Community Empowerment with #bossbabesatx
Contributed by Kate Heetland
I was fortunate to sit down with founder of #bossbabesatx and all-around quality lady Jane Claire Hervey. We touched on her experience at the United State of Women Summit in Washington D.C. this past June as well as issues facing girls and women today, the mission of #bossbabesatx, and what she admires about Girls Empowerment Network.
Jane is a woman that did not grow up with the encouragement we work so hard to instill in our young women – she was bullied, she was put in boxes, and she felt incapable. Still, she has accomplished so much! Not only in her year-young non-profit #bossbabesatx, but also in her personal career. In our conversation, Jane shared insights that all of us can take to heart.
Kate Heetland: Congrats on going to the summit! Can you give a brief insider overview of the purpose of it?
Jane Claire Hervey: There were three reasons for the summit. There was one, a political agenda.
The second thing that I think the summit was intended for was to get a bunch of women in one room that would’ve not met otherwise. To get 5,000 women in one room and see what happens.
The third would be to have some sort of summit on general issues. We were all very encouraged and it was great. I met some really awesome women and felt validated in the sense that these issues that I find very important are important on a global and national scale. That was another point of the summit, to encourage those of us who are on the ground to continue doing what we want to do.
K: It can be easy to get discouraged in that line of work.
J: Yeah. Social action requires money and also requires a lot of people’s spare time and sanity. Everyone wants to be there for the really glorious shining moments, but it’s like fighting a war. You have to day in and day out make a choice that this is what you stand for. I know a lot of us get burnt out. I’m already burnt out a bit and feeling that nothing will ever change although I fervently believe it will. I see how people get stuck in those narratives. So I think that they’re really trying to revitalize feminism, they’re trying to say ‘hey, we’re listening now’.
K: Did you have a favorite speaker?
J: I did – President Obama was really incredible. In order to make gender equality real, you have to see it from both sides. It’s not just empowering women to be better and stronger than their misogynist haters, it’s also about breaking down misogyny from a young age.
I also really enjoyed Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama – their conversation was just so candid. That was the most inspiring aspect of that day for me. Oprah was talking openly about being insecure while she was building her career and it reminds me that everyone faces insecurity and you’re not some crazy incompetent fool for doing what you do and feeling like you’re an imposter. And it’s something we all go through.
K: Definitely. And I watched a stream of the speech on sexual assault – it was very heavy.
J: Yes! I’m not a ‘survivor’ so to speak, but I’ve been in abusive relationships that thankfully were not fatally abusive or by any means an impediment to my growth. But there are so many predators for young women who are just trying to live their lives. It does seem daunting to fight them all, but we can do it. I think that ultimately, that’s changing culture and comes back to what Obama was saying as well – which was that we have to eradicate misogyny at its source, which is young boys being taught they can’t cry and that they should tease young girls and be mean to them to show that they like them.
K: Regardless of if we can fix it in our lifetimes, it has to be done.
J: We’re building a future. They brought a lot of young women out and I thought that was great as well. I’m talking women in 9th grade. That was encouraging to see young women feel powerful, that they can do anything, that was very, very awesome.
K: It sounds like this summit is very similar to your meetups.
J: I would say the difference from our meetups is that we try to make everyone accessible to each other. That’s definitely what was missing. I did kind of feel like a blip in the sea of women at the summit. There was really no chance to meet other people and discuss the issues at hand. But it had that vibe of getting people together for a common cause.
I would argue that at our meets, everyone who comes is looking for information, but it’s more about their actual businesses, passions, and causes as opposed to information on the state of what it means to be a woman in the United States.
K: Let’s talk more about Boss Babes. What topics are you most focused on?
J: bossbabesatx is very much focused on culture change. What I’ve always wanted with bossbabesatx is to open the floodgates for women openly talking about business. And make it OK to want to succeed in your career, to have questions, to ask for help, to not feel incompetent because you feel incompetent. That particularly stems from my background as a woman, or just a person from a small town assigned female at birth. I’ve always been very ambitious, I grew up in a 2,000 people town, Rio Hondo Texas. I went to a very low income school and I did not have very many opportunities to do much.
Never was I told that I could start my own business or start my own anything. When I went to college at UT I realized that everything that I had been taught and everything that I had learned about myself, the weight of my opinions, and the value of my education, had been grossly underestimated and undervalued.
Having that realization made me understand that you can actually do whatever you want – really though! – it’s not limited to just the things that you’ve been taught. You can teach yourself. And a lot of people who have started businesses have never started one before! It’s usually their first one, you know. We get very insecure as women in the business sphere sometimes, like we’re stepping outside of what we’re supposed to be doing. We feel like impostors. And I’m biased – I do feel that women feel that more heavily. I started thinking outside of that little safe box and I thought ‘Whoa, the world is my entire oyster’ – and that comes with a set of barriers and it wasn’t going to be easy. But I thought ‘I can do this. I’m no better or worse than everybody else doing this’. I think having that confidence takes a big culture shift within yourself. All it takes to do your own thing is giving yourself permission. That’s a huge part of what we do and a huge part of what I stand for: saying ‘You can. And you DO have options and if you feel like you don’t or even if they’re really scary ones, they exist.’
