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You may know Cindy Gallop from her TED Talk "Make Love Not Porn", which has had over 2 million views, or her work as an ad industry veteran and equality rights activist. You could also be familiar with her Black Apartment, one of New York’s most famous bachelor pads, featured in shows, music videos and many other photoshoots, or outspoken Tweets and LinkedIn posts promoting other women and calling out bs when no one will. Or you may know her as the “Michael Bay of corporate America” who literally blows stuff up for movies.
Cindy spoke with Bridges Unite about solving for racial diversity in corporate America, leading the social sexual revolution through sex-tech, inventing our own future, and more.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent protest around the country, and the world, several big brands have attempted to join the conversation in different ways, one of those companies was Nike. In response, you tweeted about the lack of racial diversity on their executive leadership team.
What you are referencing to is my response to Nike putting together a very quick ad last Friday, in response to Black Lives Matter, which was all about “Don’t do it, don’t pretend there is nothing wrong with America.” I responded to Nike by saying “Hey Nike, don”t pretend there's nothing wrong with America, not one person in your leadership team” and I include a link to the Nike website where they have all their executive leadership laid out. “There is not one black person on your leadership team for a company that has made billions out of black sports people and black consumers. Change that.”
I have to tell you that I've had a ton of messages subsequently from current and ex-Nike employees thanking me for calling that out. Because Nike has a culture that is rife with racism and sexism within its ranks. What I'm saying to all brands and companies at the moment is if you really care about Black Lives Matter and if you really care about ending racism, the answer is very simple. The only thing you do is ensure, and then you publicly demonstrate, and show full black representation on your leadership team and at every single level of the company all the way down. And you prove and you show that black talent is just as welcomed, hired, promoted, celebrated, championed, compensated, bonused, rewarded, valued, and gets to thrive in your company just as much as white talent does. Just do that.
The reason I say that is because when every single company does that, that changes everything immediately. For example, in my industry advertising when you do that, you ensure that advertising is created, directed and casted through the black lens, and you get a completely different creative output in one of the most societal influential dimensions of popular culture. So it's very simple. If as a company you are rallying around black lives matter that is what you have to do. That’s all you have to do. And when you do that, you make change happen, and you also make change happen by giving black people the opportunities, money, positions, wealth and role model status that they currently don't have because of racism.
From your ample experience working with major companies, how far along do you think we are in Corporate America? There's a lot of talk, but how many companies are actually walking the talk?
We are absolutely nowhere in Corporate America. The reason for that is because at the top of every company is a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about white guys. Those white guys are sitting very pretty, they have enormous salaries, gigantic bonuses, big pools of stock options, lavish expense accounts, why on earth would they ever rock the boat. They have to talk about diversity, they have to appoint Chief Diversity Officers, they have to have diversity initiatives, they have to say the word diversity a lot, especially in public. Secretly, deep down inside, they don't want to change a thing because the system is working just fine for them as it currently is. It’s like the old light bulb joke: “how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.” In every industry and in every company the light bulb does not really want to change.
How do you ensure that change really happens throughout the organization? How do you make sure that the people at the bottom of the pyramid are actually being listened to and subsequently ensure that the top is implementing changes?
What you do is you seize the opportunity right now to make that change happen yourself. Because you have an opportunity right now that you've never had before. The pandemic first, and then everything that is happening around us in America right now is actually producing a huge opportunity , because the pandemic is proving that the world will never be the same again. And that is a very good thing for those of us who will never listen to the status quo to begin with. Because it is only when things break down as utterly and completely right now, that allows new models and new ways of doing things to emerge that never wouldn't have emerged otherwise.
For years reporters have been interviewing me and there's a set routine - I love these interviews - and the reporter goes like this: “Say Cindy, are you seeing change happen in gender equality, diversity and inclusion?” And I go: “No”. And the reporter goes: “Oh, oh, why is that?” so I go: “Closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about white guys” and they go: “So Cindy, what do you think would make change happen the way you’d like to see it?” And i've been saying for years: “Only one thing: complete and utterly total fucking disaster” and now we have it. So there are two dynamics at play: there is what the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement is currently making happen which is the complete breakdown of the old world order. And then there is what each one of us does to make things happen the way we want them to, on the top of that break down. And so that is the opportunity for every woman reading this right now, which is to seize this moment and make what you want to happen happen off the back of it.
For women that are within companies right now, there is one very easy way to accelerate your path up the career ladder. And this is the thing that I've been saying for years about women, because whether it’s now or whether it’s the start. This is the one thing that will fast-track you into the C-suite and leadership quicker than anything else. It’s very simple: understand how your company makes money and recommend more ways to make more money. That is all you have to do especially now. Right now your leadership are going apeshit because the business is taking in the pandemic and they have no idea what to do. There is nobody in your C-suite who will not take that meeting with you or reward and promote you accordingly.
So we have an unprecedented opportunity to seize this moment and make what we want happen. How do we make sure we don’t screw it up?
