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Candid roundtable with ladies of the BlogHer Conference
by Sarah Toce
2013-07-19

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Around the same time as AOL chatrooms and instant messaging (remember them?), blogging became the new "It" thing to do in households crisscrossing America — and around the world. It was basically a new age media cornucopia of possibilities. Need a roommate? Check out the chat board. Looking for an old friend from high school? Search Classmates.com .

If you don't remember a time before Facebook and Twitter, I'm not sure what to do with you.

A few ladies got together in the mid-2000s to seek out likeminded women who shared a wealth of knowledge technologically, but were nowhere to be found in human form. Poof! BlogHer was born.

According to the Conference's official website: In 2005, BlogHer Co-founders Elisa Camahort Page, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone held a conference to answer the question, "Where are all the women who blog?" Today, BlogHer conferences bring together thousands of these women from around the world to discuss, inspire and connect with each other.

We put together a roundtable discussion featuring the top brass at this year's BlogHer Conference (July 25-27, 2013 — Chicago).

Windy City Times: As a strong female role model, was there a specific event that enabled you to find your inner strength?

Deb Rox (Deb on the Rocks): In my 20s I felt pretty disconnected until I started volunteering and signed up to work on an early rape crisis/domestic violence hotline. That was when things clicked for me and I found more understanding and internal and community strength than I knew I had been missing. That was decades ago, but I can still picture the cramped training room where we listened for the 40-hour session about all sorts of anti-oppression thinking and empowerment techniques that I had never been exposed to before. Training about responding to violence against women and the subsequent work I did in that emerging field helped me understand our culture, myself and how to be with others.

Deborah Goldstein (Peaches & Coconuts): The first spoken word event I did forced me to present my written words aloud and receive reactions in real time, on real faces, right in front of me. I don't shy from public speaking usually. My sales background provided a particular type of presentation acumen, but reading my own creative writing in front of strangers introduced me to a special brand of vulnerability. In 2010, I was selected to read a piece at BlogHer's Voices of the Year community keynote along with 14 chosen bloggers in front of hundreds of my peers. It was a terrifying and exhilarating experience which gave me the confidence I needed to write that memoir.

Kailynn Barbour (GingerSass): I've spent the past five years being involved with the LGBTQQIA community at Rutgers University in New Jersey. My involvement started with me trying to find someplace to fit in and come to terms with my sexuality, and it evolved into me being an unintentional student leader and activist on campus. After the Tyler Clementi incident at Rutgers, which threw many of my circles and communities into national spotlight, I became a support system for many of my friends and student leaders in more visible leadership positions on campus. Ultimately, however, it was the unfortunate suicide of my friend and mentor that forced me to find my inner strength and to be strong for not only myself, but for my friends reeling from her death as well. In a weird way, her death actually led to a year of self-discovery for me, which eventually led to me starting my blog, GingerSass.

Lauren Marie Fleming (Queerie Bradshaw): My very first BlogHer changed QueerieBradshaw.com from a blog I updated occasionally to a multi-platform brand. It not only convinced me to take my websites, online writing classes and consulting business as seriously as I would a physical office space, but it also gave me the skills and connections I needed to make it happen. If it weren't for BlogHer, I'd have never had the idea to turn my blog into a memoir, and now, two years later, I have an agent shopping my book. Information I got from BlogHer's Blog to Book seminars helped me every step of the way. There's also something wonderful about seeing a large group of women helping each other make it as businesswomen, instead of seeing each other as competition, something I saw too often in my other career fields.

Stacy Jill Calvert (Geek Till You Drop): I have had many amazing experiences throughout my professional career, but my most recent accomplishments are pivotal in the next phase of my life. I was diagnosed with Adult ADD five years ago and was able to document that struggle in a film that I produced last year called A Million Directions. One portion of the film details my problems as a young woman in college because of my inability to concentrate. This summer, I am happy to say that I am graduating with my M.S in Media Management from Southern Illinois University. I'm returning in the fall to continue my education by pursuing the MFA in Media Arts. This degree will allow me to continue down this creative path, but also allow me to pay it forward and help the next generation of media makers learn how to express themselves.

WCT: Professionally speaking, what challenges do you feel you have faced and overcome being a strong business woman?

Deb Rox: Challenges for women entrepreneurs are like pool balls: there are lots, but we just have to hit them with a hard break and then knock them off one by one. I've had to teach myself a lot, but now that I am a development and communications consultant for both businesses and non-profits, teaching myself about everything turned out to be great training that helped me gain a facility with working with lots of different clients, vendors or problems.

