Stop. You are smart. You are strong. You are independent. Carry on.
These motivational words greet you when you visit the #bossbabesATX website, and they line the walls of many of the quickly-growing, Austin-based organization’s events. But as beautiful and affirming as these words are, they just begin to hint at the stimulating, vibrant, supportive, diverse, and all-around wonderful world that is the #bossbabesATX community. This empowering organization has brought together and strengthened an unstoppable group of self-identified women who work in Austin’s creative industry. And it’s all due to a simple idea that #bossbabesATX founder Jane Claire Hervey had in 2015: get a bunch of badass, creative ladies together in one room. What came out of that one idea and one room is truly astounding.
Last month, I rounded a corner in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood to find a large group of quirkily dressed, gorgeous girls standing on the sidewalk in a line leading into an unmarked doorway. Curious passerby would lean in every once in awhile, asking the texting or talking women, “What’s going on here?” “Ladies-only Ghostbusters pre-screening,” my neighbor in line quipped once, sending a number of us into giggles. In truth, we were waiting with anticipation to enter Babes Fest NYC—just another way that #bossbabesATX has grown in the past year. When the line led me through the doorway, I found myself in a huge, brightly-lit room that was absolutely packed with women laughing, shaking hands, and talking with such excitement that the whole room buzzed.
Above this beautiful din, Jane soon made herself heard, announcing that the event would start shortly and introducing co-organizers and partners. As the night of panels, networking, and real talk about real shit (like confronting sexism in the workplace, collaborating effectively, protecting your copyright and more) went on, I was so impressed with how articulate, thoughtful, confident, and sincere Jane was, even with such a huge crowd watching. She listens. She knows what she wants, and she works so hard to support others who know what they want, too. She shoulders huge responsibility with grace. She makes big dreams seem possible. In other words, she’s a total fucking babe…naturally!
Jane puts immense effort into #bossbabesATX while holding down a demanding full-time job as the chief marketing officer of Neon Cantina—a job she’s just as passionate about. “I want to make a name for myself as a business woman, not just as a feminist activist,” she explained to me a few weeks after the NYC event. “So I’m trying to do both right now.” She and the rest of the #bossbabesATX team are doing both so well that the organization seems to have never stopped growing, changing, and doing more. “In a little over a year, my life has completely changed,” Jane says. “And I think what our organization is capable of has also changed, so we’re really trying to live up to all of the opportunities that come our way.” Living up to those opportunities has most recently included creating a new discussion series that supports local non-profits called She Talks, making the move to create a more nationally-focused organization-slash-annual Austin festival called Babes Fest (which the NYC event helped kick off this year), and attending the United State of Women summit in DC.
Read on to learn more about Jane, #bossbabesATX, and Babes Fest, including the origins of the idea, what it means to do something “full-assed,” how the organization has grown, the unexpected effects of community work, and what the real impact of #bossbabesATX looks like today.
Can you describe #bossbabesATX, and its origins, in your own words?
Yeah! So, #bossbabesATX began with a very simple vision. I was interviewing these women for an independent study while I was in college, and I just wanted to get all of them in one room.
The questions I asked them were mainly based around their experiences in the creative industry. A lot of the answers I got to my questions, specifically about the lens of femaleness around these careers, were kind of discouraging. When I asked, “Do you work with other women regularly? Do you feel like you have a network of women within your industry?” A lot of the answers were, “No. I don’t, and I don’t feel comfortable talking to women about what I do because it’s competitive, and I’ve been scarred by xyz experiences with women in my field,” or “I don’t actually know where to go to talk to women.” So, initially, my goal with #bossbabesATX was just to get these women into one room and say, hey, there are women who are interested in working with other women, and I firmly believe that if we have these conversations together, we’ll feel more supported in our careers. That first somewhat small-scale idea of what this could be blossomed into our inaugural event attended by 200 women at a local coffee shop here in Austin.
#bossbabesATX has remained small, in a way. We explored potentially doing chapters in other cities that could reproduce our formatting and event structure, but ultimately I felt that was just kind of…too unreal. I would like this organization to stay as community-based as possible, with real faces and real people and a responsive management, where all of the programming is based on the people that come through our doors and their needs.
