Let's go ahead and get something out the way. What comes to mind when I ask you to conjure an image of the classic “private investigator?" If I had to guess, I'd say that you're thinking of a man, maybe in a trench coat, hiding in the bushes while peering through binoculars to spy on some sort of social deviant.
You're picturing that because that's how film, television and literature defined the profession for hundreds of years. In fact, until I became more familiar with the industry I couldn't name one female PI character. A little research reminded me of the female PI pioneer Nancy Drew, and then I learned how ahead-of-her-time author Sue Grafton was writing about Kinsey Millhone in 1982.
Like these strong females, I also seek to solve the world's problems. When I moved into the entrepreneurial world, I promised I would take with me the values I cherished as I advocated for the world's most vulnerable children at a large international child welfare organization. If I was going to start a company, my stipulations were clear: it must solve a meaningful need for an underserved population, and whatever we do we must do it better than anyone else.
Emma Roberts as Nancy Drew
In terms of diversity and inclusion, I promised to cast a wide net to build a talented, passionate and diverse team. How else could we truly create change without different perspectives informing our decisions and direction? I knew that's what it would take to make us scalable and able to do the most good.
As a mom of five, I'm constantly reckoning with the need to raise five mindful, conscientious and kind children and the need to just let them be kids. It's a daily struggle but we match it the only way we know how and that's by modeling behaviors that we want them to emulate when it's time for them to go out into the world.
With three young girls at home, I can't wait for their turn to change the world. Every day, strong women are fighting for their future. Our young kids might have no memory of a fight for equality among men and women. I believe it's thoughts like this that keep us women-focused.
If I zoom in on my corner of the world and take a close look at the intersection of tech and private investigation, I see a wave coming. With thousands of private investigators in our network at Trustify, we're seeing a surge in female PIs. Right now we're at nearly 20 percent female, but research indicates that will continue to rise. A male-dominated industry for hundreds of years, soon to be shattered by women!
Then again, should we really be that surprised? A woman's natural instincts are perfect for solving complex and deeply personal issues. Perhaps the most important trait an investigator can have is empathy. And research points to the fact that women simply are more empathetic than men. When people come to a private investigator for help, they're feeling desperate. They've usually tried everything and are searching for peace of mind. You need to understand what they're going through, see how hard it must be to walk in their shoes, and commit yourself restoring relief to them.
And let's not forget a woman's innate ability to read a room, listen for cues, look for signs and follow her intuition. I saw one of our PIs locate a family's mentally ill missing son on the West Coast who went missing in Florida. She had little to no clues or leads to work with from the outset. She traced a minimal paper trail, talked to everyone, questioned a feeling and followed her gut. Trustify's PIs will tell you that there's nothing more satisfying than closing the loop for a client, especially when you've witnessed their grief and heartache firsthand.
We've created a career choice that's gratifying and flexible for anyone, but especially working moms looking to stay in the workforce, make a difference and create their own schedule. We only ask our PIs to do what they're best at, investigating. We handle finding new clients, collecting payment and other administrative duties. In return, they save our clients from whatever problems they're facing and serve as the face of Trustify across the country.
When I set out to start a first-of-its-kind company, I wanted to build something incredible and to do that you need to build a first-class team. As we were putting our team together at our headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, I wanted top talent with diverse backgrounds, and I wanted to look beyond the people in our existing circles whenever possible. My husband, who is my Co-Founder, and I had met and worked with remarkable people over the years, but I knew we needed to look in other circles to find the right people for the job.
You need to be intentional about hiring in order to break the cycle and be exposed to new people. In a perfect world, Trustify would represent every gender, color, religion, and outlook. We're not there yet but we're getting closer every day. Based on a recent employee disclosure survey, 70 percent of our team identifies as female and 40 percent of our team is a person of color.
If 70 percent female sounds homogenous, then I'll remind you that we're a data-driven organization and research shows that female-led businesses are more profitable. We intentionally target females because we're willing to take a bet that productivity will be higher, culture will be stronger, workplace tensions will be decreased and revenue will increase.
It's really quite simple, if you value the women in your workplace then promote them. Don't just talk about it, demonstrate it with your actions.
Want to attract more women? Then forgo the office beer pong table (that never actually gets used) and offer a space designed with women in mind, including nursing-mother rooms. At our headquarters, we've been recognized by the DC & Maryland Breastfeeding Coalitions for our commitment to supporting working moms. Tech awards are great, but the working mom in me felt like Meryl at the Oscars when we were presented with that Gold Star award. Career high, hands down.
As important as it is for companies to commit to growing their female workforce, it's also incumbent among women to support each other in the workplace. Women believed in me before I even proved myself to anyone. I believe in women and the power of true mentorship as I have benefitted from the generosity of women who shared their time and insights and nurtured my own career development.
Try as we might, sometimes you hire the right person but for the wrong job. As a business owner, what you do from that point makes all the difference. The two most valuable traits in an employee are diligence and commitment to excellence. If I've found that in someone, I'll work hard to hold on to them and find a place and a role for them within the company where they will thrive.
Like never before, women are on the rise. Time's up on letting men take the lead. It's exhilarating to be at the intersection of two male-dominated industries where women are making their moves, leading with their voice and transforming the way business was once done.
And on the days when it's hard to see how the world is improving and that we, as women, are finally breaking through established good ol' boys clubs, let Trustify's team be an example. We're just getting started, we're thousands of people strong and we've reshaped a profession that was once only run by older, white males. If only Nancy Drew could see us now!
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."