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A New Online Shopping Site Gets Diversity Right: RaceAhead

June 5, 2019, 7:55 PM UTC
Portrait of a two young women of different ethnicities, working together in a cafe, looking at the laptop.
lechatnoir—Getty Images

Dough is a new, venture-backed, online e-commerce site and subscription service that can help anyone quickly find and buy a wide variety of consumer goods – in every category from health and beauty, to fashion and accessories and beyond, all from women-owned businesses. It launched today.

Dough also has everything you need for a compelling start-up tale: Two dedicated women entrepreneurs on a mission to harness the collective power of shoppers to give women-led brands the revenue they need to grow. “If every woman in the U.S. spent just $20 at a woman-owned business, it would drive more than $2 billion toward female-led companies each month,” says co-founder Anna Palmer.

See? Inspiring. But here’s the twist that got my attention.

Palmer and co-founder Vanessa Bruce, who are both white, have built their company to be inclusive from the start.

What they’ve done is impressive. Currently, 67% of the companies featured in the member starter kit – an assortment of products that are sent to new subscribers in a curated box – are created by women of color, and nearly half of the companies on the entire platform have racially diverse founding teams. They plan on increasing that number going forward.

Diversity starts at Dough HQ: Of the six-woman on the Dough start-up team, three are white and three are women of color. (And, they’re hiring.)

All of this is core to their mission, they say. “We believe in equity for all, and that includes a strong commitment to diversity, especially given the even smaller percentage of venture funding that has historically gone to women of color,” says Palmer.

The idea began to take shape last summer when the two friends were noodling on next steps for them and the world.

Palmer is a partner at X Factor Ventures in Boston, an early stage fund that invests in women and mixed gender-led teams. But she was also an operator herself. She co-founded Fashion Project, a double bottom line, venture-backed shopping site with an equally interesting model: Anyone from average consumers to celebrities could donate designer clothes and allocate the proceeds from sales to charity. And anyone from average consumers and celebrities did – the site grew to 60 employees, including Bruce, and processed more than 350,000 sales before it was acquired by Union & Fifth in 2016. (It closed in 2018.)

“As Vanessa and I were meeting for coffee after coffee, we talked about the frustration around the [gender] funding gap, and how difficult the process is to figure out how many women were behind the brands we loved,” says Palmer. But the two figured, if they could build a platform to match savvy consumers with vetted, women-owned companies, it might eliminate the need for early stage funding altogether.

“What women tend to hear [from investors] is ‘come back when you have traction,’” says Palmer. “But they need the money to, say, pay for Facebook ads to get the traction they’re looking for.”

It’s a trap for all women founders, but particularly for entrepreneurs of color who are less likely to have access to even the most basic “friends and family” financing.

That said, achieving real diversity took real work.

“For us, from day one, we wanted to push ourselves,” says Bruce, who has a background in design. She began last summer by reaching out to Hack Diversity, a Boston-based firm that recruits black and Latinx computer science and engineering students and places them in tech companies across the city. From there, she was coached on hiring and was connected to advocates and organizations across the country. (She also became a mentor.)

The two delved deeply into race- and ethnicity-specific pay gap issues, and connected with creative communities of color on Instagram, looking to better understand the contours of the marketplace they were trying to create.

All of this work is reflected on the site, in the profiles of company founders which are presented without hierarchy, and with well-known brands, like Kara Goldin’s Hint Water, seamlessly presented with with lesser-known but equally interesting ones, like handbag and accessories company Dagne Dover, led by Melissa Shin Mash, Deepa Gandhi, and Jessy Dover.

Members can search by product category or by familiar hashtags that lead them to communities they care about: #ArabGirlMagic, #AsianGirlMagic, #BlackGirlMagic, Body Positive, #IAmAble, #IndigenousGoddess, #LatinaPower, LGBTQIA+, etc.

But Dough’s personal contribution to the hashtag game is #walletpower, the growing dollar figure that symbolizes the economic might transferred to the entrepreneurs on the site via sales. “We believe you can close the funding gap from the bottom up, as opposed to waiting for it to trickle down,” says Palmer.

The company makes money on membership fees, currently, a limited number set at $89, and not from the entrepreneurs. “We felt really strongly that if we wanted to direct money back to women-owned businesses that we shouldn’t be in the middle of that transaction,” says Palmer. And as things progress, they plan to add women-owned services companies into the mix.

They concede they could have launched Dough six months earlier by using their own networks. “But it wouldn’t have represented all different types of women,” says Palmer. The choice was between scaling fast and scaling correctly, so it was an easy call. “This can’t be a check the box thing, it has to be core to who you are.”

