For New York City kids, “Bodak Yellow” by Bronx rapper Cardi B was without question the song of the summer. When the kids came back to school in the fall, educator Erica Buddington noticed them singing the catchy but profanity-laden hit in her classroom. Buddington seized on the teaching moment.
She went home that night, rewrote the words as a geography lesson, and printed out the lyrics as a homework sheet. When she performed the song the next day in class, the video went viral (including mentions on Refinery29, Huffington Post, and Forbes), but more importantly, Buddington says her students retained what they learned.
“When you’re teaching sixth graders that are six levels behind, you need more than just rigor for them to latch,” she says. “They are so bright-eyed whenever they see something they recognize and can latch onto it.”
Buddington prides herself on creating a culturally relevant curriculum, an approach that incorporates children’s interests, learning style, and background into how material is introduced and taught. Wanting to help more educators steer away from rigid scripts, Buddington founded the Langston League, a team of educational experts who develop curriculum and train facilitators. The Langston League received a bump in recognition after Buddington’s video and a recent win at the NYC Creator Awards.
“The kids push me to be creative. They’re my lab,” she says. “I take the kids’ comments every day and rework it. They’re so open when they know you love them.”
“The kids push me to be creative. They’re my lab.”
Buddington, a longtime devotee of Langston Hughes (“My mom used to read his poetry to me in the womb”), used to make frequent visits to the poet’s Harlem home on 127th Street, which was nearby her old workplace, the Harlem Children’s Zone.
“I used to have lunch on the steps there every day, trying to soak up some of his energy,” she says.
On one of these lunchtime visits, Buddington learned that Hughes had wanted ivy to grow on his brownstone, a way to signal that this was the home of a poet. No other home had ivy and the shaded area wasn’t a good fit for the plant. Nevertheless, Hughes got the ivy to grow and it continues to cover his home today. Buddington felt the zing of inspiration.
“That ivy was not supposed to grow in that part of Harlem,” Buddington says. “This is a metaphor—for some kids! The ivy will rise to the sun.”
Building the league
Right now, the Langston League is in the first phases of an app that would deliver educational content based on an assessment of the child’s learning style. Buddington wants to hire a part-time employee to help move it forward, and the $18,000 she received at the Creator Awards will help her do that.
But even as she moves the Langston League forward, Buddington remains devoted to her students, her scholars. She says everyone around her knows one thing: “Erica is not available until 6 p.m., because that’s kid time.”
Caneel Joyce thought the perfect place for her business was San Francisco. After all, the former startup leader coaches CEOs and other high-level executives on powering through rapid growth, navigating difficult transitions, and approaching exits. Her background in tech, combined with the city’s proximity to Silicon Valley, meant that her client roster was always full.
But in 2015, Joyce relocated her business and her family 400 miles south to Los Angeles, where she joined forces with the coaching and culture firm Evolution. She’s been based out of LA’s WeWork Manhattan Beach Towers ever since that location opened its doors.
Why the move? San Francisco, she says, “was becoming so impossibly, narrowly competitive.”
“There wasn’t as much space to be a whole human being anymore,” she says, “especially if you wanted to have a family.”
Women cite a host of reasons that helped them decide to put down roots in Los Angeles –– LA’s entrepreneurial spirit, the professional opportunities, the physical and geographic resources that the city puts into play.
Lindsey Horvath, a member of the West Hollywood City Council, notes that her community “has a strong history of supporting women.” WeWork La Brea is located within her city’s borders.
Horvath says she and her fellow committee members are “committed to helping effect positive change that creates opportunities for women across sectors and throughout our city and the region.”
Female founders make their mark
Bian Li, founder of the startup incubator The Hungry Lab, loves the creativity and sense of possibility that permeates LA’s entrepreneurial community. She says it helps encourage female founders to make their mark here.
“LA’s a place where a lot of people come to escape old expectations,” she says. Li had lived around the world working as an investment banker, but when it came time to start her own company, she knew Los Angeles was the place.
“To be honest, I was a weather refugee,” she says, laughing. “But I always knew that I wanted to come out here, even when I was younger. I think there’s a lack of pretension here versus out east. And there’s a lack of preconceived notions. The entrepreneurial culture is more towards ‘Oh, let’s try this.’ I think it’s influenced by the creative aspect of where we live.”
