“I don’t think I’ve ever been motivated by gender bias. Like ‘Oh, I’ll show these men.’ It’s more like, ‘I’ll show myself.’ I don’t really care what the boys are doing.”
MEET MAUREEN STOCKTON: THE FOUNDER OF FORME
By Page Spencer
The power women hold in industries nationwide is growing now more than ever, and women are coming together to keep their workplaces free from discrimination and harassment.
Through a trail of success in computer software, commercial real estate, and the video and toy industries, UCLA alum Maureen Stockton knows and embodies the importance of speaking up about gender inequities in the workplace. After graduating, Stockton enjoyed a decade-long career in the video game industry before joining the start-up JAAKS Pacific. Most recently, the ambitious entrepreneur debuted her shoe company Formé.
Her gender, age, and inexperience presented her as an outsider to the industry when she arrived at a job in a toy company, but her credibility and background in finance quickly threatened the men she worked with. “It was a hard industry to penetrate. I had to prove myself, not with my business card, but with my brains. It was a hard position to succeed in, but the numbers spoke for themselves,” Stockton says.
Alongside the development and growth she brought to the businesses she worked in, Stockton dealt with her fair share of unfair interactions with men in the workplace. One particular story she shares is of being excluded from business meetings through golf, a tactic often used to prevent women from having a seat at the hypothetical table. At the clubhouse she attended with her business partners, she was told to sit on the “women’s terrace”—to give the men their privacy. The men’s locker room was designed to open into the dining room, with the undue intent of keeping women out.
Her advice on how to combat uncomfortable comments effectively? "It’s a ridiculous place to be, but here we are. What do we do about it? We lock arms and we say, ‘We won't put ourselves in that position.’ We seek out strong women to partner with or we’ll create our own situation so we don’t have to navigate that one. I’m seeing an amazing support of women like I've never seen before."
I talked to the entrepreneur about working her way to the top of male-dominated industries, the discrimination she faced in doing so, and the ultimate advantages her gender provided for her.
Did Working In That Kind Of Industry Bring You Down A Little Bit? Being Young Must Have Been Kind Of Intimidating.
It was being an outsider to the industry, young and a woman, that made me a definite outsider. With my performance and building up the business the way I did, it gave me the credibility. It was threatening to one of the men who worked for me because he was part of a company that was bought by my bosses and had the title of president of a division. They brought me in to oversee him because he wasn’t strong at forecasting, so my title was Senior VP of all the divisions, but he reported to me. They never made that clear. They wanted him to report to me and he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. So I had to learn how to work with him and guide him without trying to pull rank.
Did You Experience Any Harassment In Your Work?
In my first job, right out of UCLA, I was assigned a sales territory on the East Coast and my boss thought I wasn’t strong enough to handle New York customers because I was a woman raised in LA and I wouldn’t be “tough enough” to handle New Yorkers. So he had me train with a salesman named Randy, who grew up in Brooklyn. I would sit down on the other side of his desk, and before the training would start, he would ask if I had had sex over the weekend. This is the guy who’s supposed to be training me — my mentor.
So what do you say? It wasn’t just once, it wasn’t just twice, it was repeatedly. You can say “It’s none of your business” and get teased with “You’re a prude” so I told him I’m a virgin. “I’m not going to have sex until I’m married, so we just can’t have this conversation.”
It’s ridiculous that I even had to answer the question. It’s ridiculous that after trying to shut it down repeatedly, it kept coming up.
When I was working in commercial real estate, I was negotiating a deal with the former president of Fox — a powerful person. I walk into his office and he’s furious with my management and the deal that’s been presented. He gets in my face and he’s thumping on my chest, swearing at me. My heart is beating and I’m thinking, ‘He can’t kill me. He can’t hurt me.” So then I walked away and said I’d never work with him again. That’s the scariest physical confrontation I’ve ever had in a work situation.
Advice For Young Women Going Into The Working World?
Men are clearly afraid of us. They’re afraid of their attraction [to] us and they’re afraid of that attraction being out of control. So start there with where a man is coming from. Now add pornography to that; pornography is ubiquitous and I think it’s one of our biggest problems in terms of creating gender inequalities in the workplace. I had heard this was happening from a now famous TED Talk from Dr. Gail Dines called “growing up in a pornified culture” which talks about just how prevalent porn is in our society. I even asked my high school son, Chase, if it was really that prevalent, he responded “Mom, it’s like oxygen, it’s everywhere.” Now, think about what that means for a woman in the workplace. For example, if you’ve worked hard on your presentation; you go into your boss’s office, who is a man, and he’s just been on his computer watching porn.
