Last week a young woman who just graduated from college about a year ago asked to have lunch with me. Via the magical world of Facebook, I recently became aware that she was deeply involved with the Mary Kay company. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised at first. This young lady was an incredibly driven, high achieving student who worked at her college's public relations office and landed a web marketing job even before she graduated. Why on earth would she want to lure vulnerable women into buying overpriced make-up with pushy (but free) make-overs? When she contacted me, I was understandably hesitant. I didn't want to be "marketed" to. I didn't ever want to give or receive a make-over. And I sure as heck never wanted to own a pink Cadillac. But I was intrigued with her journey to the "dark side", so I reluctantly agreed, bracing myself for the inevitable high-sales-pitch lunch. Plus, this was my only chance to save her from potential post-college career decisions that she might end up regretting. Turns out, I was the one who was saved that day - from my own wrath of judgement towards yet another group of women, that I've been secretly turning my nose up to for decades.
Are you in a cult?
No. This young lady was definitely a willing and conscious participant. Because of her drive and focus, she managed to hold down a full-time job, yet dedicate an extra 10-20 hours each week building her side Mary Kay business. She attended national conferences, became part of a strong and supportive network of regional women who provided business mentorship and guidance, put together her own team of 15, and was on the brink of being promoted to a director-level position with a free car (not the pink Cadillac yet) a salary, and a percentage on the sales of her entire team. She knew exactly what she was doing and like anything else she has done, she excelled at this.
Do people even like the product or do they just feel pressured to buy it to support their friends?
Turns out that Mary Kay has 17% of the skin care product industry cornered - that's more than all the make-up counters that you see at the mall combined. After the initial demonstration (aka make-over party), people apparently choose to keep purchasing the product on their own because of its high quality and low overhead (no marketing costs).
Really, how inclusive is this company anyway? Can brown people, lesbians, and men sell Mary Kay?
My friend currently has two African-Americans on her team and she thinks she could have a couple of lesbians, but she can't be for sure. She doesn't ask. She also told me that men - that's right, men - also sell the products and are proven to be highly successful at it because women are sometimes threatened by other women. Surprise, surprise.
To what extent does this company give to charitable causes?
Apparently a lot. We're talking millions. The company created the Mary Kay Foundation which is 1.) committed to eliminating cancers affecting women by supporting top medical scientists who are searching for a cure for breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers; and 2.) committed to ending domestic violence by providing grants to women's shelters and supporting community outreach programs. Since the Foundation began in 1996, it has granted $25 million dollars to organizations fighting cancer and violence against women.
Pink vehicles and an unhealthy obsession with body image and appearance - isn't this company attacking the very core of feminism?
Well, this biography on founder Mary Kay Ash explains it all: Ash married Ben Rogers at age 17. They had three children. While her husband served in World War II, she sold books door-to-door. After her husband's return in 1945, they divorced. Ash went to work for Stanley Home Products at a time when women were barely working outside of the home. She did so well that she was promoted to become a trainer. Frustrated when passed over for a promotion in favor of a man that she had trained, Ash retired in 1963 and intended to write a book to assist women in business. The book turned into a business plan for her ideal company, and in the summer of 1963, Mary Kay Ash and her new husband, George planned to start Mary Kay Cosmetics. However, one month before they started Beauty by Mary Kay, George died of a heart attack. One month later when Ash was 45, with $5,000 and the support of her two adult sons, Ash started Mary Kay Cosmetics. The company started its original storefront operation in Dallas. She considered the Golden Rule the founding principle of Mary Kay Cosmetics and the company's marketing plan was designed to allow women to advance by helping others to succeed. Ash fiercely advocated that women in her company maintain a healthy work-life balance.
So next time you see a perky middle-aged woman in pearls driving down the interstate in a pink Cadillac, you may want to set aside all the preconceived notions you have about her life choices and priorities. Because be assured, that woman has earned that Cadillac - not only through her hard work and persistence, but also through her support and mentoring of countless other women. Women who dare to dream that they have the power to run their own businesses, support each other in the process, all while nurturing families, friendships, and personal interests.
Women not unlike myself.