SPEAK­ERS, SEM­I­NARS, AND SELFIES

Fast Company - - Contents - By Rina Raphael

Fe­male-cen­tric con­fer­ences are thriv­ing, hav­ing fig­ured out how to em­power—and mar­ket to—young en­tre­pre­neur­ial women.

In the airy au­di­to­rium of a mas­sive in­dus­trial space in down­town L.A., Kim Kar­dashian West lays out her ap­proach to en­trepreneur­ship to an au­di­ence of around 1,500 young women. At­ten­dees, who mo­ments ear­lier were knock­ing over chairs to get as close as pos­si­ble to the stage and fran­ti­cally post­ing on so­cial me­dia, are cap­ti­vated. “I put in the work,” Kar­dashian West says. “There’s noth­ing that both­ers me more than peo­ple that are lazy.” The crowd erupts into cheers. “She’s ev­ery­thing,” gushes an om­bré-haired au­di­ence mem­ber. As Kar­dashian West waves farewell, con­fetti falls from the ceil­ing and au­di­ence mem­bers wave cocktails in the air ex­cit­edly. Some dance in the aisles. Wel­come to Cre­ate & Cul­ti­vate, a one-day sum­mit of fe­male en­trepreneur­ship that founder Ja­clyn John­son de­scribes as a “work party.” The event, which has cropped

up in nearly a dozen cities, in­clud­ing At­lanta and Seat­tle, over the past few years, show­cases celebrity speak­ers (Lau­ren Con­rad, Chrissy Teigen) along­side CEOS and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. It fea­tures men­tor­ing ses­sions and pop-up mar­kets with makeup bars and ear-pierc­ing ser­vices. Net­work­ing events, fu­eled by kom­bucha, are held against In­sta­gram-ready back­drops of liv­ing walls and glit­tery fem­i­nist quo­ta­tions. And with tick­ets priced be­tween $350 and $550, no cor­po­rate ex­pense ac­count is re­quired.

Cre­ate & Cul­ti­vate, which also main­tains an on­line ca­reer-ad­vice plat­form, is one of sev­eral new con­fer­ences cater­ing to the tastes, needs, and bud­gets of the ca­reer-minded millennial. Sophia Amoruso, whose e-com­merce com­pany, Nasty Gal, filed for bank­ruptcy in 2016 and was sold off last year, re­cently res­ur­rected her brand of edgy fem­i­nine am­bi­tion with the launch of Girl­boss, a me­dia startup fea­tur­ing the day­long Girl­boss Rally. Af­ter hit­ting New York and Los Angeles in 2017, the event is re­turn­ing to L.A. this spring with Goop’s Gwyneth Pal­trow and Uber chief brand of­fi­cer Bo­zoma Saint John as head­lin­ers and some 700 at­ten­dees pay­ing be­tween $325 and $700 per ticket. Brit + Co, a six-year-old life­style me­dia com­pany that reaches an es­ti­mated 175 mil­lion women each month through its web­site and so­cial me­dia han­dles, holds an an­nual Re:make fes­ti­val that em­pha­sizes per­sonal cre­ativ­ity. The two-day event show­cases dozens of speak­ers across non­tra­di­tional busi­ness cat­e­gories and of­fers work­shops that in­clude jewelry craft­ing and flower-crown mak­ing. The brand also hosted the five-day #Creat­e­good fes­ti­val in New York last fall with hand­bag de­signer Re­becca Minkoff and bal­le­rina Misty Copeland as pan­elists. (Tick­ets for big-name talks went for $20.) More than 10,000 peo­ple showed up.