Do You Think That We Are In A Time Of Transformation For Women In Business Today? With All The News Coming Out Of Sexual Harassment Allegations?
I think it’s a liberating turning point to say “Look, this stuff exists and every woman I talk to has a story that’s horrific and you say ‘How did you put up with that, and how did you continue in your career?’”
My biggest fear with response to the current climate of sexual harassment allegations is that men will use it; men will create their club, they’ll use it as their locker room to keep us out of the dining room. They will say, “I don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment so I’m only going to take your male colleague to lunch/on this business trip because I don’t want to be accused of inappropriate behavior.” I worry that men will use it as a reason to exclude women.
You go back to the fear of their temptation; therefore “I’m going to exclude them so I’m either not tempted or accused.”
Stockton has since elevated her work with Formé: a company created with women in mind. Her product relieves the common discomfort women often feel in ill-fitting shoes.
How Did You Know You Wanted To Start The Company Formé?
I’ve always loved shoes. My family didn’t have a lot of money and I grew up with the mentality that things had to last. I would always buy quality over quantity. With shoes, I had been working and I had some nice work shoes. I went to put on a pair of classic navy pumps that I hadn’t worn in about a year, and they didn’t fit. I looked over at my husband and I thought, “He’s never complained about his shoes being uncomfortable.” And he had the old-fashioned wooden shoe trees in his shoes, and I thought, “Gosh, I should just get some of those,” and I bought some, put them in my shoes, and they destroyed them.
Since you couldn’t control the spring action in the product, it was too clunky, too big, and it stretched out the shoe completely. How come men have a product that work and women don’t? Our shoes are more valuable and more delicate.
How Did You Create The Shoe-Shaping Product You’re Selling Today?
I gave myself a budget of a few thousand dollars to design a prototype and test the idea with a group of women. They loved the idea, but didn’t like the execution because it only worked in pointy-toed shoes. We need this in all of our shoes, not just in heels, but in boots and flats, too. I scrapped that patent and started all over again. It took four years to develop. I had some men say to me, “Why didn’t you make a different product for each style of shoe?” Quality over quantity. Give me a universal appliance.
I wanted a product that would work day in, day out. I was sick of products that you could use once and then they were done. I didn’t want to make something like that.
Every step of the way, there wasn’t one male engineer involved. I kept having to explain to them the ethos of a woman using this product, and it had to do a number of things: One, it had to be pretty. Two: it had to fit comfortably in your hand. And three: it had to be easy to use. I wasn’t going to sell a product that was efficient to manufacture but that would destroy the shoes we’re trying to save.
What Does The Formé Shoe Shaper Do?
There’s a right and a left product and two different sizes. The product expands the toe area up to half a size so that your toes don’t feel squished. It also keeps the heel area shaped, so it stops your shoe from slipping off your heel and from creating blisters. It extends the life of the shoes — doubles and triples the life. It’s pretty incredible to me that all you need to do to make your shoes last longer is to put in something that shapes them — in just one hour. By putting this product in after you wear them, you keep the shape of the shoes.
Your Product Solves A Problem For Women, But Why Do You Think Women Are So Quick To Accept The Idea That Beauty Is Pain?
We alter our bodies for beauty in a number of ways that we don’t really think about. I don’t think we know what good shoe fit is. 80% of women have a foot that’s a half size different than the other. Why don’t we make shoes that you buy a left and a right for? Why are we buying perfect pairs that don’t fit anyone? The idea with my product is to customize the fit of your shoes.
Have You Ever Suffered Self-Doubt Or Been Unsure Of Yourself?
Everyday. Everyday there’s a new challenge that I’ve never faced before. There’s two questions I ask myself if something is intimidating. One: “If I do this, will it kill me or will it kill someone I love?” And the second: "If I don’t do this, will I regret it next week? Will I regret it next year?" And most often, I’ll think that I would really be bummed if I didn’t either meet that person, go to that event, try to go for that deal, or start that new company.
Do You Have Any Advice To Female Entrepreneurs Who Want To Start Their Own Company?
Go work for someone else first. Let somebody else pay you as you learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Then when you start your company, you know what you’re not good at and you can hire to support your weaknesses. Then, you’ll be able to excel at your strengths.
Don’t be afraid to ask anyone for advice, no matter what their title. People love giving advice; I have never let a title intimidate me. People want to be talked to — as a human being, not a title.