A ROOM OF THEIR OWN
The room is packed and the energy is palpable. People swap business cards over drinks as they discuss their professional aspirations.
But this isn’t networking as usual. It’s a movement driven by “boss babes” -- a community of self-identifying women poised to take Austin’s creative industries by storm.
The brainchild of University of Texas alumnus Jane Claire Hervey, Boss Babes ATX was conceived as a way to empower women in creative and professional fields through the spirit of community and female solidarity, rather than competition.
“We’re not trying to facilitate extremely professional networking,” Hervey said. “I’m trying to facilitate candid, real, social human interaction. I’m trying to make a community, not curated hand greetings and business card exchanges.”
After graduating in December of 2014, Hervey found herself struggling to find a foothold in a bustling city of creatives. Although she had the qualifications to work in a variety of industries, she felt she lacked the community and connectedness to reach her goals.
That’s when Boss Babes ATX was founded.
“The motivation was to just meet more women myself and meet women under this understanding that we weren’t competing with one another.”
Almost immediately, Boss Babes gained notoriety as a powerful medium for hundreds of women to gather in local spaces to cultivate meaningful and long-lasting relationships. Through monthly meetups that encouraged face-to-face communication, Boss Babes offered a unique alternative to online social networking.
“Essentially we’re trying to move everything that happens in the digital sphere into more of a physical one-on-one face time,” Hervey said.
In under a year, Boss Babes has grown an impressive audience. Over 500 people attended the April meet, an event that even drew former Texas senator Wendy Davis.
However, the company’s “rockstar” overnight success did not come without outside pressure and heightened expectations.
“When you’re literally only two weeks old as a company, and you already have thousands of people watching you and holding you accountable, it’s very daunting and very emotional and you feel uncomfortable. It’s not easy."
Broadly defined, creative industries have become one of the most important economic forces of the twenty-first century global economy. They include a wide range of fields from fashion, film and performing arts to software development and digital media. While women are flocking to these careers in greater numbers than ever before, significant obstacles remain for those who want to get ahead.
For example, according to a 2014 report, women made up only 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers editors and cinematographers working on the top grossing domestic films.
To help mitigate the barriers women often encounter in business, organizations like the Forte Foundation provide resources that encourage women to expand their leadership and entrepreneurial capacities.
Elissa Sangster, the executive director of Forte, said the foundation offers a support system and accessibility to networks through outreach events and programs, which sometimes also help encourage men to be advocates for inclusive leadership.
‘The better we can prepare women for entrepreneurship careers, business careers, or corporate careers-- whatever it is -- the more kind of reality we can give them around what it’s going to take that is critical to their succeeding,’ Sangster said.
Services like Forte are necessary because of the challenges women seem to face when following a business or entrepreneur route. Sangster believes a lack of mentors place women at a disadvantage when entering the business world.
“[Business] because it had been so traditionally dominated by men, there weren’t a lot of people in their [women’s] network that could really advise them,” Sangster said.
Aside from mentors, Hervey points out that insufficient resources and information can also pose as obstacles for women in the workplace.
“That doesn’t mean women aren’t equipped to do things or need an extra push-- it just means that they might not have access to the same resources like men who’ve been in the industry for a long time.”
Women like Hervey and Sangster are continuing to help pave the way for female entrepreneurs through willful leadership and a whole lot of girl power-- but without the condemnation of men. Hervey thinks it is all a simple question of whether one believes in the equality of the sexes.
“It’s not like feminists are rising up and taking men hostage and are like, “Give us equal pay or we’re going to keep the men forever here in a locked dungeon!” Hervey said. “If you’re like, ‘Well, feminism is man hating, so I don’t believe in equality of the sexes,’ that’s a cop out.”
Boss Babes ATX celebrates their one year anniversary this May.