At a Saturday conference in Hollywood, she admitted her co-founders “didn’t understand” the value of female leadership initially.
Jessica Alba opened up on Saturday about the challenges of starting The Honest Company and being taken seriously as an actress-turned-businesswoman.
At Her Campus Media’s eighth annual Her Conference at Wanderlust Hollywood, she spoke about her clean cosmetics brand and being underestimated by politicians and initially even her co-founders (who include entrepreneurs Christopher Gavigan, Nick Vlahos, Brian Lee and Sean Kane).
Alba, who keynoted along with Vanderpump Rules actress Stassi Schroeder, YouTuber Bethany Mota and Premme plus-sized clothing co-founder Gabi Gregg, also dished on therapy, maternity leave and taking “white girls’ roles,” all while speaking to a crowd of college women.
Below are six takeaways from the women’s conference, which will head to New York on June 22.
1. Alba said she got used to playing “white girls’ roles.”
The L.A.’s Finest actress said she began trying to break into the industry at age 12 after growing up in the Inland Empire, but found the industry was lacking roles for a Mexican girl like herself.
“This town is really hard to try and be successful in,” Alba said, especially “in a town that also didn’t know what to do with a girl who looked like me, because they’re like, ‘Yeah you don’t look like a leading lady because you’re exotic.’ And I was like, ‘I’m Mexican.’ And they were like, ‘Exotic.'”
She decided not to play roles that were stereotypical or offensive. “I’m not going to feed into your stereotype, because the Mexican women I know are intelligent and they hold the freaking house together.”
Since there weren’t any holistic Latina characters, Alba scored parts written for white women. “So I played white girls’ roles. And they cast an exotic to do that. And that’s fine because there was plenty to go around,” she said.
2. Alba discussed how she was underestimated as a woman in business and how she established a better workplace for women.
“I brought on business partners, and they weren’t always aligned with what I wanted to do,” Alba said of The Honest Company. “It’s been a very interesting and challenging thing, because like I said in the beginning, my co-founders didn’t understand why it’s so important, because I was the only woman.”
She added, “There are very few companies that understand the value of diversity and the value of women and women in the workplace.”
Alba has to allow herself moments of celebrating her idea and accomplishments. “Other people were assuming that [my co-founder] found a celebrity to amplify his idea. And I was like, ‘No, I actually had the idea and brought you in. You turned me down, and I had to come back to you 18 months later and pitch you again,’” she told the audience.
When she asked to have more female employees, Alba was told by her co-founders, whom she didn’t mention by name, “‘Women don’t want to work. They want kids and they just want to be moms and stay at home.’ And I was like, ‘Come on.'”
She helped transform the company from having 15 percent of the leadership team as women to 60 percent now. Alba created an internal group called WELL (Women Excelling in Leadership and Living) because she wants to emphasize who people are outside of the office, which “allows you to be the best person when you do come in.”
She also chose to establish an environment where women are not “punished” for having children, by giving them four months of maternity leave and two months of paternity leave for men, plus a flexible work schedule when returning. A mother’s room in The Honest Company office gives a “dignified” way for moms to pump milk, too.
3. She started going to therapy with her 10-year-old daughter.
Alba decided to go to therapy with her 10-year-old daughter, Honor, to “learn to be a better mother to her and communicate better with her.”
However, it was a break from the norm in her family. “Some people think, like in my family, you talk to a priest and that’s it,” she said to laughs from the crowd. “I don’t really feel comfortable talking to him about my feelings.”
“I didn’t grow up in an environment where you talked about this stuff, and it was just like shut it down and keep it moving,” Alba continued. “So I find a lot of inspiration just in talking to my kids.”
Gregg raved about therapy, too, saying, “It’s so important; changed my life.”
4. Alba didn’t go into beauty sooner because she was the face of Revlon.
Alba launched Honest seven years ago with 17 products in categories from baby to cleaning goods, but didn’t enter beauty right away due to another deal.
“Frankly, the reason why I didn’t go into beauty right away was because I was the face of Revlon and I couldn’t. And so that was just the reality of the situation,” Alba admitted.
5. Gregg said privilege is worse in the influencer space.
Gregg, who is both an influencer and designer, said at first influencers were not respected by the fashion industry.
“None of us were respected. They didn’t understand out value,” she said. And when influencers became invited to fashion week, editors at magazines “were so angry” and assumed they were just “kids.”
Still Gregg felt even more dismissed compared to “a thin white woman who comes from money, versus me, I look like fat girl wearing Forever 21.”
Therefore, it took longer for her to get sponsored campaigns, since brands wanted bloggers that look like models, she said. “Privilege 100 percent exists in everywhere in our world, and I’d say it’s kind of worse in the influencer space.” She added that slow change is being made, but the fashion industry, even if meeting a plus-size quota, decides to hire models that are size 12, blonde, white and “acceptably shaped” with an hourglass figure and flat stomach.
6. Gregg believes it’s “a little disturbing” that fashion is so “behind the times” with plus-sized clothing.
Gregg cited the fact that 68 percent of women in the U.S. are plus-sized (according to Plunkett Research), yet if she goes to a shopping mall, she can only shop at one to three stores.
She added it’s “a little disturbing to me that we’re so far behind the times. That being said, I’ve seen so much progress in the last decade.” The blogger is hopeful for change (which is coming by way of fashion houses like Christian Siriano, 11 Honore and more).