So yeah, #bossbabesATX is simply a series of meets and pop-up events in Austin, Texas that funnel education, resources, and ultimately connection into the community, specifically for self-identified women. That’s #bossbabesATX in a nutshell.
I like how you describe the local feel of the events. Even as an outsider, attending your first Babes Fest event in Austin earlier this year, I got a warm, fuzzy feeling. It was like walking into someone’s living room.
Yeah! Exactly. Attending a #bossbabesATX event is supposed to be like going to a party where you know at least someone, and you’re talking about business and ultimately, I think, just opening that funnel for communication about what it’s like to be a woman in the workforce, what it’s like to be a woman starting your own business, or what it’s like to be a woman with a side hustle thing.
I personally think that’s why what we’re doing is so special. This is not some scheme to start, like, a community of women who support each other and drink champagne. This is real living people who have issues on a day-to-day basis that need actual support in their lives. Like, there’s a group of mothers in our organization who started a carpool for daycare, and they each babysit each others’ children. Having access to that kind of thing, or knowing people who could do a graphic design for you, or knowing someone who owns a venue and can get you in as a pop-up vendor…just knowing where to find information and ask questions. I want us to be that.
I read on your site that there was sort of a lag time between you having this great idea and then actually getting it off the ground. I relate to that, and I’m sure others do, too. How did you get this from idea to real thing? What was the process or difficulty there? Did your friends who help you run #bossbabesATX, Leslie and Ashlee, help you get there?
I thought of the idea in September 2014, when I was doing those interviews, and then I bought the site in November and approached my friends Leslie and Ashlee with the idea right before Christmas. I think it’s important to note, too, that my career was accelerating while this was going on. I was graduating early from college so I could get into my position at work faster, so I was in a start-up, working a part time job, while finishing 20 hours of college. That was a lot already.
But then, when I was freshly on my own in a very demanding position, paying all of my own bills, I got hit by a drunk driver. It really sidetracked me. I was already having a lot of issues, at least financially, trying to pay my student loans. Then having to go to lawyer because the damage to my vehicle was significant and not being at work for days because the accident was that bad…it was just a very tumultuous time. Thankfully, Ashlee and Leslie were there to remind me that I’d had this idea. I don’t think I would have brought it back up later, mostly because I was very discouraged and feeling really alone. I felt picked on by the world.
Thankfully, I had friends like Ashlee and Leslie to remind me, yes, everything’s really difficult right now, but you had this great idea last year! It’s time to start something on that. I had them there really pushing me and helping me.
When the event went live in late April, I was not expecting that in those first two weeks it would go from 20 RSVPs to 900. It was overwhelming! I mean, there were a lot of barriers getting this off the ground, and then you have 250 show up and expect things from you. I had to very quickly figure out, like, how am I going to continue working 20 hours outside of my full-time job without running myself into the ground? Once we realized it was going to be way bigger than we were expecting, we had to make a choice: are we going to do this or what? Saying, “Okay, yeah, we’re going to do this”…that took a lot. It took a lot from me and it took a lot from my team because, very early on, I had to be like, “How dedicated are you to this? Can you invest money in this right now? How are we going to get money to do this stuff?” By the time the first event had finished, I had already spent like $1,000, and I didn’t have that kind of money. I had tons of student loans, and on top of that, everything that was going on with my vehicle and all of these medical expenses that I could not get paid because my insurance was not intact yet…it was a big decision. It put a lot of pressure on the team. We had to really buck up and make some adult decisions, and thankfully, they worked, and we’re here and get to do what we do.
Yeah, wow! Even just figuring out the money thing and making that commitment to invest, given the situation you were in, seems like a huge fucking deal.
I think keeping this movement funded has been probably one of the most difficult parts, but it’s also a really creative part of running your own thing or your own organization. You have to really think outside of the box on making ends meet. And appreciate how much a free event actually costs. A lot of people think, “Oh, it’s a free event. No money went into it.” When really it’s a gift you’re being given, you know what I mean? We try to do as much free stuff as possible.
