A greater call for reproductive rights, mental health care and flexible benefits are defining today’s workplace, and employers have to act. Women are disproportionately affected, but when it comes down to it, gender parity could be pretty simple if the workplace prioritized it.
“Put your money where you mouth is,” said Amanda Eilian, cofounder and partner of Able Partners, an investment fund focused on supporting innovative early stage brands like Mud/Wtr and Moon Juice. She spoke on a panel session on leading through turbulent times, focusing on women’s mental and reproductive health in the workplace, for Fairchild Media Group’s “Women in Power” conference held during New York Fashion Week. “The best way to enter that conversation whether you’re a man or woman is fair pay, fair benefits…And for both men and women to play that role of actually recognizing where we have preconceived notions or biases and recognizing the needs of all populations.”
“Broadly, across all age groups, we are in the middle of a mental health crisis. Pre-pandemic, about one in five American adults qualified for a mental health diagnosis — anxiety and depression being the most common. During the pandemic and post-pandemic, some reports saw that number going up to one in four,” Eilian said. “We recently did research on Gen Z and their attitudes. We surveyed a cohort of 435 young adults [ages 20 to 25], and what we found for Gen Z is mental health care is health care. For them, that is the number one benefit they expect employers to provide after 401K, after any other health care or benefit.”
On top of a mental health crisis, post-Roe America is deepening the divide and fueling a difficult reality for women. “We found that 40 percent across men and women were unlikely to take a job in a state that had limited reproductive rights,” Eilian continued. “No matter where you stand on this political divide, it’s going to be more expensive to recruit and retain employees.”
Founders are ushering in a new era of authenticity, be it fighting colorism or gender discrimination at scale.
Erin Carpenter, founder and chief executive officer of the Nude Barre, knows a thing or two about fighting colorism. During her professional dancing days, she had to dye dance tights to match her skin tone because they weren’t readily available, and the experience is what eventually led her to launch the inclusive underwear and hosiery brand.
“It wasn’t fair that I was spending extra time and money on this science project in my kitchen every week [the tights she dyed to match her skin tone]…. I founded Nude Barre on the premise of fighting colorism in the fashion and beauty industry… The standard of beauty can’t just be beige or white people. We live in a global world of diverse hues, and even if you are a white woman, you could be a different color from your mom or your cousin, and just one shade representing everyone wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Today, Nude Barre defines nude with 12 inclusive shades and the business has drawn venture capital from Serena Williams (who first wore the tights in 2018 during her run at Wimbledon) at Serena Ventures, and Bumble founder Whitney Wolford. Though the A-list venture interest speaks for itself, that doesn’t mean the struggle is over.
Nude Barre, every day, is fighting biases. Researchers have documented how artificial intelligence – even the powerful algorithms powering Google searches – maintain skin color biases and biases against women.
And menopause is another topic that gets buried in the noise.
As Eilian said, “I also think we have to reevaluate work-from-home policies because in the longer term if people are not comfortable going through that journey [working from home] in their life in a state that’s going to limit [their] options [in terms of things like time off, other health care accommodations] — that’s something that companies will have to think about if they want to retain their employees.”
Carpenter said maintaining sensitivity to political beliefs and keeping a pulse on employees’ general well-being is also more important than ever.
It’s difficult to navigate the nuance, but something as simple as mental health check-ins — amid a growing (and ever-conscious) Gen Z workforce — go a long way.
“Because the team is so small. We’re very friendly, we’re very open,” Carpenter added. “My team has come to my kids’ birthday parties and things of that nature. It doesn’t feel strained or forced to check in and say, ‘How are you doing?”