Earlier this month, 600 women invaded Brooklyn wearing millennial pink shirts and Catbird stacked rings. But they weren’t coming for avocado toast and unicorn lattes—they were there for Create & Cultivate, a conference that fosters female leadership in business, tech, and the creative arts.
With speakers like Gloria Steinem and our own Nikki Ogunnaike, the event is part of a C & C tour that’s hit Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, and soon, Maui. (Nice, right?) The organization has even hit spinoff status, launching their first list—called Create & Cultivate 100—of female role models, and recording their advice for internet consumption.
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Who made this happen? Jaclyn Johnson, a 30-something woman who turned her First Big Fail—a digital job gone wrong—into a Next Big Thing. We spoke with the California resident about what she’s learned, who she’s watching, and (yep) exactly how much money she makes.
Thousands of women attend Create + Cultivate conferences. What’s the most common career question they ask?
It’s different in every city, but the universal theme that keeps popping up is “When do I quit my fulltime job? When do I ‘out’ myself as an entrepreneur?”
Well, I’ve found that women won’t say “I’m an entrepreneur” or “I’m a business owner” until they’re successful, whereas most guys don’t have that problem. Women, they want to build the company, finance the company, run the company, and then maybe they’ll give themselves the credit. We need to work on that.
You started C & C before Trump became president. Has your mission changed since the last election?
Coming off the Women’s March and the election, there’s a lot of politically focused conversations about being a woman in the workplace. We want to tackle that and want to talk about that at the conferences, because it seems like the most pressing thing for us. But also, for women, there’s a lot of interest on maternity leave and healthcare.
There must be a lot of healthcare talk right now.
Some of our attendees have small businesses or work for small businesses. How do they tackle healthcare, parental leave, and things like that at a small company? Nobody’s talking about it. Everyone assumes, “Okay, you have a job, then you have healthcare.” What about people with a million side hustles? Employees, freelancers, bosses, right now, everybody has reached a tipping point where we need help. And that can’t happen until we talk about it.
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Who’s been the most useful speaker you’ve heard?
The founder of Shabby Chic in Dallas spoke about going bankrupt. That’s powerful. Women feel like they can relate to that. Raising $150 million is impressive, absolutely. But struggling, going bankrupt, and starting over, that’s another level of inspiring. And it plays into my story a lot.
Oh sure. I worked at CitySearch in New York. I was transferred to LA. I got laid off within 3 months. It was the worst. I had left my home, where I was the career girl. I was blowing up and making money, and then boom… I was devastated. It took a chunk of my personal identity. But the more I shared what happened to me, the more inspired other people seemed to be, because I bounced back! And for so long, I was so embarrassed! I was ashamed!
So you encourage your panelists to talk about bad choices.
And bad business-partner breakups. Credit card debt. Nobody wants to talk about that. But when you start talking about it, the more it helps women everywhere, and therefore helps you.
Your panels have had Nicole Richie, Chelsea Handler, and Lauren Conrad on them. Were you one of those Insta-Girls with lots of famous friends before you started your company?
Not at all. You have to believe me. This is something I always tell people. When I first started out, I would cold-email people and ask if they’d speak. The first person I got was Garance Doré. I was like, “I’m a big fan, please come speak at our conference.” And she wrote back. 99% of my job is following up. And then those people have a good experience, and tell their friends. We got Rachel Zoe to speak, and then Rachel Zoe told Jessica Alba that she had to speak. I am not friends with Chelsea Handler, but everyone wants to put their voice out there, and we can give them a great platform.