Of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive to the tra­di­tion­ally male speak­ers and whiskey-fu­eled af­ter hours of their cor­po­rate pre­de­ces­sors, these con­fer­ences place equal em­pha­sis on en­trepreneur­ship, per­sonal brand­ing, and un­abashedly girlie net­work­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Speak­ers of­ten em­body a new kind of busi­ness leader: one who built a ca­reer around her so­cial me­dia per­sona, pas­sion project, or side hus­tle. At Cre­ate & Cul­ti­vate, at­ten­dees move be­tween busi­ness round­tables, pitch­ing tu­to­ri­als, and pod­cast­ing sem­i­nars that em­pha­size au­di­ence build­ing. The Girl­boss Ral­lies fea­ture talks from en­trepreneurs like blog­ger and Man Re­peller founder Le­an­dra Me­dine on es­tab­lish­ing your brand iden­tity and nav­i­gat­ing ven­ture fund­ing. The New York rally had hair touch-ups for pro­fes­sional Linkedin head­shots; L.A.’S will in­clude a Nike-spon­sored box­ing class. The Brit + Co event in New York last Novem­ber fea­tured a tem­po­rary-tat­too par­lor and con­fec­tionery-filled “selfie zones,” and at­ten­dees played skee ball in a pink ar­cade and knit­ted pom-pom ear­rings—a novel way to meet and min­gle.

These eye-candy events are part of a wider trend of star­tups built on the idea of em­pow­er­ing young women in the work space and tap­ping into their en­tre­pre­neur­ial streak. Among them are the fe­male-only cowork­ing spa­ces of the Wing, the Bum­ble Bizz net­work­ing a pp( where women make the first move ), and the Muse, a millennial fo­cused ca­reer-de­vel­op­ment plat­form .“There’ s some­thing very pow­er­ful about be­ing sur­rounded, vir­tu­ally or in per­son, by oth­ers who share your ethos and who may be striv­ing to­ward some of the same goals as you are,” says Kathryn Min­shew, cofounder and CEO of the Muse.

Women in their twen­ties and thir­ties have come to pri­or­i­tize self-reliance, says Joanne Lip­man, au­thor of the new book That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Work­ing To­gether. They came of age dur­ing the re­ces­sion and grew up in a world where the gig econ­omy is as­cen­dant. They know that the era of life­time em­ploy­ers is over, Lip­man says, and “are plan­ning things out very pur­pose­fully over a few-year block.”

But box­ing classes and jewelry mak­ing—not to men­tion cheeky neon signs and bub­blegum-col­ored fur­ni­ture—may not be every woman’s idea of fe­male em­pow­er­ment or path­way to en­trepreneur­ship. And some crit­ics ar­gue that the tongue-in-cheek terms and hash­tags these con­fer­ences traf­fic in (girl­boss, fem­preneur, busi­ness babe) are in­fan­tiliz­ing and dis­tract peo­ple from the larger, more struc­tural prob­lems fac­ing women in the work­place.

Or­ga­niz­ers say the pro­gram­ming isn’t any less use­ful be­cause there’s matcha tea and a makeup bar on-site. Net­work­ing hap­pens ev­ery­where to­day, from golf cour­ses to Burn­ing Man to Tough Mud­der. Why shouldn’t young women cre­ate their own havens? “These tar­geted events are help­ing a gen­er­a­tion of women and un­der­rep­re­sented groups find their voice and place in the world of work,” says Melissa Matlins, VP of mar­ket­ing at the Muse. She cred­its such con­fer­ences with “pi­o­neer­ing new and more col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­pe­ri­ences” and ways to net­work.

And if they pop on so­cial me­dia—and draw in spon­sors—all the bet­ter for the or­ga­niz­ers. When John­son launched her event in 2012, her only spon­sors were fash­ion and beauty com­pa­nies. To­day, Cre­ate & Cul­ti­vate counts Quick­books, We­work, and Mi­crosoft as part­ners. Last fall, Mi­crosoft hosted an edi­tion of Cre­ate & Cul­ti­vate at its Seat­tle cam­pus. Amanda Dun­can, se­nior com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at the tech­nol­ogy gi­ant, says she was im­pressed by how the au­di­ence trans­ferred its en­thu­si­asm for the con­fer­ence into so­cial me­dia: “Every mo­ment is one that can be shared in per­son and then also on­line.”

For John­son, meld­ing ed­u­ca­tion with In­sta­grammable mo­ments is the goal: “It can be pink, it can be fun, and it can still be se­ri­ous.”

BOX­ING CLASSES AND JEWELRY MAK­ING— NOT TO MEN­TION CHEEKY NEON SIGNS AND BUB­BLEGUM-COL­ORED FUR­NI­TURE—MAY NOT BE EVERY WOMAN’S IDEA OF FE­MALE EM­POW­ER­MENT.

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