Mary Kay Inc. perpetuates the sexism it set out to destroy
Nine of its thirteen executive offices are now held by men
Mary Kay Inc. began as a way for women to sell makeup to other women, thereby becoming financially independent, after its founder, Mary Kay Ash, experienced the glass ceiling inextricably tied to corporate sexism.
My first experience with Mary Kay was last year. My cousin delved into this flashy, pink world in September 2015 when her friend hosted a party at the makeup studio. This ‘party’ consisted largely of her friend explaining her “why” for joining the company.
At the conclusion of parties such as this one, the hosts corner their guests, requiring each one to complete a feedback form, and, if convinced to drink the sparkly, pink Kool-Aid, to sign up to work on their host’s “team.” Interested in the product, I agreed to sign on with my cousin.
Mary Kay appeals to women who are well-connected, and interested in selling makeup to their acquaintances. Each woman earns a 50 percent profit, so when a ‘Beauty Consultant’ sells an $18 lipstick, she pockets $9. If she recruits other women to sell on her team, she begins to earn a small percentage of profit from their sales as well.
On the surface, this company appears to provide women with career flexibility and opportunity. Delving deeper demonstrates that there is an abundance of sexism just under the surface.
Many women have written about their problems with the company’s financial pyramid-like organization, but few speak to the rampant sexism that makes this financial form possible. The veil of feminism under which Mary Kay operates is just that– a veil.
On my first day, I wore my typical winter outfit—long-sleeved, black shirt; black leggings, Barbour jacket, and black boots. I opted for a natural look—no makeup.
Quick to comment on my appearance in a phone conversation the following day, the director said, “We really appreciated your presence last night, but I did notice that your attire doesn’t quite meet our standards. We have a dress code that enables us to better support one another through successful and difficult situations.
“You must come dressed in a tailored skirt or dress, pantyhose, and heels. We also require that you wear your hair styled, full makeup, contouring is preferable, jewelry, and, of course, your smile!”
After enduring this assault and researching the company, I discovered that though it was opened with good intentions, with nine of the thirteen executive offices now held by men, the perpetuation of this sexist dress code struck a new and uncomfortable chord.
Male executives encourage women to police one another’s appearances. This enables the financial structure of Mary Kay to work, with executives deciding the ways in which their consultants and directors will look and do business to appease the patriarchy.
Appearance requirements sexualize women, forcing them into a passive position. Executives encourage consultants to display themselves as sexual objects to better sell makeup to other women, so that these other women can be sexualized by men as well.
All of these women have no transparent way of reaching the level of executive; the highest achievable office is a National Sales Director, meaning that you still would have to answer to and enforce the policies of the executives.
Recruits garner more money for Mary Kay, and the recruited consultants’ sales, purchases, and additional recruits benefit the initial recruiting consultant, forming a pyramid chain of profit. With men heading these financial pyramids, women become reliant on men for career opportunities, reestablishing the glass ceiling that Mary Kay Ash set out to eliminate.
Today, Mary Kay Inc. boasts more than 3.5 million Independent Beauty Consultants, 35 markets worldwide, 4 billion dollars in wholesale sales, five hundred Independent National Sales Directors, and thirty thousand Independent Sales Directors.
I reached out to Mary Kay Inc. for comment, and they replied.
“Mary Kay was founded with the mission of enriching women’s lives and the company still holds true to that value – in fact, now more than ever. Millions of women have started a MaryKay business and met their personal financial goals.
“We are sorry to hear of the occasion when someone, as you did, has a negative experience with our brand.
“There are no dress attire requirements for someone to become an independent beauty consultant.
“We know owning or running a business is not for everyone. We do our best to provide our independent sales force with the support, guidance and tools to help them meet their individual business goals.” –Mary Kay Inc.