Li points to some of the industries that predominate in the LA area — fashion, beauty, health and wellness — as being more female-friendly. WeWork’s recent study showed that its members are much more likely to work in these fields: Three out of four members in the LA area are part of the innovation economy, which includes creative fields like apparel, broadcasting, and entertainment. That compares to just 15 percent of all workers in the area.
Joyce says she sees a definite difference among her clients, who are less in the tech sector than they were in LA.
“A lot of my clients are tech-enabled commerce companies,” she says. “They’re direct-to-consumer brands. Some of them are more in the media and entertainment space. And, historically, these industries have had more women in them.”
The distance from Silicon Valley and its intense competition has helped create a solidarity among entrepreneurs.
“It’s not like every other person is in tech, so there’s this need for us to come together even more in LA, to find each other and to create a tribe,” she says.
Li agrees, saying that the question Angelenos ask themselves is: “What’s the opportunity here, and how can we all help each other rise together?” And that goes double for women.
“It doesn’t get any more diverse than LA,” says Youssef, who is based at Irvine’s WeWork Spectrum Center. “And it’s really important to know the diversity, to understand it. I was able to look at my organization and say, ‘Do I have the diversity to reflect my community? Do I have enough talent from different angles to be able to provide for the families that we provide for?’”
Ensuring that her organization is welcoming is a priority for Youssef because Create a Smile works with the families of children with cancer to help make their lives a little more joyful. The idea is not to just give a gift, Youssef explains, “but also help them spiritually and emotionally to feel good.” She hopes that if they feel better, they’ll heal better, too.
Youssef relies on the community at her WeWork to help her find others with whom she can collaborate. She likes that “everyone is at the same level,” which she says helps foster a network of young companies helping each other grow. About 62 percent of the businesses at WeWork were started in the last five years, compared to 36 percent nationwide.
“My CPA is from WeWork,” Youssef says. “My website designer is from WeWork, as is my graphic designer. All of the vendors for our events come from WeWork. I kind of made it a pact with myself, because they provided such a great network. It was a great opportunity to meet people, so I just strictly went with WeWork.”
This type of top-down inclusivity is common in LA startups, and it helps foster diversity in the broader business community by ensuring that “non-typical” entrepreneurs are mentored and encouraged. Women in all fields tend to find one another and band together, creating the support systems that they need to succeed. So perhaps LA’s female workforce is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Get one woman to open a business, and she’ll help three others open theirs.
To help facilitate that process, Joyce runs a network called The Trust, which brings together “amazing women” eager to “relate to each other as whole people, and not just a slice of their identity.”
Joyce points to the inclusion language that one of the region’s biggest venture capital firms, Upfront, requires of its portfolio companies as indicative of how all kinds of companies are helping women rise through the ranks in LA.
The language isn’t just general platitudes about fostering diversity — it specifically asks that “at least one woman and/or member of a population currently underrepresented within the company shall be formally interviewed for any open executive position.”
That language is available online for other businesses to use, in order to help create further systemic change around who gets big infusions of capital to match their big ideas.
A collaborative atmosphere
That type of systemic change is critical, but sometimes smaller, more specific interpersonal networks help keep the women of LA doing their thing.
“I think compared to New York, say, LA is more collaborative,” says Whitney Bickers, who owns a store called Myrtle that sells clothing produced by independent female designers. “Everyone’s out to get their own in New York, and here it’s kind of like, ‘Let’s work on things together, let’s have an environment where other people are around me doing other things.’”
This collaborative spirit and willingness to share resources helped her design, produce, and launch her first in-house line of clothing: “That’s been a huge part of me doing my house line, is that I can ask other people, ‘How and where are you doing this?’ And they actually answer me.”
Bickers originally came to LA to work in entertainment, but she couldn’t imagine how she could keep her job and also start a family.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy either, but it’s given her the opportunity to pursue her dream, which is, she says, the reason almost everyone comes to LA. Because this is a city of fantasy, where the restless and unsettled come to see if they can reshape the world, or at least their own lives.
“If someone else is not giving you a chance,” Bickers says, “I feel like there are a lot of people in LA who are like, ‘Well, then I’ll do it for myself.’”
When Jessica Mataka talks about plans for San Francisco’s future Municipal Marketplace food hall, she doesn’t mention celebrity chefs, industrial design, or the latest food trends.
