In The Pink: From Pejorative to Positive in Business -- and in Life

Very early on I rejected the color pink. I remember that as a kindergartner I didn't want to dress in pink because my older sister did so. I stubbornly wanted to forge my own path and therefore develop my own style--one that didn't revolve around such a stereotypical color scheme. At some point in my childhood I learned that pink was once used as a boy's color and blue was originally for girls, but that factoid meant nothing to me, nor did it change my mind about pink. By the time I was a teenager, I completely avoided associating with the color pink, like the color itself carried a plague.

As an adolescent, pink was presented to me as the epitome of all things feminine and girlish, and I was quickly learning that in the "real world," "feminine" might also mean weak, submissive, and less successful. I decided that if I wore pink, I would not be taken seriously. (Now, of course, this sounds a little self-hating to me, but when I was trying to find my way in the world as a young woman, it made sense.) These concerns were an extension of my distress over the blatant gender inequality in our culture that I could already see as a girl and had started to fight against at a young age. I remember thinking that I wanted to "be better than a girl." I spent a lot of time figuring out how to do that. I wore "boy colors" and became obnoxiously competitive. I only played sports with boys and found even greater joy in winning (when playing against boys). I truly was striving to be better than all the boys at everything I did, both academically and athletically. In retrospect, I focused on the wrong things.

But did my color-hating and competitive ways have more to do with my projections than they did with my reality? No.

I grew up in the '80s. I would hear mentions of the feminist movement, but it seemed so radical and far away from where I lived. My home was Christian and Republican. "A woman's place is in the home," was not just a saying in my neighborhood, it was a tenet. Yet I knew that women should have a place anywhere they wanted to be--and should not have to constantly fight for it. When the news covered the feminist movement (or "women's lib," as it used to be called), I never saw any woman they featured wearing pink, which further reinforced my views on the color. At the same time, the movement represented such positive messages of strength, hope and inspiration concerning the many issues women were facing in and out of their homes.

Today, I am 40 years old. I have spent my entire adult life as a champion of women -- I'm still pushing the needle forward and still fighting for a seat at the table. I stand up for women, write about women's issues, and think about the legacy I'll leave behind for women in generations to come. And until recently, I was making a concerted effort to not wear pink. If asked, I would say that I prefer black and navy.

Then something happened.

Over a year ago, Marta Ferro, a trusted colleague, met with me to discuss a new project she was working on. I remember sitting in the Beverly Glen Deli and hearing the words "Pink51"--but, really, all I heard was "pink." I had an immediate negative reaction to the word, down to my core. Without knowing anything about the project, I stopped listening and interrupted her. "Pink51? Why that name?" Marta asked that I continue to listen, so I blocked out the name the best I could. What she described then was something innovative: She and a small team of women were creating a new kind of shopping website that would provide a way to directly and intentionally support women-owned and women-led businesses. It would demonstrate in just a few clicks that gender equality matters within business. It would give back to charities that support women's economic success, and help shoppers make conscientious decisions that would do so much good in the world. Wow. I was in.

For the last many months, I worked tirelessly alongside co-founders Ann Lawrence and Marta Ferro, and their entire team, to build Pink51. We established partnerships with "Pink" businesses, which we defined as those that had a 50 percent or more female ownership, a female CEO or two female senior-level executives, or a board membership that was 20 percent female. I had never said "pink" so much in my life. I realized this was a huge opportunity to bring positive power to pink, and to own it for myself. This new project forced me to soul-search and work out my issues with the color. I had spent a lot of time thinking about why I had such resistance to pink. But after hearing the inspiring stories of the women who were partnering with Pink51, I decided to stop over-thinking it, and embraced the color pink and the power of my femininity. Pink is not a pejorative. It's a positive color, ready to be reclaimed in a diverse world.

We launched Pink51 at the end of June. I toasted our launch with pink champagne and put on the one pink blouse I owned at the time. I will be shopping to put even more pink in my wardrobe. Pink now represents power to me. Today women account for over 50 percent of the U.S. population and influence over 85 percent of consumer spending (1). We hold the power to push women even further in such positive ways. Pink can stand for everything that makes us successful.

To all of those women out there who have climbed those blue ladders, played sports with the boys, and refused anything pink, please reconsider and join me. It's time that we own this color, celebrate it for ourselves and for our sons and daughters.

(1): Source: Greenfield Online for Arnold's Women's Insight Team