An old friend, maybe from high school, messages you about an incredible new opportunity--you get to be part of a team, make your own hours, work from home, and participate in circulating an awesome product that is sure to change your life, and your friends and families' lives too. You're basically an entrepreneur. There's just one hitch--you need to put up some of your own money, of course (as the saying goes, you have to spend it to make it) and you have to bring other people on board, maybe some of your own friends from high school or yoga class or Bible study.
You might already know that all of these are the tell-tale signs of an MLM, or multi-level marketing scheme, sometimes referred to as direct selling. MLMs are all about the up-line--depending on which tier you are (picture a pyramid), you're responsible to the head of the team, or perhaps one of their own recruits, and you have your own recruits who report to you, and so on. MLMs also operate on the fact that the products they sell, be it skincare, supplements, diet plans, or even clothing, are not available in regular stores, and you can only get them through a rep of the company. In the '80s and '90s, these products were pretty niche, but nowadays, the products are more well-known in popular culture, and better advertised and represented. Another interesting change has also occurred over the last decade or so, which MLM companies have been able to fully capitalize on. More and more products are geared towards women, and now, these businesses are directly targeting women as potential employees or customers.
The new, shiny "girlboss" craze has allowed companies like LipSense, Nu Skin, Arbonne, LulaRoe, Mary Kay, Young Living, and many more to profit off of female empowerment as well as the emerging yet powerful cultural concept of the "side hustle." What's more, as countless articles from reputable sources and from women actually involved in these companies will tell you, there's a certain type of woman who is the ideal candidate for employment. An article from The Huffington Post outlines the three M's that multi-level marketers most often target: moms, Mormons, and the military.
Stay-at-home moms are first and foremost because naturally, they're what we most often think of when we think of someone involved as an MLM. Moms, aside from raising their kids, have a lot of time on their hands, and they're understandably high on the list as a perfect MLM rep...they can easily utilize social media to reach out to their vast network of friends and family, all from their own home and on their own time, making a job with an MLM convenient and flexible for their lifestyle.
Mormons might be the surprising one, but the Church of Latter-Day Saints, also called LDS, is notoriously involved in MLMs. Utah, where the LDS population is most heavily concentrated in the US, has more MLM businesses per capita than any other state. Mormon women are oftentimes not out in the workforce; they're moms and homemakers, but in recent years, Mormon women have gone above and beyond in showing they can have it all--a family and an extremely lucrative business. Companies like Young Living are owned and operated by LDS members, and these companies are only too happy to prove that their mothers and homemakers, as well as being exemplary Church members, are successful businesswomen.
The last M, military, is both a crucial target for MLMs and a disturbing one. Military spouses from the beginning are conditioned to move from place to place, and in a new community where making new friends might be difficult, MLMs have found a profitable solution. Most multi-level marketing schemes involve parties or get-togethers where women are invited by the seller to try the product for themselves. Neighbors and friends are invited to have drinks and snacks at the seller's house, where new products are also introduced and may be demonstrated, and the guests are heavily encouraged to buy. It's common on military bases or in similar environments for spouses who are perhaps new to the area to be invited to these parties, where they can not only meet new people but also be pitched a product by the seller.
In each of these instances though, MLMs are making money off of women in an almost predatory way, especially those in vulnerable or awkward situations, to say nothing of the women who are part of an upline and have invested both time and money into the business. For example, a starting purchase of inventory for an employee of LulaRoe, a clothing company, is $5,000, and hundreds more each month to keep up-to-date inventory. Although many employees are promised large bonuses, fancy cars or even luxury getaways and cruises (should they make the mark), spending money doesn't stop at that first inventory purchase.
While it's the people at the very top who might be taking amazing vacations, or making huge monthly bonuses, it's the people on the lower tiers, the down line recruits, who are working hard, but suffering by design. Women especially have been sold the idea that they can have a lucrative side hustle no matter their situation, but when they fail to spend or sell enough, there can be devastating results.
Women are constantly proving that they can make valuable contributions to the workforce. Female empowerment is so important, and it can be achieved through being your own boss or having a successful career. But if those initial opportunities and promises sound too good to be true, they probably are.