By: Kathryn Rainville
Katrina Lake, CEO of Stitch Fix, took her Harvard Business School e-commerce proposal to an IPO of $2 billion last fall. As the youngest woman to ever do so, Lake was praised; as one Twitter user stated, “It [was] so perfectly a ‘yes, we are ladies in charge’ moment” (Elle). For all the praise, the world confronted her with the classic female executive question: “How do you do it all?”
This question, among others in the same vein, fueled Lake, and as she stated in multiple interviews “There was one point where [she] felt [she] should be [called] a tech CEO and not a woman CEO” (Elle). This delineation is a powerful statement – a normalization of being a female executive in a male-dominated industry. Not only is she normalizing women in the C-Suite, her company employs greater than 80% women in the technology field.
Initially, Lake was doubted for her e-commerce idea. This was a challenge though, not a threat. Being a woman allowed Lake to see opportunities in e-commerce that men did not or would not attempt. In fact, her professors believed it was a complete “inventory nightmare,” and could not see past how beneficial this would be for the on-the-go millennial woman (Elle). However, with the partnership of Erin Morrison Flynn, a former merchandiser at J. Crew, Stitch Fix became a reality. Regardless of the comments, Lake believes that her company is used to this kind of discomfort and adversity. She says, “We’re more comfortable operating from a place of ‘We’re underestimated and we’re excited to prove ourselves.’ We’re good with that” (Elle). For a pioneer in the fashion and tech industries, Stitch Fix is also a pioneer in cultural and diversity front.
Lake wants Stitch Fix “…to be an example of a company that is founded by a woman, that is in a women’s industry and goes public” (Time). With its IPO last fall, Stitch Fix achieved that. Despite the achievement, the questions, like those stated above, continued to pour in, to which Lake says “I just wanted to be a successful CEO. It had nothing to do with my gender” (Time). Stitch Fix leads with its numbers and with Lake’s general attitude of being successful. It should not be about being a woman, it should always be about personal drive. In Lake’s continual responses in her interviews with both Time and Elle, she reiterates that although being a woman in tech, and being a female CEO are important, we are driving toward a world where that should not have to be such a factor in interviews, unless we start asking the same questions of men.
While gender roles are alive and well, Katrina Lake’s and Stitch Fix’s stories certainly demonstrate that we are still moving toward a more equal future. As stated in her interview with Time, “…the goal is just equal opportunity and equal possibility” (Time). We are indeed waiting for just that, and as women rise to the C-Suite, we hope there will continue to be positive change for women across industries.