Martha Stewart’s Love Life & Other Notes From This Year’s NAPW Conference
My business partner, Lisa, and I started our hand-painted shoe company, Hourglass Footwear, just ten months ago. It was born of a desire to create and produce unique, custom footwear and also to provide a platform (ahem) for talented artists to rise above the unfortunate cycle of day jobs and endless freelance projects.
There is something to be said for ownership. It is not always easy or glamorous or even, at times, all that fun. What it is, however, is empowering. It forces you to draw strength from seemingly depleted pools, it pushes you to take backward flips of sheer faith, and it turns you into a networking extrovert, even on days when you’d prefer tea and a cat. Owning a business means living in an unending state of open-to-anything. Of the Unknown. Of sheer uncertainty.
The fact that Hourglass Footwear has seen so much growth in such a short period is wonderful and shows us that we’re going in a good direction–that we’re doing something right. However, that in no way means we know what we’re doing all the time. Or even most of the time.
We traveled to New York recently to attend an annual conference held by the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW). It sounded great! Hundreds of other business owners, workshops, panels of women who had made it in their industries. Plus, Arianna Huffington and Martha Stewart were the keynote speakers. Lisa and I were really excited for the chance to learn from exceedingly successful women who had been right where we are now: at the beginning, having to make weighty decisions about the direction of their companies.
“We went expecting real, tangible advice on topics important to women in business. What we got felt more like a Yaz commercial’s idea of what a conference like this should be.”
We went expecting real, tangible advice on topics important to women in business (employees vs. contractors, tax issues, pricing, organization, marketing, effective networking, etc.). What we got felt more like a Yaz commercial’s idea of what a conference like this should be. Pink and purple decoration, music along the lines of Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman,” low fat chocolate, O.P.I. nail polish samples in our gift bags, and an overabundance of tired motivational statements shouted at us, with feeling. Follow your dreams! You can do it! Lean in! Go, girl! Women are strong! Like pseudo-feminist fortune cookies.
When Star Jones, who hosted the event, interviewed Martha Stewart–THE Martha Stewart, who built an empire doing what she loved, who has vast fields of business knowledge ripe for the picking–in front of a crowd of hundreds of female entrepreneurs, she chose to ask her about her love life and her apparent Match.com profile. She complimented her looks and projected pictures of a younger Martha in her modeling days. They joked about jail time being easier than being fired from The View. Mildly entertaining daytime television topics, I suppose, but so not why we took three days away from the office and flew through four time zones to attend. The day’s other interviews were similarly watered down and safe, with the notable exception of Arianna Huffington, who was witty and funny, and who stressed the importance of sleep and self care, and not focusing on your work to the detriment of your own health.
The workshops–what we expected to be the meat of the conference–were barely memorable, and we mostly spent them on our phones, working remotely. Actually, I do remember a couple of things: at one point, a speaker–apropos of nothing–presented us with a before-and-after picture of herself and gave us a link to her weight loss website. The audience applauded. Another talked about the benefits of dressing to please your boss.
The whole thing just rubbed Lisa and I the wrong way. Partially because . . . really? We just traveled across the country to hear about Martha Stewart’s love life? But more because, as business owners who are female and blonde, to boot, it’s already a constant struggle to be taken seriously. Attending a conference that just seemed to recycle tired stereotypes–women like chocolate! Women like wine! Women shop! Women diet! Women are sassy and strong and should be treated like princesses! –when it could have been SO much more, was frankly insulting. And boring. We’re better than that. Wine and chocolate are fine, but they’re certainly not what define us.
WE define us. Lisa and I are bright, hardworking, and damned good at our jobs, and it’s crucial to us that our company’s culture reflect the fact that we respect ourselves, and we respect the women who work for us. Not as princesses, but as humans who contribute valuable skills to the betterment of our business.
I guess that’s our takeaway from the conference. We know even more solidly what we don’t want to be.
Sigh. Is it wine-thirty yet, ladies?