Promoting gender equality and supporting women-held businesses? There’s an app for that. Amy-Willard Cross, founder and editor in chief of VitaminW is set to release a new phone application, BUY UP Index, to encourage companies to serve female consumers better and promote gender equality in the workplace. Essentially a consumer report for women, Buy UP Index rates consumer-based companies on how they serve women as employees, as leaders, and as consumers. It gives them a score out of a hundred based on their treatment towards female employees, and whether or not they have positive marketing messages and women in leadership positions.

With about 140 companies involved, including ones that sell cell phones, cars, athletic apparel, and even banks, the app is already creating major buzz in the press and has even caught the attention of Forbes magazine. I spoke to Amy Willard-Cross and asked her a few questions on her great initiative. Here’s what she had to say:

Why did you begin this initiative?  

The whole point of this is so women can support companies that serve them well. It’s how we’re using consumer power to create social change. The Human Rights Campaign launched a similar initiative a few years ago to rate companies on their LGBT policy. At the time, only 14 companies met the standards of these policies. Now, 8 years later, 366 do. Just putting transparency on these types of topics helps move the needle. We’re currently waiting on the App Store trying to get final approval so we’re hoping it will be in consumers’ hands soon. I hope that lots of women download it and use it so they can choose what to buy.

What are some trends you’ve noticed within the market?

The results are quite stunning. When you look at it more thoroughly, you find interesting trends in more US-based products. For example, when we look at US maternity leave policies, we already know how shockingly absent this concept is in the workplace for Americans.  Only a few companies offer it and you can’t really get a good grade on our index unless you have at least 8 weeks maternity leave, which is the benchmark in the United States. Very few companies do. I think the beauty industry and the bank industry pay for most maternity leave. Only one company in the household goods sector does. And only one car company does. Information like this can really make or break consumer perception about the company.

How do you plan on marketing BUY UP Index?

That is the hardest part. We’re the only app in the app store with feminist economic content. In the United States alone there are 12 million women and hundreds of women’s organizations. We know there’s a big population of women that want to see change.  We have partnerships with those organizations and additional partnerships created through VitaminW. We used to BUY UP methodology to rate women’s organizations such as Women’s Parenthood, Girls Scouts, Mom’s Rising. So I’m hoping that they’ll help us spread the word. In addition, we’ll be doing a crowd funding campaign this summer with women’s businesses to include them on the app.

Several people have thought of the idea but no one spent the time and money to do it. My partner and I have, and we’re really happy too because these days. I want to offer the world real, hard hit facts instead of just my opinions.

How will this app benefit the feminist movement?

I’ve been a feminist since I was nine years old. I wrote a play called Men’s Liberation. I’m actually a fourth generation feminist. My great grandmother was a feminist. I thought that everything was done when I came out into the real world. I went to a women’s college called Wellesley. I thought everything was over. And then, I get out in the world and the older I get, the more barriers I come across. I see a lot of political movements trying to occur but we still have only 20% representation in congress. So I realized that we could help the feminist movement with the market, instead of with political change. I’m no economist, but I believe we can create economic change by either using our capital power or creating capital. If you look at women’s consumer spending, that’s a huge amount of capital. When we add up women’s consumer revenues, business revenues and women’s assets, it’s a really big trillion number.

Was feminism your inspiration behind this app?

Sure! You try and be useful to the world and I had a career in magazine, wrote books, and then I thought, “What can I do that’s useful” using my skills as a writer or journalism and that is for the women’s movement. There’s a definite feminist agenda behind what I’m doing. I’m hoping that its useful to consumers as well as companies, such as L’Oreal, who are doing things right for women. There’s a big push towards what they call ethical marketing and purpose marketing – a buzzword these days- and McDonald’s even created an app to show their customers their ethical practices. I think this might be a good and an objective way for companies to communicate their good practices. Millennial consumers really care about this. People are starting to switch brands. Canadian studies show 40% of people making 100K a year have switched brands due to their ethical practices.

Do you foresee any challenges with the release of the app?

The larger companies who don’t score well will definitely be upset with me. That’s a possible challenge we may have to face. However, the main challenge is getting it out there and seeing if people want to use the app. My goal is to keep it important and interesting enough that people will keep coming back. I’ll be putting out new content and providing alternatives to other women-held businesses. Essentially, keeping it lively will be an ongoing challenge.

What do you hope to accomplish with the release of this app?

What we hope to accomplish is encouraging companies to make the right decisions. When you see a company that has no leadership programs and see that you have a low rate of women managers, you see that they can maybe fix that by adding a leadership program. We want the companies to score well and say, ”Oh, look what they’re doing right!” I’m hoping to create change and I’m hoping to reward companies that do it well. Eventually we’ll be adding coupons and transactions to the app. This is our way of working with companies that serve women well. That’s my dream!

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