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#WomensDay - A Case Study

#WomensDay - A Case Study

International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8. Let’s do a case study on gender inequality in recent history:

Meet Sandy Lerner.

Not only did she play a role in making the internet possible, Lerner is also the reason we now have cosmetic of every imaginable colours.

As you’ll see, Sandy Lerner is someone who’s not afraid to reinvent herself again and again (and again).

In the early 1970s, Lerner got a job as a bank teller. The bank manager called all bank tellers Louise. 

That's not all.

He also made them kneed to check the length of the skirt.








That was enough motivation for Lerner to go to California State University and finished her undergrad program in 2 years.

It turned out Lerner has the technical chops to excel in computer. She went on to get two master degrees and ended up as a nerd at Stanford, hanging out with other nerds.

By 1980s, she was a faculty member at Stanford. Yet, she had to sit with other faculty member’s wives at dinner. 

At this point, I feel like dropping another GIF. 

Instead, I'll let you process this in silence.


And consider this:

Lerner was paid half of what her predecessor made and a third of what her successor got paid.

Merely 35 years ago.



The word “internet” is so ubiquitous today that you probably don’t think much about it. “Internet” literally means “inter networks” i.e. network of networks.

That’s how Cisco Systems got started.

The year was 1984 - the same year Apple ran that famous 1984 commercial at Super Bowl.

Sandy Lerner and co-founder (then husband) Len Bosack started Cisco, building routers out of their living room. Business was good but cash flow was tight, really tight.

When they finally secured funding, the investor brought in an external CEO - John Morgridge:

"The first time I met John Morgridge he had already been hired," and that the first thing he said to me was, "I hear that you're everything that's wrong with Cisco."

In 1990, she was fired from her own company - mostly because she’s a woman.

You may argue that’s a first-person bias from Lerner’s point of view. However, Emily Chang’s Brotopia described a bro culture pervasive in Silicon Valley even today.

Farmgirl Flowers’ Founder & CEO Christina Stembel had shared similar sentiment in how difficult it is for female founders to raise capitals.

Listen to Sandy Lerner retelling her story in this podcast episode of How I Built This. I love this episode and I think you will too.


Urban Decay

Leaving Cisco didn’t stop Lerner. In 1995, she founded Urban Decay and launched a line of nail polish with names like Mildew (green), Bruise (blackish purple), and UVB (light steel blue). This is at a time when cosmetic was dominated by red and pink.

In an interview in 1997, she told Forbes:

"Fundamentally I was just pissed off that [cosmetics firms] were telling women they had to look like Barbie,"



Sustainable Farming

Lerner later sold Urban Decay and gone on to do other interesting stuff.

She now focus on the development of Certified Organic, Certified Humane, sustainable and profitable farming practices at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia.

Sandy Lerner's accomplishment is inspiring. She turning her attention to sustainable farming reminds me of the female farmers I get to meet: Kendall at Central Park Farms, Cathy at Laurica Farm, and Julia at Blue Sky Ranch.

As Lerner puts it:

Farming is the hardest thing I've ever done: mentally, physically, strategically, and logistically.

It's exciting to see badass women doing what they do best and changing the world along the way.


Standing on the shoulders of giants

UN’s theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”.

It puts innovation by women and girls, for women and girls, at the heart of efforts to achieve gender equality.

International #WomensDay is March 8. Let’s celebrate those who dare to break barriers, disrupt unjust systems and think outside the box to build more inclusive societies.


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