Why Shop Women-Led Companies

Having worked professionally in women's advancement for several years, I am keenly aware of the lack of women in business leadership (at 14.5 percent currently). There are a great deal of research and statistics showing women's overwhelming purchasing power along with many theories of why there aren't enough women in leadership. Many talk about what can be done to put more women in leadership roles.

As I listened to Jacki Zehner speak at a national women's business conference about how the store Anthropologie didn't have one woman on its board of directors, I was surprised and frustrated. Why would I spend money at companies which won't advance women? I knew others shared my sentiment.

Out of this frustration, Shoptimize.org was born. Launched in April, Shoptimize is a shopping website exclusively featuring products from women-led companies. It gives back at least 1 percent of after-tax profits to non-profits dedicated to advancing women. When customers shop on Shoptimize they aren't just getting great items, they are doing great things by helping these brands and the women behind them, like Dorian Winslow, advance and grow.

Dorian is the CEO of womanswork, which sells gardening gloves and related gardening products. Though the company has been in business for several years, it is just now looking to expand and going for financing. This is not unusual. Nationally, women-led firms get less external investment funding than male-led firms do. The reasons for this are complex, but driving sales to these women-led companies can be one way to help them grow and gain the confidence to seek funding when they need it.

Using purchasing power, Shoptimize.org and its customers can purchase products from women-led firms like Dorian's and drive up their sales, which will attract investors or bank loans. Supporting companies like Dorian's also helps to grow the skills of the women leading these companies. There is often a great deal of talk about how there aren't enough women qualified to hold board seats and how this may explain why women make up 16 percent of board seats in Fortune 500 companies. When small to medium sized women-led growth companies expand to the next level, we are creating a new generation of women entrepreneurs who will gain the qualifications and experience to sit on corporate boards.

It is very hard for new brands to break through the brand clutter and compete with well-known brands.  Shoptimize gives customers a chance to know these small to medium-sized women-led brands and their wonderful products. Many of our entrepreneurs are not just bringing great things to market, they are making a better world through their eco-friendly products and solutions.

While the idea behind Shoptimize has been to leverage women's purchasing power and give back to non-profits dedicated to advancing women through the 1% after tax donation, men have been some of our best advocates. Inspired by the women in their lives or by the business model, men also see the critical need to support women-led businesses to grow more women leaders, more companies, and our economy.

The reasons behind the gender disparity in business leadership are complex. However, shopping women-led companies is a great way to help create more women leaders, grow women-led businesses and attract investment to these companies that will propel our economy. If stores like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, despite having an overwhelming majority of female shoppers and workers, cannot see fit to appoint women to their boards of directors, would-be shoppers can find great alternatives by seeking out women-led companies or companies that are advancing women in numbers through places like 2020 Women On Board.

Women may not have achieved gender parity yet, but we can use the power we do have, the power of the purchase, to shop women to the top. Shopping women to the top is not just a tagline. At every internal Shoptimize purchasing point, we have consciously sought out woman-led companies offering what we needed. I am proud to say that from the web design firm (Sisarina), to the local printing company (Hartford, Conn.-based Alphagraphics) to the shipping supplies company and bank we use, we have used our purchasing power to advance women-led companies and drive growth, to not just shop, but to Shoptimize.