Speaking of cool free stuff, let’s talk about Babes Fest! What is Babes Fest, and how are #bossbabesATX and Babes Fest different?
Babes Fest is a national organization—not hyper-local like #bossbabesATX—and also an annual festival in Austin. We saw a need for a once-a-year conference-slash-festival that can bring in people from other cities and also give us the opportunity to travel and collaborate with like-minded people in other places. We launched the festival during SXSW this year, and we’re planning to do it on an even bigger scale in May 2017. Now, we’re doing these pop-up events in other cities to tout what that might look like and get people to come to us and help.
When I first heard about Babes Fest, I thought of it as your road show. Like, a way to help people get informed about what you’re doing and inspire them to get their own thing together in their own city. Is that right?
Yeah! I want people to be inspired by what we do and do that in their own cities without me having to, like, run it. [Laughs] I am not the end-all, be-all of community organizing for self-identified women. I do not have all of the answers. But if you surround yourself with women who are doing badass things, you are likely going to go off to do badass things. My idea in taking Babes Fest to other cities is that we can literally bring a bunch of women into one room who are doing badass things, and things will happen as a result of that. Like, I don’t even need to invest in the different things that they’re doing personally to know that that’s going to happen. That’s just the synergy of getting people into one room.
But you plan to make the yearly event an Austin event, too?
Yeah, I think that having an annual festival in one place is also really important. I’d like to invite other people to come to Austin, and I’d like to facilitate that kind of creative infrastructure in Texas. I’d like to get other people from other cities coming here and potentially stir change in our Southern culture in regards to, like, what gender roles are and what kind of attention and resources women-owned businesses receive.
I think what makes festivals special is that you never know who you’re going to meet. I’d really like to take the power of that and funnel it toward social good. Which is not easy. It takes like a really big balance of branding and community-mindedness to execute. But that’s a goal of mine.
Do you have advice for people who want to start something like this or who are trying to start something they’re as passionate about as you are about #bossbabesATX?
I think, ultimately, if there is anything about our story that someone could glean in terms of making mistakes and making choices, it’s just that anything that you do wholeheartedly and, as I like to say, full-assed instead of half-assed, costs money. It costs time. And if you really want to do it well, you have to be willing to put in that effort and take that risk.
And it might not always be fun. You have to focus on the bigger picture. You have to focus on what it means to you and what it means to the community at large, because if you focus on what you’re personally getting out of it, it’s really difficult to stay in the game. You have to consciously make a choice, day in and day out, that what you’re fighting for is worth everything you’re putting into it. And it’s not always as easy as, “Yes, I’m going to continue!” and “No, I hate this!” Sometimes it’s like, “Well, something about this isn’t working, and we need to figure out a different way to do it.” Being flexible. Being hard on yourself but also forgiving yourself. It’s all of that.
That’s what I think the last year has been: being reasonable but also holding ourselves to a really high expectation. Being transparent and authentic about what we’re actually trying to do. Being authentic sometimes means taking the difficult route. Like, it would have been really easy for me to partner up with a corporation and be like, “Okay, we’re going to do these events all over the country, and we’re going to make a lot of money and charge high ticket prices and get really awesome speakers from corporate organizations.” But I just don’t think that is actually meaningful. What I want is to inspire people who are actually on the ground and trying to get things to a better point in smaller communities. That’s where we make the real change. Making that decision for our organization and saying, “No, we’re really gong to focus on being local and making this stuff accessible” is a commitment. It’s not easily done. It’s saying we’re going to turn down $10,000. [Laughs] We’re going to turn down making our lives easier. We’re going to take on ten more hours of work a week, and that’s just the reality of it.
But I think that the authenticity you strive for and your fight to stay close to community is exactly what has made #bossbabesATX such a big deal and gotten so many people behind it. It definitely does seem real, and it’s because of all that you put into it.
Yeah, and just to be real, too…#bossbabesATX has been an incredible experience, but I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t taken some things from me. I don’t have the same privacy that I used to have. There’s been this weird level of visibility and fame that has come along with my role in creating these organizations, and that’s been a really difficult adjustment.