I wish them luck. There are many reasons why businesses fail to rise; it’s just so encouraging to think that for the women of Dough, a lack of diversity won’t be one of them.

On Point

Pantene’s latest “face” is trans rights campaigner Paris LeesDay 2 of the Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London brought some breaking news. It came from Paris Lees, a British trans rights campaigner and writer, who announced on stage that she’s the new face of P&G’s Pantene hair care. Hair was important to her as she transitioned. “It’s not the only thing, but it’s such a powerful expression of femininity,” said Lees. She was also the first openly trans woman to be featured in British Vogue. At the conference she addressed the flip side of “tokenism.” “If you can use the thing that makes you different to benefit in some way, take it—take that opportunity and redress the balance a little bit.”Fortune

Serena Williams makes history, again
The tennis star, designer, businesswoman, advocate and parent is the first athlete to ever make the Forbes list of World’s Richest Self-Made Women. According to the magazine, she’s amassed a fortune of more than $255 million through savvy investments, endorsement deals and clothing lines. “I learned you can’t overspend, but I also learned that I love seed investing,” she says of her plans to share the wealth via her new Serena Ventures. “I want to be in the infrastructure. I want to be the brand, instead of just being the face.”  

An Alabama mayor apologizes for a Facebook post which recommended “killing” LGBTQ people
In a story first reported by Birmingham TV station WBRC, Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers first denied, then admitted he’d written the now-deleted post. Originally he wrote, "We live in a society where homosexuals lecture us on morals, transvestites lecture us on human biology, baby killers lecture us on human rights and socialists lecture us on economics!" Then, in the comments, he added, "The only way to change it would be to kill the problem out. I know it's bad to say but with out [sic] killing them out there's no way to fix it." His Facebook apology: "Although I believe my comment was taken out of context and was not targeting the LGBTQ community, I know that it was wrong to say anyone should be kill [sic]." The Carbon Hill Wikipedia page has already been updated to reflect his comments, bless their hearts.
CBS News


On Background

Some pro tips for brands during Pride Month
Ad Age has put together some helpful guidelines for marketers looking to jump into the pro-Pride conversation, particularly important as we prepare to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Today and every day, authenticity matters. For one thing, don’t slap a rainbow on some swag and call it a day, cautions Mike Proulx, the Chief Innovation Officer at ad agency Hill Holliday. “At a bare minimum, donate 100% of the proceeds from your pride products to an LGBTQ+ cause that helps to advance the community,” he says. Build on that by embracing inclusive practices towards LGBTQ customers and employees. “A year ago, Starbucks began offering comprehensive healthcare for all transgender employees by covering historically elective procedures that are life-saving to trans and gender-nonconforming people.”
Ad Age

A new podcast series explores the many ways to be Muslim
As Eid al Fitr celebrations come to an end around the world, NPR’s Code Switch team reminds us that the media landscape is still pretty hostile to Muslim people. That’s why this new podcast series, Tell Them, I Am, offers a welcome remedy. It “aims to give Muslims a space to define their own identities outside of stereotypes and broad generalizations,” says Jess Kung and Michael Paulino. And it succeeds. Episodes dropped regularly during Ramadan, but didn’t focus on the holy holiday. Instead, host and producer Misha Euceph interviewed 22 Muslim people about the defining moments of their lives. Euceph tells Code Switch that identity is top of mind for her. “She says that when she moved to the U.S. from Pakistan in 2003, being Muslim went from the default to a label that eclipsed her entire identity.” The guests are amazing: Tan France of "Queer Eye," Ramy Youssef, of the Hulu show "Ramy," Reza Aslan, the author of No God But God and Zealot, and Alia Shawkat from "Arrested Development" are among them.
Code Switch

The giving pledge doesn’t appear to have done much for philanthropy
After an initial flurry of enthusiasm and media coverage– and after the world’s most impressive power lunch – the Giving Pledge was born some ten years ago. It was a public, non-binding promise made by the world’s richest people, Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg, etc., to give away more than half their wealth during their lifetimes. It was supposed to be a boon to good works and a clarion call for everyone to give more, give smart, and give now. "Any way you look at it, the Giving Pledge can turbocharge philanthropy for decades to come, and that is great news." In a compelling long read, writer Marc Gunther says its lofty promise has not come to pass. “There’s no evidence that the superrich are giving more,” he says, citing data. And the rich are just getting richer. “[V]ery wealthy families, as a group, are piling up wealth faster than they are giving it away, even in the face of pressing problems that philanthropy could tackle,” he says.
Chronicle of Philanthropy

Tamara El-Waylly helped produce today's raceAhead and contributed to today’s summaries.


Every woman's success should be an inspiration to another. We're strongest when we cheer each other on.
Serena Williams