Very simply: by getting very very angry. I encourage women to get very very angry because when we get angry we make shit happen and we have a lot to be angry about. Get very angry. And the way to approach that is also not to think how do we not fuck it up, who gives a damn if we fuck it up? White men have been fucking it up for centuries. Who gives a shit about fucking it up. Just get angry and go off to what you want and don’t care whether you fuck it up or not.
Do what you want to do. Now it’s the time to invent your future. One of my favorite sayings of all time is Abraham Lincoln who said “in order to predict the future you have to invent it”. I am all about inventing your own future. Too many people think that the future is something that happens without us. I'm all about deciding what you want the future to be and go make it happen, because for all the reasons I have just gone through, now is the opportunity to do so, now you can. Who the hell would ever want to go back to normal? Who wants to go back to that closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about white guys? None of us.
Who gives a damn what they want?
You’ve talked about creating your future and that's something you've definitely done for yourself. Can you tell us about your journey?
The answer is no, I can't.
I have a sunglasses case that says on it “don't look back, you're not going that way”. I'm not remotely interested in analyzing my past. My entire life and career has all happened by accident. I’ve never consciously planned anything. I’m where I am today because of 60 years of living. I would like it not to take that long for other women. That's why I'm saying don't give a damn what anybody thinks. Decide what you want to do and make it happen.
Don’t look at my journey, look at yours.
Stop worrying about learning from other women's journeys. One of the reasons I'm saying that is because 7 years ago my friend Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review, which is the most read article in the HBR of all times. It was called “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders”. The point Tomas made is that we focus all the time on the many barriers that are in place for brilliant women, but a far bigger problem is the lack of obstacles for incompetent men. He is absolutely right. And by the way, he turned it into a book which he published a couple of years ago. I wrote a blurb for the cover of it and I say “this is the single most important leadership book of all times''.
Women have said to me so many times in the past when fighting for gender equality: “I don’t want to be hired just because Im a woman” and my response is “get over it, and look around you all the incompetent white men who got hired just because they were men. So stop worrying about “oh my god, I’m not good enough to do what I want to do yet, I’ve got to learn from other women”. You are entirely capable of doing anything you want to do. Get angry about all of the men who didn't face any of the obstacles you did to get to where they are today, go out there and choose your own path, and decide what you want to do, and trust me, you are fully qualified to make it happen. You don't need inspiration, you don't need role models, you don't need to learn from anyone else. You are totally capable of going out there and making it happen for yourself.
In 2009 you launched Make Love Not Porn at your TED Talk, which had over 2 million views was the most talked TED Talk of the year. How has the industry changed since then? For instance, we have seen an increase of sex-tech women-led companies at CES (Consumer Electronics Show).
What I launched in 2009 was a ritual iteration, which was porn versus the real world, born out of my experience dating younger men. The extraordinary response to my TED Talk showed me that I had uncovered a huge global social issue. Porn actively defaults as sex-ed because we don't talk about sex. Eleven years ago nobody else was writing about that, talking about that, I was the first person ever to stand up on the Ted stage and properly identify that porn had became sex education by default. The response to that was so extraordinary that I turned Make Love Not Porn into a business, what it is today, Makelovenorporn.tv, which has only been a business for the past seven and a half years. Make love not porn is the world's first and only user-generated, human-curated, social-sex video sharing platform. We are what Facebook would be if it allowed you to socially sex express, which it doesn’t. We are socializing and normalizing sex to make it easier for every one to talk about, in order to promote consent, communication, good sexual values and and good sexual behavior. We call ourselves the social sex revolution. The revolution is not for the sex, is for social.
The one thing we hadn't realized is that me and my team would have to fight a battle every single day to build it. Every piece of business infrastructure any other startup takes for granted we can't. The small print always says “no adult content”. This is across every aspect of the business, people outside of the industry don't realize. I can't get funded, I can't get banks. It took me four years here in America to find a bank that would allow me to open a business bank account. Our biggest operational challenges are payments, Paypal won’t work with us. Every tech service I need to use it always says “no adult content”. Everything is a battle.
The biggest thing we have to celebrate is that we are still here. When the financial system tries to shut us down every single day, in a world where 90% of the startups fail in the first five years, it gives you an idea of how much the world needs us. So if you appreciate what I'm doing for all of, us please go to Makelovenotporn.com, join us, subscribe and support us.
In that context, something like 6 years ago now, I set out to raise 2 million dollars to scale and Make Love Not Porn. I knew it would be challenging. My biggest challenging in finding investors would be the social dynamic that I call “fear of what other people will think”, which operates around sex, my kind of area. I knew that I would have to do what I tell other entrepreneurs to do which is when you have a truly world changing startup you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around. That was the point in which I got into the Steve Jobs business of reality distortion, because reality tells me that I cannot grow Make Love Not Porn the way I want to, I'm going to change reality. What I mean by that is that I deliberately six years ago began defining, pioneering and championing my own category “sex-tech”. So I literally wrote the definition of sex-tech. If you Google “sex-tech” I’m result one on page one. Sex-tech, by the way, is any technology or tech venture designed to design or innovate in any area of human sex and sexual experience. I coined the hashtag #sex-tech, I didn’t invent the term, but I’m directly responsible for the hashtag to be properly used today.