As a human being, it’s not easy to communicate with tens of thousands of people about your purpose, your mission, and your goal and to be that vulnerable about your intention in life. It sets you up for so much feedback and criticism—some that’s constructive, some that’s just unabashedly malicious. I don’t know if I was ready for that. I thought that this was just going to be what it was and that it wasn’t really going to mean anything for my personal life. But it actually really impacts that. Being a public figure for some sort of movement allows people to slap a story on your face that might not even be your story. Being a white female, a lot of people have different interpretations about what that means and what I personally support, and um…it’s interesting to have to navigate those things and earn community trust, rightfully so.
I think there’s a level of consciousness and self-reflection and self-awareness that’s required to do community work, and realizing things about yourself that you might not necessarily like because other people point them out in you is not always easy. [Laughs] You have to be constantly open to what anyone has to say. It sounds like a great character-building practice, but at the same time, it can be really…I guess mind-boggling.
Yeah, that sounds ridiculously intense, especially on such a big scale! I mean, the response to #bossbabesATX has been insane, even just from what I see online and what I witnessed at the events I attended. Can you talk a bit about how the response and sheer numbers have grown over the past year?
I mean, all I can really say about that is that if you put something out there and you really fucking mean it and you’re like actually doing it…like, we’re not just saying, “Oh we’re a women’s organization” and running an Instagram. We’re legitimately organizing really big events. People keep coming and we get big names at our events because they can see it’s real.
We truthfully don’t give a fuck about the numbers, and we never have. Our goal was never the numbers. Our goal has always been to facilitate real conversations. So in some cases, we’ve said, “No, only 30 people can come to this. Sorry, doesn’t matter, we’re not moving to a bigger venue because we want it to be intimate.” I think the fact that we’re not trying to cater to a big audience, we’re just literally trying to think about how to do things in the best way—whether that means a million people come or 20 people come—honestly, I think that’s the reason why people come. [Laughs] We’re realistically trying to have honest conversation and just do that in the best way possible.
Also, we are not just trying to work with women who have really big followings. We are really paying attention to women who are doing shit. Our method of discovery is not who pops up on our Explore page on Instagram. This is not just a reproduction of your social media feed; this is real people doing real fucking shit. The reason I drive that home is that I do think a lot of people really overestimate online presence. It’s about doing real stuff. It’s not about the photos on Instagram and the hashtags and all of that. It’s about doing real stuff because you actually want to do it.
Then let me ask you a better question: what are some examples of real impact you’ve made in the lives of the people that come to #bossbabesATX events? I love the story of the mothers group! Are there other stories like that you can share?
Yeah, there have been two large book clubs that read works by women writers that have really blossomed. They’re 200 women strong, and they get together in smaller groups. There have been a couple of art collectives in Austin that have started as a result of our events. One of our accountants went from working as an accountant at a firm to running her own business just to accommodate all of the people that she met at our events that needed tax accounting done.
Also, the money that we made last year—we didn’t make a lot, but 75% of it went back to paying women-owned venues, freelancers, women in production…all of that in Austin. And to think about tens of thousands of dollars that didn’t exist before being funneled into women-owned businesses…like, that’s impactful. You know what I mean?
We also run a free community news page, and plenty of people have been hired via our platform. There are so many stories…Oh! A food truck owner here in Austin came to one of our events and was literally thinking about closing her food truck and then got so inspired that she decided not to close her food truck and opened up a brick-and-mortar restaurant instead. That restaurant is now super-successful. I don’t want to say that happened because of us, because it happened on her own will and might, but I think that honestly just having the moment of inspiration and being told that you can keep going is sometimes all you need for something really incredible to happen.
To switch gears a bit, I wanted to ask you about working with your friends. I think this topic came up at the Babes Fest panel in NYC, too. How have you and Ashlee and Leslie been able to maintain a great friendship while being great business partners and collaborators? Have you had to work through any conflicts?
