Just a few months ago it seems like a good chunk of the American-based internet imploded when Mode Media shocked the blogging community by collapsing on itself, leaving a mountain of debt and unkept promises.
It was the kind of shut down that gave people Enron-like jitters — no severance or Cobra health plans, no time to collect your belongings and build resumes — just get out and leave your laptops in the office, because those would eventually be sold for pennies on the dollar to help make up for what some industry insiders have said is likely close to $50 million. Millions of that is owed to the thousands of bloggers, contributors, and social media talent Mode peddled to get rich —rich enough to buy a company house in the Hamptons and write it off as a company expense— and those bloggers are small, independent female business owners more often than not. The company's CEO, Samir Arora, was said to have okayed company dinners costing upward of $40,000 (champagne doesn't come cheap, does it?), jet expenditures, and over the top luxuries that would eventually help tip the company beyond a financial breaking point. Mode didn't screw over corporate America, they screwed over every girl next door just trying to turn a buck on her earned work.
Giant numbers that seem nearly impossible to pay off with some secondhand laptops and office furniture, but if you've ever wondered what happens to Silicon Valley monsters who go under in a flash, the answer is simply that technology doesn't vanish. Email lists don't disappear. Contacts, agreements, and concepts don't just run off into the sunset.
“I was with Mode for about three years," shared blogger Misti Schindele of mistimichelle.com. “I used them as my exclusive advertising network, used them to get sponsored posts, and was a contributor for MODE.com. They owed me $1,200 when they shut down — so not nearly as much as other bloggers but when you count on that money every month, its a blow."
While $1,200 may seem like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to other bloggers who had entire networks of writers under their belt who are claiming losses as great as $200,000 when factoring in unpaid invoices for email lists, social media promotion, and other content distribution.
“They stiffed me for five months of advertising revenue including banners, pushdowns, full takeover ads, and a sponsored post with Target I was never paid for," said blogger Amber Murray of BeautyJunkiesUnite.com. “After I found out of the closure, I had to do investigative work and contact Sherwood Partners myself to ask about the status of my money. I was given the run around for months, and honestly just gave up after filling out their physical forms and online forms, stating exactly how much money I was out. I was told I would be paid after March when the assets were allocated to their creditors, etc. I honestly don't believe I will ever see a penny. To this day, Sherwood Partners has made no attempt to contact me or explain what is going on."
Samir Arora by Amy Sussman/Invision for Mode Media/AP Images
There's a reason for that — almost every blogger and content producer who was ever associated with Mode signed a TOS agreement that outlined them as a contractor, service provider — never as an employee or secured debt holder.
That means that in the hierarchy of debt satisfaction, the bloggers who made Mode a giant money machine will never see even a few coins from their losses unless there's an absolute miracle of unicorn proportions.
Mode has actually already generated some income — they've been selling off their assets in piecemeal versus the entire company to further escape the possibility of satisfying this debt. Selling individual assets (technology, email lists, etc) helps the company escape their overall liability, which no new company will ever want to take on. Any funds generated from these sales will go to satisfying secured and unsecured debts first (so literally, the company credit cards come way before the bloggers ever would). They've already sold millions in assets to companies based in Japan and depending on who you ask, those assets fetched anywhere from $20-50 million USD — more than enough to at least pay the “missing" salaries of disgruntled, debt-ridden former employees. But that's unlikely, because Mode is busy selling off as many American assets as possible now, and is more focused on repaying mortgages and other liens.
Mode Media as it once was
Industry insiders have reported Mode selling off their banner generation technology to another American media distribution group for $6 million USD (the deal is not yet closed), with additional assets seeing price tags of $100,000 and up. Theoretically, that's a lot of small mom and pop entrepreneurs who could have enough cash to keep their lights on, but the banks and more formal creditors will come first.
If you're wondering what this means to the paycheck you're missing from last fall, it means chasing it is probably a wasted lot of energy, but you'll take this as a lesson to never sign another agreement that outlines you as a mere “vendor."
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."