Consumers who want to know whether a brand of coffee is sustainably grown or a makeup line was tested was tested on animals can check the product's label. But good luck finding packaging that tells you whether the item's manufacturer offers a decent maternity policy.
A new app hopes to make it easier to find out if a company is good for women. The Buy Up Index grades companies based on the percentage of women in leadership and family-friendly benefits, as well as whether the firms' marketing and philanthropy support women.
The app’s creators hope women will use their purchasing power to help move the needle on diversity and equality. Women make 85% of buying decisions, according to market researchers Sh-e Economy, and are expected to control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth by 2020, according to the Federal Reserve.
“Women want companies to work on issues of equality, and I think we can encourage that with our wallets,” says Buy Up co-founder Amy-Willard Cross. “Working women sometimes think we don’t have power, but as consumers we have huge power.”
The app is one of several recent ventures gathering data—and personal opinions—on how specific companies support women. Women can rate employers on sites including InHerSight and fairygodboss, and Maybrooks curates jobs at companies that have a good reputation with working mothers. Another app in the works, LedBetter, will collect information on the corporate gender gap.
Buy Up’s researchers looked at annual reports, ad campaigns and other information from about 150 companies to come up with letter grades in the four categories, as well as an overall grade. Cross says they also reach out to companies by email and phone to confirm data. Not all companies respond, however, and Cross says getting information on maternity leave is particularly challenging as companies often don’t report it or don’t do so uniformly. After the app’s launch, for example, Cross received confirmation from Apple about its maternity benefits, and upped its grade from a B to an A. (The policy had been reported in Fortune, but Buy Up doesn’t use secondary sources.)
Corporate gender diversity, particularly at tech companies, is becoming an important, high profile issue. But that doesn't guarantee that female consumers will consider whether a given company has women on its board before buying, say, a bottle of shampoo.
Some industry watchers think the idea has promise. Christine Barton, senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, says consumer spending habits are shifting. “We see a move away from conspicuous consumption toward more purposeful consumption,” she says. And while you might be tempted to think that's a Millennial-only trend, it appears to be more widespread. According to BCG research, social and corporate responsibility was “a value that was favored across the generations,” says Barton.
Consumers, however, aren't so sure. Ntina Antoniou, a digital executive in New York, says environmental and animal-rights issues already affect her spending decisions. “With so many other concerns, I am not sure this would drive my buying behavior,” she says. Paula Paluszek, a freelance copywriter and creative director in Connecticut, says the app’s company scorecard is more likely to influence whether she would apply for a job at a company than affect her shopping habits. “If a company's products are good, unless there are egregious issues with the company's policies toward women, I will probably buy the products,” she says. “However, this app may reveal facts I would not otherwise know. The question is, do a few top-line facts really reveal a company's policies toward women?”
Cross, who previously founded Vitamin W media, and her co-founder Andrea Rudert, self-funded the app’s development, and recently completed a $10,000 crowdfunding campaign on Plum Alley. The app launched with 12 industries, and Cross says they plan to start adding one industry per week. Shopping features such as discounts on products from highly rated companies are also on the agenda. Says Cross: “This is not about scolding people, but rewarding companies that support women.”