Three millennial women wanted to form a community for their fellow creatives. One year later, #bossbabesATX has amassed a new-age networking organization that isn’t typical or stuffy. There’s no judgment within this growing group of females, only dedication to supporting developing and established women-owned businesses through real connections, real money and real change.
It’s been one year since #bossbabesATX, a women’s networking group for female creatives and business owners, launched with its first-ever “meet,” held in the backyard of east Austin boutique Friends & Neighbors. The passage of time has done little to dissipate an ongoing atmosphere of anticipation, evident at a group gathering in April at the Spiderhouse Ballroom.
A year ago, the feeling was one of potential, a hopeful vibe about what the newly minted organization could become. Even the founders weren’t sure at the time.
At the April gathering, Wendy Davis, who one attendee likened to the Beyoncé of politics, waited in the wings of the venue to participate in the “babe announcements” that take place at every meet. Before she was up, a riot Grrrl-identifying, intersectional-feminist women’s therapist and a pair of lesbian travel bloggers made announcements of their own. This is just a brief smattering of the eclecticism of the assembled crowd.
When it was her turn at the mic, Davis spoke about her own initiative, Deeds not Words, an organization launched with the goal of connecting women with one another and to resources that help them make real change in the world.
“I have so many young women who ask the same question over and over and over again, passionate young women just like everyone in this room tonight who ask, ‘What do we do?’” Davis said to the crowd. “What do we do with all of this passion, with our desire to make a change with all of the things that we’re upset about or hopeful about, the changes that we want to see happen. What do we do?”
“What do we do?” is a good question, and one that’s relevant for the three co-founders of #bossbabesATX.
When Jane Claire Hervey, Leslie Lozano and Ashlee Jordan Pryor recognized the frustrating lack of a creative female community in the Austin area, it was that line of questioning that propelled them to create their organization, through which hundreds of women have since come to talk about business, life or whatever they want.
“I know there are all these women that are doing really successful things, and I read about them and I see what they’re doing and I really admire them, but I don’t feel like I ever have the opportunity to openly talk to them about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it. And I have yet to find a safe space to ask those questions,” Hervey says about her motivation to launch #bossbabesATX with her two best friends in the spring of 2015.
All three women are multi-titled creatives. Hervey, the founder and head of operations, is a musician, creative consultant, writer and editor; Lozano, a co-founding member and manager of artist communication and workshops, is a stylist and improv artist; and Pryor, the other co-founding member and manager of vendor and community communications, is a seamstress and an improv artist as well. Each of them craved a community through which they could meet women along similar career paths.
“Initially, a lot of what I wanted out of #bossbabesATX was selfish,” Hervey says. “I wanted a group of women that I could turn to, and that’s what I tried to create, the space that I would want to do that.”
Hervey and her co-founders had already experienced the power of a strong support structure, or a family, as they call it, when they envisioned the larger plans for the organization.
Late 2014, when Hervey first came up with the idea for #bossbabesATX, was a tough one for all three co-founders, in both personal and professional spheres, as they navigated life outside college. It was in that chaotic period that Lozano and Hervey, roommates and close friends since Hervey’s senior year of high school, met Pryor, a fellow transplant from the Rio Grande Valley. The friendship proved fortuitous. When the floods that fall left Hervey and Lozano homeless, Pryor was there to take them in.
Pryor was also there, with Lozano, to continue pushing Hervey to realize her idea of carving out a space for creative women.
“We had that support system within each other and realized how difficult it was for all women, and not just us, and so, when Jane came to us with this idea, I was completely on board,” Lozano says.
Their friendship, which has continued throughout a year of external pressures, as well as the stressors of running a business, was the first testament to how impactful a tight-knit community of women can be.
“I do think it speaks to just having good friends around you that propel you forward and believe in your dreams and what you say, because if they hadn’t believed in me and the things that I wanted to do, it wouldn’t have happened,” Hervey says. “[#bossbabesATX] really started just because I had good friends.”
After launching a website and building the #bossbabesATX brand, the trio announced their first meet, expecting maybe 20 women would show up to network over coffee and beer. Instead, more than 200 did, a number whittled down from the 900 who RSVP’d.
