CHARM OFFENSIVE: Milli Brown’s Corporate “Curve” Ball

Since pioneering A New Era in Publishing® in 1994, Milli Brown has been an industry innovator and a trailblazer for female entrepreneurs and executives. Now, she’s opening the book on her pre-publishing days with revealing reflections on her early career. Find out how she challenged the status quo long before the ‘glass ceiling,’ and read her hard-won advice for women in corporate leadership.


When I received my first business section feature as a young executive, I was ecstatic. And decidedly unfazed that “lace and curves” were cited as catalysts for my career. 


Tasked with elevating differentiation in a competitive market, I led hospitality development for a global hotel chain, and we were driving success in the service “war” among high-end companies. Which is why The Pittsburgh Press saw fit to showcase my achievements.


I firmly believe the journalist in question intended to honor my achievements, not diminish my tangible talents. Why?  Because Mr. Wylie, like most men before the 'glass ceiling' era, saw gender standards as intrinsic to workplace roles. To wit, he declared I had “struck a blow for femininity in a bid for corporate business.” As for the aforementioned clichés, my “lace and curves” were simply “keyed to a corporate strategy.”


I’d rarely thought about this interview over the years, until a youthful staffer discovered it and asked how my sentiment – or lack thereof – differed in hindsight. Apart from my enduring stance against the compulsory outrage this article would spark today, I didn’t have a ready answer. Nor did I want to sacrifice authenticity for easy platitudes.


It is important to acknowledge that gender-based assumptions exist and that integrity is not a surefire shield against disrespect. They do, and it isn’t. Unrepentant sexism happens. Everywhere, every day. It used to be blatant. Like earning a third promotion in Pittsburgh for a position that came with a large office . . . only to be denied a private desk so clients were still greeted by a "pretty face." Today, it persists more subtly. Like being included in an executive-level meeting . . . only to be told you wouldn’t be presenting and should focus on client engagement to "keep things light."


So, I revisited the article not as a time capsule, but as a springboard. And I was compelled to share my honest opinion. Here’s why I don’t subscribe to today’s definition of sexism and what I’d encourage other young professionals to takeaway from my experience…

While I’m a CEO and relentlessly independent entrepreneur, my perspective has rarely aligned with contemporary expectations. When I founded Brown Books more than 20 years ago, I was a disruptor in a very old and traditional industry. Everyone pushed back against our author-owned model because we were different. Today, that long-established industry faces increasing instability while Brown Books continues to flourish. I am successful as a result of my strength, determination and fierce independence … because let’s be honest – these days, my lace and curves have nothing to do with it.


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