Career 30 October 2016
When men are at the helm of a woman's site, strange things can happen. In today's click-hungry climate, it can get even weirder. Rather than focusing on "empowerment," which many of these digital communities claim to be doing, they are seeking "viral" click bait, often at a woman's expense (think: 10 Ways Women Can Snag A Man). I write this piece because not long ago I found myself rebuked by male superiors for standing my ground, letting them know I didn't feel comfortable writing a story that put women in a shameful light, and they weren't too happy about it.
Think back to when Bryan Goldberg founded Bustle in 2013, the Internet was replete with commentary — and, for the most part, with good reason. Here was a man who saw major success with his money-making sports site Bleacher Report, tapping into the women’s audience by claiming Bustle was doing something different, something innovative. Because he said so. And because he knew so much about women’s media. In his words, Bustle was: “Creating an amazing blend of content — one that puts news and politics right beside fashion tips is what will set us apart.”
It’s safe to say we can all say haha to that. Plenty of women’s sites had actually been doing that for a while, but because a man said it — well — his word is gold.
Simply put, Bustle became fantastic publication run by intelligent, creative, clever women. They’ve published me a few times — and they’ve published almost all of my incredible colleagues, women who write beautifully and with heart. I am proud to say I’ve published with Bustle.
Still, there’s something that irks me (and I’m not alone) about men running women’s publications — even if Time Warner (which is women-run) invested in Bustle. It isn’t that a man isn’t capable, creative or interested in parity — there are plenty of fantastic men out there whose digital media savvy cannot be denied — but I’m not talking about the bigger picture; I’m talking about the real day to day. What happens when men literally manage women at a women’s website? What happens when men aren’t just up in the high tower, and instead are making the micro decisions that affect headlines, images and column themes? What happens when they’re in the room with you on Slack throwing out opinions — without listening to your point of view ... about women’s content ... despite you being a woman. And they being a man.
In short, if men aren’t aware of the awkward issue here, it’s going to cause a problem — an imbalance that can hurt the brand — whether women want to speak up or not.
So who am I to say so? Working as an editor for a women’s lifestyle website has always been part of my wheelhouse. I feel a responsibility toward creating original content that women need and want — content that shows women aren’t just token consumers or aren’t summarized easily with a brushstroke buzzwords.
Mostly, I just want to work on writing that means something and pushes for more. This is why when I signed on as an editor at a woman’s website during its relaunch — headed up by two men, one directly ‘managing’ me — I found myself wondering exactly what my place was. I was asked to help build the brand, to hire writers, to create empowering content for women. I’d previously edited at Hearst, where I worked closely with the editors of their digital brands: Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan, etc. So, I’d learned a lot about women’s content and I’d seen what worked, what didn’t and learned what I could do better as an editor and curator of voices.
But in my new role, there was very little in the way of strategy, and the strategy that was in place was built by a man. This would have been a welcome challenge — strategy excites me — but there was also very little dialogue around how we — the women on staff — could really add to the direction. There was no real space for our input, despite the elephant in the room: we were working for a women’s website.
The concerns expressed through the brand’s Facebook page and on post comments told a clear story, too: maybe the readers were a bit sentimental about change, but they wanted something that inspired them. They didn’t want a replica of what worked somewhere else, where women weren’t the predominant readership.
I mean, the Internet may have a formula, but people aren’t robots. Women aren’t robots! If a man wants to bring his experience to a woman’s brand, awesome. But he has a responsibility to ask women staffers what they think. How they feel. What they’d do differently.
...the Internet may have a formula, but people aren’t robots. Women aren’t robots!
So when I was asked — by my male boss — to write an article for women (about men) that I felt was dis-empowering and predatory, I said no. I asked if I could write said article from a satirical point of view, but I was told no again. I offered my insight, but it was disregarded. I later saw that someone wrote the article — which, of course, did not perform well.
In short, I was seen as anti-authoritarian in my attempt to open dialogue. After all, the editor managing me hadn’t worked in women’s content, but he was taking orders from the guy above him (who had not either). It was comedic, actually.
I believe that we need to encourage an equal exchange in order to balance the playing field, but it’s no secret that power, oppression and internal bias figures into gender dynamics, especially in the workplace, where you can’t simply say “no.” “No” comes with plenty of consequences: you can be fired or you can ruin your reputation.
I also talked about this with Joanna C. Valente, who is an editorial assistant for kveller.com — a women’s website. Valente said that she thrives under female leadership. “It's not that men can't work and write for women's magazines, but I do believe women should be taking charge of the content management and editorial direction. I don't think it's discrimination if men are still hired in both junior and executive positions, but I also do believe with any organization with a mission, that mission should be driven by people who understand and live it.”
The company and I parted ways — and I’m grateful for that painful dose of reality. I can now speak with other women about my experiences and warn them about the signs of a sexist workplace. I can now see what to avoid in my future. If men want to head up a women’s publication, then women must be encouraged to help steer the brand. It is our experiences, our voices and our ideas that will ultimately connect with readership. Not to mention, teams with women are shown to thrive.
And while Goldberg might have caused a loud stir on the Internet, Bustle is largely headed up by incredible women who built something amazing. So, there’s no perfect formula. There’s no perfect anything. But a good first step is to let women take the ropes.
It isn’t a threat. It isn’t a declaration of war. It isn’t even that men can’t work in women’s spaces. But we must be louder participants — not props for the men who call the shots. After all, as our friends at The New York Times said, “having a seat at the table is very different from having a voice.”
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.