We try to equip women to feel as confident as they can in starting their own businesses with real information. There’s power in numbers, there’s power in showing people that other women have done this or are doing it. If you come often enough, you’re surrounding yourself with women that are doing things and becoming bigger than they were yesterday in terms of societal success.
J: We’re really trying to drive home that it’s not a competition, it’s not a comparison game. The tide rises together’ That’s one of our main things. I think too that – I’m trying to dismantle patriarchal views of what being a woman means for women. I think a lot of us carry these patriarchal views of what being a woman should look like or what feminine energy should look like. We don’t outright say these things but with all of our programming we try to remove taboos. We allow women to have a platform within our community because we want to show that you can be all types of things and you still matter. If you really want to talk about furthering confidence, furthering business making skills, the strategic power of women in government, you have to also talk about the issues we face as a population.
We are definitely for the ambitious creative woman, but we are also furthering what it means to be a woman in general. And validating that you do not have to meet some conventional beauty standard to be attractive, to be beautiful and respected. We try to show that spectrum at our events. There are so many different ways to live – no one way is better than the other. That’s where everything stems from – no matter who you are, you’re welcome here as long as you respect other people and are willing to learn.
K: A lot of what you said reminded me of things we do at GEN.‘ You are valid, you are capable’. And nobody knows everything before they start down a new path.
J: I was taught that I would never know as much as a man. My mom sat me down as a kid and said ‘when you get married your husband will be in charge of the household and you will have to default to him’. These aren’t things we fall into, they are systems we’re taught to live by. A lot of people want to say that they’re the natural order and it’s just the way it works, and it’s not.
K: Just because that’s the way it has worked…
J: Or it’s barely held on by a thread. It’s crazy to me that I was taught that any decision a dude makes must be the right one and I have to adjust accordingly. And realizing that that’s not the case at all and I can be like ‘No, I’m telling you that my interpretation of the events and my solution is completely different from yours’. That is a difficult thing to do sometimes.
Here’s another thing I just realized – if I have questions about something, I can just do my research and my research is valid. I don’t have to wait for someone to validate my research if I’m doing good work. I think it takes a lot of gumption and confidence to say ‘No, I’m asking these questions because they’re real and valid questions’. I was taught to default to whoever was in charge of me, which was usually a man.
K: There are so many great organizations in Austin – what about GEN is special to you?
J: What I particularly like about GEN is that there are a lot of organizations that support young women but they’re not doing so in a way that I think is looking at women as human beings. You need tools, you need resources, so that particularly attracts me to GEN. It’s not just about getting little girls together and finding friends. It’s about strategically giving women the resources and access to resources that they need to eventually succeed. And starting that from an age that’s very sensitive. GEN is tackling a very difficult value system, and I really value that kind of work. Also, GEN was recommended to me as an organization to support by many different people, so GEN has a good repertoire in the community.
K: It’s a very sensitive age where we start our programming! Third grade. And we’re not talking about ‘this is how to interact with boys’. But things like ‘how do you be a good friend, a good person?’ And building that girl power mentality that they are capable and can take on what they want to and have that support system.
J: The thing with that competition is that you have to speak out against it. It is human nature to see a finite number of people that look like you at the top and say ‘there are only so many spaces for me’. Instead of competing with each other we should use our combined will to change what those spaces look like. That takes time – it’s a longer road than dog eat dog trying to get to the top. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like I had to compete with other girls while I was growing up.
I think that we are constantly trying to optimize and perfect things about ourselves because we feel like that’s our only way to cope and conquer systems of sexism. ‘If we can only be this, if we can only do this, it might get better’. And I think it’s really important to teach young girls that you can make your own systems. Ingraining in young girls that what they believe is valid and real is actually very important. If I didn’t know those things then none of anything I’ve ever created would be here. That’s why I love GEN.
K: What would you say to middle school Jane?
J: If I could say one thing to my 6th grade self it’d be ‘Yes, you’re 220 pounds but that does not make you incompetent. You’re extremely smart’. I had a minor eating disorder when I was in junior high and I was teased incessantly, for being a nerd, being a fat nerd, being a white nerd – I was the only white kid growing up. Who knows what I could be at 23 if I had known my capabilities then. If we really start feeding love, competence, and resources into our young girls, they will be something incredible by the age of 23. That’s a future I want to believe in. I’m down with GEN.
#bossbabesatx has supported GEN through sales of pins and badges at their events as well as on their website. They are an amazing organization focusing on connecting women and giving them the tools they need to succeed – we are lucky to have them in Austin!