Cindy Eckert, 44
Thinking pink is a way of life for Cindy Whitehead. The spirited pharma-tech entrepreneur, known for her liberal use of the color pink and for the $1B sale of her female sexual health company, is laser-focused on helping female entrepreneurs flourish. In 2016, she founded The Pink Ceiling, an innovative incubator which looks to build female-lead brands into success stories. “For those who thought I couldn’t do it,” says Whitehead, “I’d say the same thing to them today that I said then….watch me.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
Maybe entrepreneurship chose me? I most certainly didn’t fit in conventional corporate environments and was exasperated with the homogeneity and unwritten rules of how things get done. I recognized that ownership was my path to freedom; freedom to do things on my own terms, freedom to surround myself with other misfits who wanted to change how things get done and financial freedom.
"After building and selling two businesses, my greatest accomplishment is the ripple effect of ownership. I love watching the power that ownership has given to my employees to do their best work, to follow their passions and to pay it forward."
After building and selling two businesses, my greatest accomplishment is the ripple effect of ownership. I love watching the power that ownership has given to my employees to do their best work, to follow their passions and to pay it forward. That is the very basis of what I do today at The Pink Ceiling/Pinkubator--propel power through ownership. I’m going to help other female-focused businesses to have outcomes like mine and delight in watching each of their ripple effects.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I was told I was too Pink to be Boss. Now I have lipstick in that custom shade.
"I was told I was too Pink to be Boss. Now I have lipstick in that custom shade."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
If you were to introduce an audience to a pharmaceutical CEO who has built and sold two businesses, the last for $1B, do you think they’d ever expect me to walk onto stage? Never. Now picture that for every major career milestone of my life! Bottom line, I am unexpected; I am pink in a sea of gray and blue suits. The fact that I don’t fit ensures that I will be underestimated, and the fun is letting that reality fuel me. I learned a long time ago to not allow underestimation to fill me with self doubt, but rather to harness it for the element of surprise when I show up and kill with competence.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
I went right toward it.
With stereotypes you have two choices; you can rail against them to prove they are incorrect or you can go directly toward them since it’s obviously the conversation we need to be having. I show up in blazing hot pink. Always. I like pink and no one is going to take that away from me. When people called my medication the “little pink pill” the only thing missing was the dismissive pat on the shoulder.
So, I went to FDA meetings in hot pink since it was the dismissiveness of women’s sexual health that needed discussing. Pink to me is about owning it as a woman - and all you uniquely have to offer. For those who thought I couldn’t do it, I’d say the same thing to them today that I said then….watch me.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
I feel strongly that society is full of “unwritten rules” that hold women back. If a ‘rule' exists for absolutely no good reason at all, break it. Let the injustice ignite you.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.