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Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman Leads Through Collaboration

In co-founding Rent the Runway, Jennifer Hyman wanted to empower women to feel their best every day. It’s a value she strives for in leading a growing company and inspiring other women in the field.

What advice do you have for young women navigating the uncertainties of career exploration?

Build yourself a personal board of directors by surrounding yourself with people who have experience and are experts in areas in which you want to grow – and give them the permission to make you better. I think that having a really strong sense of self is imperative as a leader, and understanding what your strengths are and aren’t will ensure that you challenge yourself to never stop growing.

How did you find out what “having it all” meant to you?

Everyone has their own definition of “having it all,” because what it really means is finding your own ideal of happiness. Way before I even began my career, I knew that my definition of “having it all” would mean having a life that was filled with love and spending time on the things that I’m most passionate about.

For me, that means having a life in which I’m constantly surrounded by people, whether it’s my team at Rent the Runway or the family I’m building. Those are the things that I personally have prioritized because as my life becomes busier and as Rent the Runway scales, I’ve continued to stay focused on the elements that inspire my happiness, which are my relationships with my friends, family, and team members.

What do you wish you could tell your younger self when first starting the journey of entrepreneurship?

I would tell my younger self that entrepreneurship is a lifelong vocation; it is the thing that will sustain you. And the thing that sustains you isn’t having the title “entrepreneur,” but having a mission that you feel incredibly passionate about.

When I started Rent the Runway, I wanted to democratize an industry and give every woman the opportunity to feel incredible about herself every day – it wasn’t because I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Over the past 10 years, as I’ve gone through all the ups and downs of building a company and a family at the same time, it’s Rent the Runway’s mission to change the world and empower women to feel amazing about themselves that keeps me motivated and inspired.

In a word, how would you describe your leadership?

Collaborative. I’ve always believed in building a strong bench of leaders and empowering that talent with unwavering trust so that they can accomplish their best work, but this has been especially important as we’ve scaled Rent the Runway. 

Every founder goes through a time at their company that they literally do everything – and for me, that meant delivering garment bags and cold-emailing designers. But once you achieve a certain level of growth, it becomes your job to inspire other leaders within the company with clear goals, a widely-shared set of core values, and good data – and then you get out of the way. 

You were quoted as saying, “I think seeing a CEO who has real balance in her life changes the nature of what is possible for others, and what it means to work.” What most excites you about the future of “work”? 

I’m most excited about everyone having more equal access to work – equal access to paths toward leadership, equal access to benefits, and equal paths toward job development. When I founded Rent the Runway in 2009, just 3 percent of VC funding went to female-founded companies. In 2019, according to Crunchbase, this number remained unchanged, which is completely unacceptable. In the future, I don’t want women to fight for a seat at the table, but to expect one. Diverse leaders shouldn’t have to have to explain why they’re there; they deserve it.

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