She brings up the seven low-income and immigrant female entrepreneurs who will get the chance to share their cooking with customers when the facility opens in 2019. And she talks about how the 7,000-square-foot market will serve as the backbone of the gritty Tenderloin district.
“The marketplace can serve as more than just an opportunity for business expansion for entrepreneurs,” Mataka says. “It’s also a space for residents who are struggling to survive in one of the last vestiges of affordable housing.”
For example, she says, Municipal Marketplace will create an estimated 30 jobs for Tenderloin residents.
Mataka handles development and communications at La Cocina, the incubator for low-income women opening their own eateries. She was thrilled when La Cocina won the nonprofit prize at WeWork’s San Francisco Creator Awards on May 10. The $130,000 award will go toward a $4 million capital campaign by La Cocina to build a food hall in a former post office building on Hyde Street.
Unlike most of the city’s other food halls, Municipal Marketplace will have an on-site kitchen, eliminating a problem faced by many small food businesses. The cost for a commercial kitchen is one of the biggest barriers for newcomers to the restaurant scene.
Municipal Marketplace will welcome customers who have not necessarily been the target demographic of gourmet food halls. They plan to accept food stamps and offer a rotating blue plate special for $5.
The San Francisco Chronicle calls La Cocina “the most important food organization in San Francisco.” The incubator takes chefs through a mini-MBA program for the food industry, during which they learn how to brand their businesses and understand operational costs. When they’re ready, La Cocina brokers sales opportunities for them at farmers markets, and grocery stores gives they contacts for potential catering jobs. They also help owners negotiate favorable leases so they can eventually move out of La Cocina’s kitchen and into their own spaces.
Graduates of La Cocina have opened 25 restaurants in the Bay Area, created hundreds of jobs, and generated at least $10 million in revenue, according to La Cocina’s 2017 annual report. That’s significant in an industry where nearly three-quarters of restaurants are owned by men.
“If you are an immigrant or a person of color and you have to deal with people’s implicit biases, and you can’t access a traditional bank loan or you didn’t go to college, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for you,” Mataka said. “Every day at La Cocina there are opportunities for people to create their life’s work and pave the way forward for a new kind of world we want to live in.”
The Creator Awards arrived in San Francisco on May 10, transforming the Palace of Fine Arts into a grand celebration of innovation, creativity, and grit. WeWork gave out $742,000 to five entrepreneurs and artists from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin to take their life’s work to the next level.
An estimated 1,500 attendees filled the building to watch entrepreneurs pitch their projects Shark Tank style to judges including former vice-chair of General Electric Beth Comstock and MoviePass co-founder Hamet Watt. They also came to mingle with recruiters, buy handmade wares, take in wisdom from famous creatives, and dance to the music of St. Vincent and DJ Daddy Kat. Former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth (she’s the one responsible for the magazine’s wokeness) and WeWork CEO Adam Neumann’s sister, model Adi Neumann, co-hosted.
Because, as WeWork says, “big ideas deserve big celebrations.”
These were the biggest, best, and most inspiring moments:
Most encouraging advice for entrepreneurs:“As long as you’ve got an Internet connection, there’s no reason you cannot be building an empire from your laptop,” Natalie Ellis, CEO of Boss Babe, a community of female entrepreneurs, told the audience at a master class about disruption. She urged aspiring business owners not to obsess about trademarks, logos, or how many social media followers they have — just take action.
Most surprising revelation:Queer Eye style expert Tan France (a British Muslim) lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his Mormon husband. He also runs his ladies’ apparel business from there. He told starstruck fans at the “Designing a BIG Life” master class the decision was pragmatic. “If I’m going to have a warehouse, it better be economical,” France said. More importantly, that’s where his husband is based –– “and I really don’t fancy divorces.”
Why we all want to work for Kevin Rose now: The serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist and self-described “biohacker/longevity freak” is working on a way to give employees bonuses for sleeping more (because while it may be a badge of honor to pull all-nighters in Silicon Valley, the research is pretty clear that sleep deprivation is cognitively akin to being drunk).More evidence Rose is serious about taking care of his staff outside the office: He told master class attendees he also gives his staff subsidies to buy their families flowers and to take Ubers for a night on the town.
Top prize:Medinas Health, a Berkeley business helping hospitals sell surplus medical supplies to small clinics and nursing homes, took the $360,000 award for an established business venture. Since April 1, they’ve started relationships with seven hospitals and closed $60,000 in sales. Chloe Alpert, the 26-year-old founder, said the WeWork money will pay for additional staff to work on solving other supply-chain challenges hospitals have identified.
