Alumnae/i Feature

Equalizing the Market: Bringing Power to Women-Owned Businesses with Vanessa Bruce '09

Headshot of Vanessa Bruce

Dough has been highly intentional about equity and transparency, and due to the climate last year, the marketplace met the demand of shoppers who had an elevated awareness of how to practice conscious consumerism.

As of 2020, only 7.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women despite 40% of all US businesses being owned by women. In addition, less than 3% of venture capital is invested in start-ups owned by women. This, coupled with the wage gap, has led to a large gender disparity that Vanessa Bruce '09 is trying to help fix.

Over coffee one day, Bruce and her colleague Anna Palmer discussed how hard it is to be a female-founder. She says that Palmer "also had similar frustrations from being a VC [venture capitalist], seeing how venture capital just doesn’t end up in the hands of women...And we just started talking stats." This conversation led to a business focused on creating economic equity, also known as, Dough.

Dough’s goal is to drive money directly to women-owned businesses to help them gain traction and ultimately become more successful. They want to create an uplifting environment that supports as many people as possible.

Bruce, a graphic design and public relations major, notes that her time at Simmons helped teach her the value of inclusive communities, which is why diversity, equity and inclusion are the backbone of everything Dough does. They demonstrate this commitment by utilizing an extensive set of shopping filters, a transparency dashboard, and outside partnerships.

"It can't just be a community around white feminism," she says, "It has to be a community rooted in intersectional feminism."

Dough's goal to help minimize gender disparities also extends to their payroll. Everyone's salaries are transparent and based on their position, so no one is getting paid more or less than a colleague doing equal amounts of work.

Bruce recalls her time early in the workforce where she didn’t know to negotiate her salary and ended up getting paid significantly less than her coworkers. She remembers going out with coworkers, talking money, and realizing that some were making close to double what she did. When starting Dough, she didn’t want any of her team members to be in that situation.

"As I researched transparent pay, I was just seeing how that impacts the pay gap directly," Bruce notes. She and Palmer were dedicated to ensuring their employees were compensated fairly and continuing to believe in transparent pay while Dough grows as a company.

At its inception, Dough was just a landing page that was sent to some friends. Through the power of friends, family, and networking, Dough got about 1,000 sign-ups within a couple of weeks. Since then, Dough has expanded exponentially, growing to a community of more than 30,000.

Every member is helping Dough create change from the bottom up. If every person over the age of 18 in the United States spent $20 a month, that would equate to $5 billion a month just going to women-owned businesses. Dough's "ultimate goal at the end of the day is to drive money towards women-owned businesses … That representation matters so much."

During the time of COVID, this support has been more meaningful than ever. The Dough marketplace launched in September when the number of online shoppers had increased significantly due to the pandemic. During this time, small businesses were hit extra hard, and Dough wanted to create more visibility for them and now offers over 1,000 items from over 200 women-owned businesses.

"Dough has been highly intentional about equity and transparency,” says Bruce, “and due to the climate last year, the marketplace met the demand of shoppers who had an elevated awareness of how to practice conscious consumerism."