I think there’s a level of maturity and self-awareness required if you work with your friends. Like, you have to be very open to criticism, and some people just aren’t. You have to also kind of see your friends in different ways, in different contexts, and I think that compartmentalizing can be really difficult for some people. We’ve definitely struggled with it as a team. When you enter into a business relationship with someone, specifically where creative collaboration is concerned, you have to be prepared to lose certain aspects of that friendship that maybe you once enjoyed in order for different things to form.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that simply respecting the people that you work with is extremely important. Thankfully, I can say that, as a team—and we have more people on the team now—we all respect each other so much that there hasn’t been any point in time where I worried that something could detrimentally affect our friendships or our business relationships. We’re so honest with each other about how we each feel, and we’re ready to have those difficult conversations.
Since the beginning, some aspects of our relationships have changed, you know? That’s part of growing and doing things in collaboration with others. You get to know each other better and things just change as a result of that. But I think, ultimately, any changes that we’ve seen have grown us into better people and into better collaborators. None of them have been inherently negative. It’s just been different. And I think that’s important: just because things are different doesn’t mean that they’re bad. It just means that they’re different, and you have to be honest about those differences. I think all of those lessons made both this organization and our lives work on a better level. Like, we’ve all leveled up because of it.
Have you ever had a moment of self-doubt where you thought you couldn’t get here? What was that moment, and how did you get past it?
I’ve had that moment probably, like, upward of 50 times. To be honest, I don’t really have a mechanism for getting past that moment. The only thing I can say is that when you feel really down and out, it usually means that…not that you’re fighting something too big for your britches, but that you’re not fighting it in the right way. That there might be a better way to do what you’re doing. If I ever feel like my life is being thrown into this hole because of what I’m doing or that people don’t appreciate it or any number of emotions you get that come with self-doubt—because when you doubt what you’re doing, it’s really easy to be like, “Oh this isn’t working. This isn’t working. This isn’t working.”—I instead try to funnel that energy into thinking of new strategies and making that conversation not one of self-pity and sadness and general disenchantment, but instead making it like, “Okay. What am I going to do to make this better, and what resources are available to me to make this better? What am I not doing that I could be doing?”
Also, too, some of it’s just being like, “No, you’re being a baby. This isn’t about you.” Just being super fucking honest with yourself. Just [laughs] putting your big girl britches on, like, “Alright, today is not about my feelings, and that’s just that.” I think that’s not only helpful to just get through life, but being in charge of anything, you kind of have to get thick skin. It’s just part of the job description. That doesn’t mean that anybody should ignore their feelings because I do think emotions are important, and I do think that you should adequately give yourself time to process things and feel things and do stuff like that. But there are days when I’m just being petty about the situations I’m facing. I let it get me down, and that’s just a waste of energy.
Yeah, that can sound harsh, but it reminds me of life advice that I stole from the Bill Murray movie What About Bob?: “Take a vacation from your problems.” Which, like, actually fucking works. Things are always less dramatic and easier to work out if you just make yourself quit thinking about it and wallowing for a minute. Alright, last question: how do you define success, and do you consider yourself successful?
So for me, success is—and this is such a terrible thing to say because it’s something that I think you can’t really realize until you’re dead, and when you’re dead you can’t realize anything anymore, but—for me, when I think about success, I think that when I die…not so much that I will be remembered, globally or nationally or anything like that, but that there will be people there who can say that they knew me and were impacted by me and felt really, actually supported by me and that I was good at reciprocating love. To me, that’s success.
Right now, I’m working on that. I’m really working my hardest to make sure that the people that I care about and the people that care about me feel my love for them.
That’s awesome. I totally believe in that myself because your love and your time and support are really the only things you have to give and the only way you can make an impact, when it comes down to it.
Yeah! And that’s the only thing that lasts. It really is the only sustainable thing out there. Love is so recyclable, it’s crazy. It’s such a thread in what we do. It doesn’t change with technology…it doesn’t change with any of that. It just is what it is and…yeah, I’d like to be remembered for reciprocating love well.
You can find out more about Jane on her website. Follow #bossbabesATX and find out more about upcoming events on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and their website. Another cool feature of the #bossbabesatx organization is the Instagram account @meetwomyn, which is comprised of a rotating cast of boss babes in Austin. Each week, a new babe takes over the account and gives you a peek into their world. Babes Fest has its own Instagram, Facebook, and site, too!