Rent the Runway founder and chief executive officer Jennifer Hyman has spoken about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on her rental business.
Speaking at the invite-only Marie Claire Power On conference, Hyman told the audience of businesswomen that the past seven months have been the hardest in her career and at times “frightening, depressing, intimidating,” especially in March, when demand essentially disappeared as much of the U.S. sheltered at home.
“Our entire business is based on people getting out of their pajamas and doing something, seeing someone,” she said. “So what we had to do was not only make drastic financial cuts in the business so we had enough runway to last for an undetermined period of time, which is the hardest part when you don’t know when something is going to end, but I think more importantly we had to really try to think about what will the world be on the other side of COVID-19 and do we have faith that the mission we’ve been building over the last decade is still going to be as relevant.”
Convinced that it would, she set about homing in on the priorities for the business. That did, though, involve difficult decisions, like laying off all retail staff, shuttering all stores and ending its unlimited membership offering, but she believes that Rent the Runway is “going to be in the strongest place its ever been coming out of COVID-19.”
When asked about the criticism she received for laying off staff over Zoom during the worst days of the crisis, she responded that “every data point shows that women are held up to different standards as it relates to being a leader.”
“When that criticism happened I actually responded that we had thought that the most empathetic way to lay people off was to be able for them to see us face to face and to be able to show emotion; be able to have a conversation. The alternative would’ve been to lay someone off over the phone or lay someone off over e-mail,” she added. “We’re not dealing with a situation where there was a normal alternative of being in person so I do think that there’s an environment where it’s more sensationalistic to take down a woman, especially a woman that has stood for empowerment, who has a diverse workforce because it’s an even bigger story.”