Now, the community numbers in the thousands and spans programming from meets like the one with Wendy Davis in April, to retreats and free workshops about business basics like branding and handling finances. During South By Southwest this March, #bossbabesATX expanded its networking platform to launch Babes Fest, a one-day, all-woman-produced festival featuring female musicians, artists, filmmakers and comedians. This year, the women plan to take that show and their brand on the road, with stops in San Antonio, Houston, New York and Dallas.
That #bossbabesATX was so immediately successful spoke to the real need of spaces like theirs in the Austin community. Austin has any number of networking events exclusively for women, to be sure. But try to find another at which women of all colors and ages line-dance to Beyoncé’s “Formation,” or one that features those women’s bodies in an online photo series celebrating all sizes and condemning fat- and skinny-shaming.
#bossbabesATX is a new, different breed of women’s group, shaped by the tastes, interests and business acumen of its young founders (22, 23 and 24 years old for Hervey, Lozano and Pryor, respectively), and not by the tired template of what Wendy Davis calls “the typical stuffy event that networking functions tend to be.”
The co-founders are very aware that their use of slang, or even curse words, doesn’t really fit into the mold of what a professional business association “should” like look; they’ve heard the feedback and read through the emails that roll in from critics. Even the reappropriated phrase “babe” can be a turnoff for previous generations that find it sexist. But their unapologetic commitment to doing things in their own authentic way is part of their appeal to their own age bracket, the millennial generation, which is often overgeneralized, overlooked or criticized for its nontraditional approaches to careers and business.
“You know what they say about millennials?” Hervey asked the crowd at the April meet. “They don’t like to meet face to face. Helloooooooooo,” she said as she gestured to a majority millennial crowd that was there, in fact, to meet face to face and, more than that, to make real change, like Davis had suggested.
What “they” also say about millennials is that they’re really into work-life balance, that they eschew conventional career paths for winding ones and that they’re all about pursuing passion without sacrificing profit. Though millennials are also resistant to characterization, you probably won’t find any dissenters to those generalizations in a #bossbabesATX room full of female musicians, actresses, dancers, illustrators, photographers, marketers, comedians, seamstresses, artisans and businesswomen. “A lot of us are entrepreneurs. A lot of us are creatives,” Pryor says. “We’re selling our art, but our art is us. There’s no separation.”
The co-founders themselves can attest to that fact. To keep #bossbabesATX running, each of them works a part-time job on the side, with multiple other creative projects and gigs, including, for Pryor, being a mom to her daughter, Olivia.
“At the end of the day, a 45-hour work week, if it’s not going to make us happy, we’re not going to do it,” Lozano says. “I’d rather just hustle on the things that I love and the things I enjoy instead of just wasting it on something I’m not passionate about.”
Not all the women in #bossbabesATX fit into the millennial box, in part, because the organization is against putting any woman into any box, but also because the group is simply too diverse to be boxed in, with members spanning ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and more.
When #bossbabesATX first launched, part of the negative feedback received involved people questioning the group’s commitment to inclusivity. Diversity is something fiercely important to the co-founders, not in the least because they have experienced exclusion in their lives. It’s also why they opened up their organization to females and self-identifying females, or people who identify as women even if their birth certificates list a different gender, believing that no one should be excluded because they’re not “woman” enough. Including an expansive set of viewpoints also furthers the mission “the babes” set out to accomplish in the first place.
“Just meeting different people that think differently than you and have had different upbringings and identify more strongly with factors of their personality other than woman-ness, I think that’s important for any woman- fronted business,” Hervey says.
What’s equally important for any business, including those fronted by women, is money. While community and female-power anthems are all well and good, the co-founders aren’t just about girl power, which they feel has become commoditized in many ways, for girl power’s sake. As creatives and as women, they understand the value of the dollar and what it means in making measurable change for women. As Davis reminded the crowd at the April meet, many women are still paid less than their male counterparts.
“We definitely believe that commerce and e-commerce and money equals power, and we want to make sure that women have hat,” Lozano says.
