What Will Lululemon’s Increasingly Male Leadership Mean For Women?

Photo: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for lululemon athletica
What goes on behind the scenes at any company is never quite as interesting as when its higher-ups make public mistakes. Naturally, when Lululemon's founder Chip Wilson blamed women's bodies for his company's see-through yoga pants back in 2013, we were all up in arms. But now, a few less, shall we say, transparent moves by Lululemon execs has the potential to impact both our athleisure-wearing habits and the progress of women at the top of the corporate ladder. Buzzfeed tells a worrisome story about Lululemon's leadership. Earlier this week, chief product officer Tara Poseley was ousted in a reorganization. What that means is a company once noted for having women in three out of its four top positions is now being run by five men. Current CEO Laurent Potdevin replaced female CEO Christine Day, who left shortly after the whole sheer-pants disaster. A Lululemon spokesperson noted to Buzzfeed that it does still have many women in VP roles, including its SVP of retail in North America. Four of its 11 board members are women.
The New York Times also ran a profile of Lululemon, highlighting the changes that have taken place at the company since Potdevin became CEO in 2014. Its corporate philosophy remains an Ayn Rand-inspired mission to "elevate the world to greatness," but employees are no longer required to take Landmark Forum seminars for personal development. Lulu's management team gets on-site personal coaching by an employee named David Ogle, who helps them achieve personal goals and "embrace their failure." One of Ogle's own goals is to be "an influencer in the realm of masculine leadership" by 2024. On the consumer side, the company has turned more attention to product performance with a lab in Vancouver called the Whitespace. There, clothing gets put to the test both on real people working out and in the washing machine. The Times piece does not mention how the hoodies recalled this year for a drawstring that injured women's faces got past the Whitespace. Lululemon is also working on connecting more to male customers. There's a new line of men's pants that advertise "ABC (anti-ball crushing) engineering." And Lululemon recently opened a store called Forlise, in Whistler, BC, that tries to attract men to the brand via bicycle-tuning classes and "stretch" sessions. In the Times piece, Duke Stump, EVP for brand and community, said that most Lululemon stores are managed by "primarily young women in their 20s, essentially running $15 million to $20 million stores independently." It will be interesting to see if this shift at the top will trickle down to the women contemplating buying Lululemon's clothing.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series