while, Whiting and Boyd quickly discovered a void in the fabric care marketplace when their clients would continuously inquire about the upkeep of their designer pieces.
The entrepreneurial duo was committed to researching and developing their own eco-friendly laundry products and soon launched their own at-home solutions for specific fabrics like silk, wool and denim, which ultimately eliminated the need for dry cleaning for those particular items. Despite their products filling a necessary void in the market, it quickly became challenging for the founders to persuade people to shift their focus away from traditional laundry care options in order to try their products. However, Whiting and Boyd believed in their mission for the Laundress and bootstrapped from the very beginning, refusing all venture capital funding with the goal of growing organically. In order to be successful, they had to get creative in fundraising. "In the very early days, we funded business development by hosting a 'for profit' party at a New York City restaurant and inviting friends, family, co-workers, etc. to support our new venture. That was pre-Kickstarter and an inventive way to make everyone feel a big part of our decision to be entrepreneurs," said Whiting.
While turning down VC funding as new entrepreneurs seems unimaginable, it is as equally unfathomable to consider how these women gained national traction without social media, all the while hustling to fund their business. For Whiting and Boyd, who started their business before social media existed, it was imperative that they promote their brand by leveraging the resources they had available to them. The CEO's were one of the first to sell consumer goods, let alone detergent, online with the goal of reaching a national audience. Despite having limited retail distribution, they leveraged the power of their website and became featured in publications on both a national and international scale. "Before social media platforms existed, we nurtured our own Laundress community with engaging content on our website, step-by-step tutorials on our blog, and one-on-one communication through our Ask The Laundress email," Whiting explained. With technology evolving and the birth of social media platforms, the founders expanded the conversation about their products from website, blog and email to platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
As female entrepreneurs, Whiting and Boyd faced additional hardships as misconceptions about their mission ultimately proved to disappoint more than it encouraged them. As women selling luxury detergent, there existed a preconceived notion that funding would be more easily attainable based upon their gender.
"Everyone thought it was easy to access capital as female entrepreneurs, but it was actually very challenging. We had this unique and disruptive idea within a very traditional space and it was hard to get people on board at first. It's been a continuous journey to educate people in fabric care and home cleaning," said Boyd.
Reflecting on their journey as entrepreneurs, the founders express no regrets about refusing to accept venture capital throughout the process. "Over the years, we could never quantify the cost benefit of VC funding so we continued to grow organically and remain independent by funding ourselves with credit cards and loans," explained Boyd. While their decision proved fruitful, the duo expressed their consideration towards other entrepreneurs who may not be able to fully fund their business as they grow. Because funding is a situational experience, entrepreneurs must ultimately do what is best for their business as no one path is optimal for every entrepreneur or every business.
With an increasing amount of women entering entrepreneurship with their own unique set of products or services, the CEO's offer up one piece of advice on how female entrepreneurs can be successful in their endeavors.
Whiting: "Our advice to anyone looking to build their brands: Have a strong business plan and vision. If you are not disciplined to write a business plan first then you are not disciplined to start a business. Get your ideas down so you ask yourself the right questions; it helps you get organized and plan next steps."
Boyd: "Create quality products without sacrificing the ingredients—no cutting corners. What you create should be the most important piece. Stay passionate, and trust your instincts and follow your gut—something woman are awesome at!"