I began speaking in conferences all around the world in why the next big thing in technology is disrupting sex. Because I thought at base level that if I just say this loud enough, often enough and in enough places, people will start to believe it. I did all of that out of desperation in order to create a climate of receptivity with investors by legitimizing my own category in order to get into funding. I am happy to report that today there are many more of us, female sex-tech founders but we still fight a battle every single day.
CES did not welcome sex-tech. CES has rejected my application to keynote on sex-tech two years running. CES banned sex-tech and it was only when Lora Hadock, the founder of Lora Dicarlo, who won an award for technology, which then CES took back, calling her sex-tech sex toy obscene. When she publicized this this, the insane outrage media coverage forced CES to accept some women sex-tech founders, they then very reluctantly shoved those female sex-tech founder in the furthest possible corner they could find. They hid them from plain view.
This what I mean when I tell women to get angry, I want your Bridges Unite community to support female sex-tech founders. I want them to campaign next to us to overturn this hypocrisy because no, life has not gotten easier for any of us. I am still fighting a battle every single goddamn day. But I am happy to report that the pandemic has made MLNP’s time because now the world is in lock down globally, we are a global platform. The world is more in need of love, intimacy and human affection than ever before, that is what we celebrate. So the pandemic is proof of concept for MLNP, people are staying at home with plenty of time in their hands to become MLNP stars. So we welcome anyone reading this, to socially share your sex by sending out social sex videos.
I conceived a revenue-sharing business model eleven years ago. Our members of MLNP pay to subscribe, renting and screen sex videos. Half of that income goes to our contributors. When we launched seven and a half years ago, I introduced this business model with a blog post titled how MLNP can help with the global economy. Now you can make $2,000 dollars a week working from home. I'm delighted to report that at the time when so many people were negatively financially impacted, a number of our MLNP contributors who lost their jobs and can't find work, tell us that the monthly payouts they make are keeping them going. Our payouts are supporting them through the pandemic so they don't have to worry. That is another great news to consider becoming a MLNP star.
Thank you for creating the world and shaping it the way it should be. Going over testimonials, we saw that one subscriber said how nice the love between the couple was.
Here is the reason for that: it's important that your community thinks about this as well. The young while male founders of the sex platforms that dominate our lives today are not our primary targets of online and offline of harassment, abuse, sexual assault, violence, rape, revenge porn. Therefore they do not and do not proactively design for it. Those of us who are most at risk every single day: women, black people, people of color, LGBTQ, disabled. We design safe spaces and safe experiences.
My team and have literally spent years designing MLNP. Before we designed it, we did because we knew that if we were going to dive into something that had never been done before, socially sharing real world sex, we had to think around every single possible detail required to create a complete and trustworthy space. As a result, in the adult sphere we operate like anyone else on the internet, period. That is what we have the opportunity to as women. I am so happy that in times like these I have a startup that celebrates nothing but love. That showcases nothing but love. That is the community containing nothing but love. Those are the ventures we design.
Now imagine if women were funded at the same level as young white men. Imagine the world that we can shape and we can create, where everybody including white young men would be so much happier. That is the opportunity I want everyone reading this right now to seize, that is what I mean when I say invent your own future. Invent the future we all want to live and work in.
What is the one message you would like to share with our Bridges Unite community?
Unashamedly set out to make an absolutely goddamn fucking shit ton of money. In any paid review, job interview process, partnership deal, the amount you ask for is the highest amount you can say out loud without actually bursting out laughing. The reason that is important is first of all, we don't get taken seriously until we get taken seriously financially, but secondly when we make an absolutely goddam fucking shit ton of money we can then use that money to fund other women.
We can then support other women, help other women to empower other women, we need to build our own financial ecosystem because the white male one is not working for us.
Bridges Unite - Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Debra Natasha Pogorelsky has been driven by a passion for tech and startups. She kick-started her career in Toronto with one of Facebook’s first marketing partners. After relocating to Miami, Debra joined the agency world, applying her expertise to acquire and grow Fortune 500 accounts, and ultimately joining PepsiCo to run its LATAM Beverage's portfolio digital strategy.
Her passion, creativity, and connections have led her to create Bridges Unite and she is a force to be reckoned with in female empowerment and business building. In addition to leading Bridges Unite, Debra currently leads PepsiCo's Fruits & Veggies category for Latin America and the region's Marketing Sustainability efforts. She is an intrapreneur who has successfully navigated the Fortune 500, tech and agency industries. Her mission is to invent the world we all want to work and live in.
Get in touch:
Linked In: Debra Natasha Pogorelsky