Sweetest founder story: Amin Bahari, a founder of “performance protein donut” maker Elite Sweets, told the judges he was partly inspired by his own weight-loss journey to redefine how people see baked goods. The audience cheered when he shared that he lost 140 pounds in college, and that the high-protein donuts are made with almond flour, whey protein, and fiber and naturally sweetened with Stevia “so my mother and grandmother could enjoy it.” The judges were won over: The Austin, Texas, company garnered $180,000, which will allow them to move out of Bahari’s parents house and into a commercial kitchen.
Best news for women in the food industry: Mission District incubator kitchen La Cocina, in partnership with the city of San Francisco, will open the country’s first all-women food hall in the Tenderloin next year. La Cocina, which helps low-income and immigrant women open restaurants, won the $130,000 nonprofit award. Jessica Mataka, La Cocina’s development and communications manager, said the money will go toward a $4 million capital campaign to turn a shuttered post office into the food market.
Most likely to make LGBTQ history: Mason Funk, an L.A. filmmaker building a video archive of LGBTQ pioneers and elders across America called Outwords, won $36,000 as the Community Giver recipient. Funk, 59, choked up while accepting the award, which will pay for another round of interviews (so far, his team has captured the stories of 129 pioneers in 25 states) and begin to lay the groundwork for a searchable, digital platform. “The queer community has our own Greatest Generation,” Funk said. “I was seized by the passionate urgent desire to capture these stories while they’re still alive to preserve them forever and share them with the world.”
Best birthday present: Winning the Performing Artist audience choice award. Lalen St. Juste, lead singer and lyricist with Bay Area electro-soul band The Seshen, turned 34 on Thursday. With the $36,000 award, the six-piece band will be able to buy a van to do their first national tour, timed to their third album set to release in early 2019. “We’ve just been at this for a while,” she said, crying backstage after winning. “It just feels like it’s the universe saying, ‘Keep going. Keep going.’”
Motherhood is transformational in every sense, and that often includes redefining your relationship to work. Sometimes it entails figuring out how to be successful both at work and at home. It can also inspire a woman to start a new business or transition into a new field, with fresh confidence and resolve.
No matter what your role in the workplace, though, support is key. Good childcare and parental leave are obvious necessities, but finding your working mom community is invaluable –– for relating to yourpregnancy problems, schooling you on childcare, offering you sage pumping tips, or simply inspiring you to spend your time differently. Here’s how to build yours.
Introduce yourself to a veteran mom in your workplace. Not until you become a parent do you realize how many tricks your coworker (who is also a mom) has up her sleeve. She has an amazing ability to multitask, knows which project management apps really work, and has the number of the best back-up babysitter around town. Chances are there’s probably a whole mom tribe right behind her.
Join a local listserve or Slack channel. Yes, we know listserves are so 1999, but they are still thriving in parent communities all over the country. Even if they just serve as an entry point to the Slack channel or Facebook group that you’ll actually use, you’ll find a wealth of information for working mom life. How do you find yours? A quick Google search. Or get bold and introduce yourself to your neighbor across the hall with two kids. Seriously, everyone is on it.
Talk to Human Resources. After you’ve gotten the answers to all of your pressing questions (do I get paid for maternity leave? Where’s thelactation room?), you’ll want to ask about support for you as a new mom. Many companies set up resource groups that connect employees in similar circumstances. If they don’t have one, speak up and encourage them to start one. Having that built-in support at work can alleviate a lot of stress and help break down some walls.
Go to local mom events (or plan your own!). Not everyone is lucky enough to work with other parents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have anew mom support group. Check out your favorites sites, snoop around on your local listserve (we told you it would come in handy), and pop into your local baby store to find out how you can connect with working mothers in your neighborhood, and get everyone together for a drink or a weekend playdate. The best part? They’ll share tips that have made them successful in their own workplaces that you can bring back to yours.
Make friends on social media. The truth is that some days the balance between baby and work will be downright exhausting –– and that’s OK. Today’s working moms can have it all from their couch (with a beverage of choice) thanks to social media. Scroll Instagram and comment on a mother’s feed your admire, or text with a far-away friend who might be going through the same thing you are. Not feeling up to socializing? Feel free to be a voyeur. You work all day (and night). You deserve a break.