Beyoncé may sing about how women "run the world," but her line of fragrances is made and marketed by a company with no women in its executive ranks or on its board.
A digital startup is tracking gender representation in corporate suites -- including that of cosmetics and fragrance powerhouse Coty (COTY) -- with an aim of helping consumers vote with their wallets.
The just-launched project -- dubbed LedBetter (GetLedbetter.com) in a tribute to fair-pay crusader Lilly Ledbetter -- ranks 2,000 popular consumer brands and their 230 parent companies based on the proportion of women on boards and in executive ranks.
Though women represent an estimated 80 percent of consumer buying power, the project found an average board representation of 23 percent and an executive team representation of 19 percent.
On the other hand, several prominent companies -- including Samsung, Nissan (NSANY), Nintendo and Kia -- scored zeros, with no women in leadership ranks.
Coty also scores a zero. The $4.4 billion revenue company, whose customers are primarily women, offers fragrances from Katy Perry, Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez alongside brands like Calvin Klein and Davidoff. Its Beyoncé line includes 10 separate fragrances.
Journalist Iris Kuo launched the LedBetter project in 2013, after reading a story in the Washington Post in which former Wall Street executive Sallie Krawcheck suggested women would change their buying habits if they knew the gender makeup of companies marketing products to them.
"Something just clicked with me: I can make that data available for people," said Kuo, Ledbetter's CEO, who compiled the information on nights and weekends over the course of two years with co-founder Camille Ricketts, who heads content and marketing at seed-stage venture firm First Round Capital.
A $9,500 grant from the International Women's Media Foundation paid for a developer and fact-checker. Meantime, Kuo and Ricketts continued building the database, Kuo said, with help from a "mighty band of volunteers."
Among the industries with the worst performance on gender equality: Energy, children's products and transportation. At the top of the list were personal care, apparel, retail and health.
In addition to Coty, the LedBetter team called out L Brands (LB), the parent company of Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works. The company caters primarily to women, yet it has an all-male executive team and just 17 percent representation of women on its board of directors.
And the company website listing its all-male executive team features a large photo with scantily clad Victoria's Secret models.
L Brands was one of 35 companies with no women in executive ranks; 15 had no women on their boards of directors.
LedBetter hopes to do an yearly update of the database and put out annual reports letting people know how companies are doing -- an effort that will require some degree of permanent funding.
"People react very differently to the same data," Kuo said. "I see our role as putting it out there for people to have, so if they do want to vote with their wallets based on this information, it's easily accessible to them."
A separate survey by the nonprofit workplace-inclusion advocate Catalyst found slow progress toward gender parity among a larger universe of S&P 500 companies.
Just under 20 percent of board seats are held by women, and 27 percent of new directorships went to women in 2015, the Catalyst survey shows.
Women represent 44.3 percent of overall employees at S&P 500 companies -- but just 4.2 percent of CEO positions.
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