Amy Cross is out to help women use their power in a positive way. Her BuyUp Index app rewards companies that take women seriously. In this latest Interview with Influential Women, Amy highlights the challenges she has overcome along her journey and discusses the biggest opportunities for women today.
Tell my readers a little bit of what got you to where you are today.
I’ve been a journalist my whole life—researching, gathering data and reporting on it. I written for magazines and newspapers – mainly magazines. I’ve written books, done research and worked on television shows. I’ve pretty much done anything to earn my bread in the cultural sector.
During my post-college magazine job at Shape, I developed the first mid-life women’s magazine in 1985. I was tasked to research what they call one-offs–on senior fitness. In reading media kits, I noticed all the advertisers at the time stopped trying to address women after 40. Their primary target were women 20 to 40 years old. From that work, I suggested to my bosses that the business wisdom targeting only women under-40 was totally outdated and missing a large market. Women still have money at 40 and they’re active. My mother was certainly alive and buying groceries.
A couple of decades later, when my kids were in school, after I had been doing various gigs people would ask me to do, I asked myself, what do I REALLY want to do? I wanted to be useful to women and realized my skills of gathering data could be just that. I started Buy Up Index with the aim that just revealing what consumer-facing companies are doing in regards to women’s issues, and then rating companies based on their policies, we can actually encourage companies to change. The more consumers use the Buy Up index the more companies will all want to get the designation of an A score on the Index which requires them to make meaningful changes.
Who are your top three women role models?
That is a good question. Hillary Clinton comes to mind first. She has taken a lot of knocks in life. She’s certainly one of the most brilliant women ever. Anyone who’s met her tells you that. She keeps on saying, “How can I serve? How can I help?” I really admire her tenacity and her raw intelligence, but mainly her tenacity to serve.
Another woman is Arianna Huffington for figuring out what she did so early on was pretty brilliant. Although, I disapprove of her website not paying people—most contributors are unpaid– which I think is destructive to the whole field of journalism.
There are others. Deborah Jackson of Plum Alley. Jacki Zehner of Women Moving Millions. Janet Hanson of 85 Broads. These ladies were in the power centers and they all left their careers to help bring women up. What they are doing is very powerful. They made choices to serve when they could just play golf, right?
I’m also very heartened to see all these things women in general are doing to solve the problems around the world—they are all my role models.
What challenges or challenge did you face or overcome to get where you got?
Oh, well, there are so many…one takes so many hard knocks professionally in order to succeed—not getting a job you want, having a book contract fall through. You’re asking tough questions. Amy, I like it. As someone who’s spent my life asking people question, yours are hard!
I created a website called Vitamin W. I was hoping to aggregate all the women online who care about women’s issues. There are 12 million women who support women’s organizations in the United States and I was creating a platform where we could all gather together. I thought that I could be a great force for information and change but I wasn’t able to make Vitamin W do what I wanted and that made me really sad.
I could have just stopped right there, but I realized there might be a different way I could be useful to these same 12 million women and give them information that they couldn’t get elsewhere. So, that’s how I came up with Buy Up Index. It grew out of the difficulty of building an audience at Vitamin W Media. I was unable to build a 30 million strong audience, which is what you need these days to make a living online, if not more.
I had another website—an op/ed website not aimed at making money really. For one story, I decided to research newly-elected women in Congress to see which industries supported them. The answer was none. If I recall, nine of 11, women were financed either by Emily’s List or Act Blue. What I was trying to measure did not exist! Women, for the most part, are outside of the funding economics of campaigning. We’re outsiders. That made me realize this…money is what matters in making cultural change.
What you are doing Amy B, is akin to coming in on a white horse because the way women can gain power in our culture and in politics, is by building each other’s businesses up and helping other women achieve wealth, then bringing up the women behind us, as well.
BuyUp is about changing corporate policies not just about how many women are leading corporations, but also policies affecting all their workers and those in their supply chain. They need a voice, too. Women at all levels need family-friendly policies and parents need parental leave.
We first started counting women in C-suite jobs because I assumed more women in executive and boardroom positions would affect these policies. But the BuyUp research was really shocking.
Companies have to provide the SEC data about their board members and their named executives—those making the top money. What we learned in analyzing the data was that companies were giving women C titles but often those C-women were not among the top five named executives. I imagine its people in those top paid positions that actually affect change.
However, the companies that do it right, do it really well. Nike, Gap, Google, Coach and Danone really walk the walk. I can’t speak for all their employees, but when you look at the policies from top to bottom, soup to nuts, they are making huge strides.
Buy Up is about power for women. Women control eighty-five percent of consumer spending; yet, walk around like victims. My husband once said to me, “Amy, no one gives you power. You take power.” Women do have power and they don’t recognize it. When I speak in public I wear ruby slippers. I tell women that just like Dorothy we have this power and don’t use it. We don’t know it; we don’t use it.
Buy Up can help women use their power in a positive way. We want companies taking positive steps towards gender equality and policies that support women to see a huge surge in their sales because women learn from BuyUp and make their purchases based on this data. This rewards companies that take women seriously rather than being punitive and or begging for legislation to fix the problems.
Have you encountered any obstacles that are specific to being a woman?
I don’t know. I hope not. Was that why I failed to get the audiences I wanted for VITAMIN W Media and I could not get anyone interested in investing in it? Would a man have been able to convince everybody that this was going to make a lot of money? I don’t know.
What are the biggest opportunities you think are available to women today?
Any woman who realizes that women act and buy differently than men can create products and reach a market they know. New businesses that target women because they see through women’s eyes have great potential like Stowaway Cosmetics. Their makeup is purse-sized and or another company that has started mobile salons.
Women are also creating B-corps—companies committed to do social good, not just profits alone. We have an opportunity to make money and change the world.
What are the three most important things that you’ve done, or that you are doing, that contributed to your success?
I have great tenacity. I haven’t given up. I also have ability just to do whatever it takes. If something doesn’t work out or someone does something wrong, I just step in and do it. I don’t say, “I can’t do that.” I just figure it out. Lastly, I have a sense that what I’m doing needs to be done, so I keep on going.
Is there anything else that you want to share with my readers?
Download the BuyUp index and tell us what you think. Download it, use it, and help us change the world.
Amy-Willard Cross is the Founder Buy Up Index, an app and ratings system that scores companies on gender equality. Prior to that, she created women’s news site, VITAMIN W Media, which rated women’s and co-ed colleges, conducted a rebranding contest campaign for feminism, and co-created the Add Feminism campaign. For 20 years, Cross worked as an editor and writer for national publications in Canada and the US, writing features, essays and reviews, as well as authoring two books. In her 20s, she developed the first magazine for midlife women for the publishers of SHAPE. An honors graduate of Wellesley, she maintained the family tradition of attending women’s colleges since the 1880’s—and is named for Frances Willard, a friend of her great-grandmother’s.