Powerhouse CEO Rekha Rao Driven By A Mission To See More Women Of Color In Leadership

Rekha Rao

According to a recent article in Forbes by entrepreneur Jocelyn Mangan, corporations are increasingly becoming the most significant lever for economic and societal change. But this is contingent on who holds leadership positions at those corporations, and the culture they create. One area where corporations can be pushed to think deeper about progress and true inclusion is through their board of directors, but again, diversity of thoughts must be represented. As Jocelyn writes and as the stats show, we still have a long way to go.

“Boardrooms are lacking the representation needed to generate the outcomes that will best serve our future. Study after study shows diverse boards mean better business for all stakeholders. Yet in public company boardrooms, women represent less than a third of directors. And among the most heavily funded, high-growth private companies, 40% have all-male boards and 78% don’t include a single woman of color,” she writes.

An organization looking to shake things up in this regard, is the Women on Boards Project, created in 2020 by consumer industry leaders to increase the number of women serving on the boards of early-stage consumer companies, while also expanding diversity.

One of their recent success stories was bringing powerhouse CEO Rekha Rao to join the board of directors of leading feminine care brand LOLA – a brand on a mission to transform reproductive health and wellness, by pushing for transparency in female reproductive products like tampons and sexual health.

For too long, women of color have been disproportionately affected by barriers when it comes to accessing quality feminine care products and services. From a lack of representation in product development and marketing to financial barriers that prevent access to necessary care, women of color have been left behind.

But there are advocates who are working to change this, like Rekha, through education, advocacy, and community outreach, organizations and individuals are breaking down the barriers that women of color face in accessing feminine care. Rekha spent more than twenty years at Colgate-Palmolive and now serves as the CEO of Hello Products, a natural oral care brand. For nearly the last decade, she desired to find a board seat where her experience and point of view would help accelerate the business and do so in a category that had personal meaning.

As a mother of an 18-year-old and a woman of color, she is all too familiar with the struggles and disparities that women of color face and has always felt a calling to drive change and create a positive impact. When LOLA approached Rekha, it made perfect sense that her first board role would be with a company that looks to educate consumers by shining a light on the racial and social disparities that contribute to reproductive inequity.

LOLA had a specific vision of what they hoped this new voice could bring to the boardroom and wanted to fill the seat with someone who had an extensive corporate background with small brand execution; a significant understanding of the frequency use of commodities; and international experience. When the Women on Boards Project put forth Rekha, LOLA knew they had found their candidate.

We wanted to chat with Rekha about her new board appointment, why diversity matters, and what she hopes to contribute to the future of feminine care products at LOLA.

Congrats on joining the board of LOLA! How did this opportunity come about for you? 

I had connected with Brianna Rizzo from Women on Boards Project and told me about Women on Boards, and she connected me with the LOLA team.

What does LOLA focus on, and how are they invested in female empowerment? 

LOLA is a feminine hygiene and reproductive health company. They have a simple & powerful mission – to reinvent feminine care, starting with high quality, natural ingredients you can trust.

Why is female empowerment important to you personally, especially within your industry? 

Female empowerment is incredibly important to me for a variety of reasons. First, as a woman of color in corporate America, it is important to create the right environment for women to thrive and succeed. Second, as a mother of an 18-year-old daughter, I am especially focused on ensuring she lives in a world where she is truly empowered.

What is Women on Boards, and why is their existence vital right now in the corporate world? 

Women on Boards Project powerful nonprofit organization in partnership with several industry thought leaders in the finance & private equity space, committed to connecting talented women to board experience.

For those who may not be familiar, what does a board member do, and what do you hope to achieve on the LOLA board? 

I hope to leverage my years of CPG experience to guide LOLA to maximize its potential in the marketplace. LOLA is on a mission to ensure more transparency in female reproductive products like tampons and sexual health. 

How do you hope the company will be able to make a difference at a time when reproductive rights and gender equality are under attack politically? 

I think this is an inspiring time to relate to a company that can make such a difference on such an important issue. The more people that engage with LOLA, the more that female empowerment is being showcased.

How can a board of directors play a role in how a company operates, how it presents itself in the world, and the culture it creates? 

A board can have an impact on all 3 of these – by asking the right questions, providing the appropriate guidance and by ensuring that all the duties of a board are upheld.

Feminine care companies are a massive market, yet there are some who brush of “women’s issues” as less important than others (as evidenced by the disparity in funding compared to male-lead and male-driven startups). How would you push back on this? 

This is exactly why we need companies like LOLA to thrive. The ecosystem is not easy, so the more we can share LOLA’s story and inspire other female led startups, the more we can change the world.

How can more women in leadership positions have an impact in the everyday lives of women and girls globally? 

I hope to be a role model for women & girls – to show that they are as unstoppable as their dreams are.

What advice would you give to companies who want to diversify their leadership – why is it important and how do they achieve it? 

The country and world are becoming increasingly diverse and connected. Employee bases and boards should genuinely reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve. That diversity brings different experiences, viewpoints, and lenses – all of those makes for better decision making. In addition, seeing the representation at leadership levels matter.

You can learn more about LOLA via the website, and get familiar with the work of Women on Boards Project.