Networking is part of that equation. Gathering women in a room with other potential partners and collaborators is an opportunity for creatives to mingle in a way that might deliver real monetary gains in the business world.
“We’re trying to counterbalance the fact that this communication, in some cases, has not existed for people in the same way that it has in [the]other [gender],” Hervey says. “Men have had hundreds and hundreds of years to develop a cultured gender that speaks to successful business and communication about business.”
#bossbabesATX’s own culture makes it easier and more comfortable for women to meet other women. Attendees are encouraged to be awkward, to approach other women, to ask questions, to be open and talk about themselves and to listen as others talk about their own ventures. It’s another facet of the organization that makes it amenable to young women (i.e., not stuffy) and that distinguishes it from other networking groups that feel intimidating.
“[When I went to other events or collectives,] I was nervous and I was scared and I would end up going home and not talking to anybody, and I felt like a complete failure,” Lozano says. “So, with #bossbabesATX, we encourage people to be awkward and we encourage people to talk to each other, and it feels like a safe place because it is a safe place.”
For women, especially, that safe space is necessary to have real discussions that result in real change.
“I do think that having communication and the ability to talk to other people who are experiencing the same wage gaps and discrimination…is important to have,” Hervey says. “You have to find a community of people who understand it or you will feel alone and you won’t speak up or speak out.”
Speaking up and speaking out, especially in the context of the wage gap, requires that women ask for what they’re worth, something that’s historically been difficult for a gender that tends to undervalue itself. In the creative sphere, that undervaluing can mean the difference between a side job that isn’t financially sustainable and a passion that becomes a full-blown, profitable career and business.
“Women have the tendency to doubt themselves more than men do, statistically, and so, with that doubt comes an undervaluing of your service because you’re like, ‘I’m not sure it’s worth this much,’ or, ‘I’m not sure if this is actually what I need to be doing,’ ” Hervey says.
Even the co-founders are guilty of self- doubt from time to time. #bossbabesATX has helped them, as well as its other members, to see their own worth. After launching the organization, Pryor started charging more for her designs, and Lozano revisited her passion for styling and her interest in improv after previously putting both on the back burner.
“We want women to know their worth and know what they’re doing,” Pryor says.
Hervey, Lozano and Pryor are nothing if not committed to practicing what they preach. And what they preach, above all, is making sure women get paid for their work, through networking and collaborative opportunities, but also just within the #bossbabesATX community.
“One of the things that we really try to push as an organization is that part of having a community is that you understand what your community needs to survive,” Hervey says. “That obviously means taking care of yourself, but it does mean supporting others. It does mean paying for things that people do for you. It does mean being conscious with your dollar.”
#bossbabesATX encourages that consciousness by hosting vendors at each of its meets, giving Austin makers and creatives an avenue to sell their goods and expand their brands’ reach within the community.
“I’ve seen so many businesses grow within #bossbabesATX,” Lozano says. “From the very beginning, we’ve had different women come in who already had their businesses or are just starting off. Seeing how it’s progressed because the women in the community help one another and they support one another and they funnel their money within one another is absolutely amazing.”
That philosophy is one that extends to the #bossbabesATX business model itself. Everyone in the organization gets paid, from the interns, to the women who work the door, to the photographers who shoot the meet, to the DJ who spins ambient tunes, to the co-founders who hustle to make it all happen. Hervey pays herself little and last, not to martyr herself, but to ensure #bossbabesATX can continue its mission. In three to five years, she sees the organization having its own space and a staff of full-time employees.
But that’s a way off. For now, success is more measurable. While filing taxes this year, #bossbabesATX was able to calculate that $20,000 of the money the group brought in was given to Austin female creatives.
“We intended to set out and hire women photographers and freelancers and work with woman-owned venues and hire yoga teachers, pay musicians, all of that,” Hervey says. “The fact that I personally could say my business has paid this much to women and women alone was a very big moment for me.”
Visit bossbabes.org if you want to come to the next meet, donate space for an event, feature or sell your art (music, writing, illustrations, paintings, etc.), serve as a vendor, contribute to the blog or have your work featured on the blog, post job opportunities or calendar events, submit a question, send an idea, advertise or contact the team.