Deborah Goldstein I am my own worst enemy. I am risk-averse by nature which bodes well in certain, dangerous situations. In the business world and creative world, however, being risk-averse is a career-stopper. My experience has proven that women, in general, take fewer risks than men. Whether that has to do with confidence or fear of failure or a feeling connected to and responsible for others, I'm sure I couldn't say, but the most successful people in business and the arts are those people who take risks. When I truly believe that I have nothing to lose, and I recognize that success far outweighs failure, I can ignore my inner voices and focus on the task at hand. I can't say enough about working with creative coaches and other writers who provide perspective and invaluable feedback. They have kept me on track and challenged me to work harder and expect more. In addition to writing, I've teamed up with a sensational group of writers and editors to launch VillageQ.com, an online destination where the LGBTQ community and our allies support and celebrate queer families. I could not have imagined myself in this role had I not worked with these talented individuals in the blogging world. Connection is essential in all industries.

Kailynn Barbour: I recently graduated with my Masters of Education. I'm searching for a teaching job while balancing my online identity and performing poet identity with my teaching identity. While I'm extremely proud of the identity and following I've developed online as a blogger and performing poet, it has actually presented me with unexpected challenges in finding a job. It's still a struggle, but I'm starting to receive interviews from schools that have been un-phased by my multiple identities and successes… or haven't Googled me yet!

Lauren Marie Fleming I went to law school and as much as that boosted my knowledge base and made me a better businesswoman, it had the unfortunate side effect of reinforcing the concept that there was one spot for a minority in each firm. This led to the idea that we were each other's competition, not support system. I love BlogHer Keynote Speaker Randi Zuckerberg's concept of encouraging women to grab a seat at the table and lean in to each other for support, instead of seeing each other as threats. Women in business are starting to move forward and bring others with them to the top.

Stacy Jill Calvert I feel that the one thing that I have found in the past few years is my own voice. When I was younger, I was afraid to speak up, afraid to voice my own opinion. Once I found the strength to do that, it has helped me immensely in not only my professional life, both other aspects as well.

WCT: What challenges still exist?

Deb Rox: Financial equity is still a challenge for women founders and business developers. Finding champions and investors means dissolving some old ways of thinking in the systems with access to resources, ramping up creatively and building strong networks and pipelines of our own. In mentoring other women and LGBT business owners I also see that we continually have to coach ourselves to stop riding the brakes. We're often working without a net and with external pressure to stay small so it takes courage, but allowing momentum to build without self-limiting is powerful.

Deborah Goldstein My biggest challenge has always been settling for the calm that follows success. Every time I achieve a goal, I hear my inner voice saying, "Ok, now you can put your feet up because you accomplished what you set out to do. You don't need to prove to anyone that you can do more than that. You're good." But if I'm not working towards something, I eventually feel lost. That's when I need my support network to help me rally on take on the next challenge.

Kailynn Barbour: I regularly struggle with the intersection of my identities as an educator, a poet, a blogger, and an out lesbian woman. All four identities are a huge part of who I am, but when they intersect, despite all of the progress that our country has made, they are met with some hesitation. Only 21 states have laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, which means I could be fired in 29 states for being a teacher who happens to be lesbian. Luckily I live in one of those states that protects my rights, but I still bet that a lot of school districts Googled my name upon receiving my application, saw the pages and pages of me being listed as an "out lesbian poet," and moved on to a different applicant. There has been a lot of excitement and momentum in the United States these past few weeks, but that doesn't mean that queer people don't face any challenges. Marriage equality certainly isn't the only challenge existing in our country right now, and it won't be the last for LGBTQQIA Americans.

Lauren Marie Fleming Naps. My love of naps is still my biggest challenge as someone who works from home.

Stacy Jill Calvert There are a lot of challenges for queer women in business and that includes having our voices heard. However, I believe that the blogging community has opened that door for many of us and will continue to do so.

WCT: What are you most looking forward to in sharing your story with attendees at the BlogHer Conference?

Deb Rox: I love the annual BlogHer conference because it attracts dynamic, progressive and creative people who are interested in using digital publishing tools and social media in innovative ways. I co-host the Queerosphere party for BlogHer attendees, so that's what I'm most looking forward to. BlogHer works hard to amplify diverse voices, and Queerosphere is where we celebrate the world-changing work of LGBT bloggers and the support of our allies.

Deborah Goldstein Susan Goldberg and I are leading a Writing Lab panel entitled, Finish That Manuscript. Writing can be a lonely, soul-destroying venture that forces us to face our insecurities. I look forward to connecting to other writers who are at different stages of their journey in order to share my experiences and strategies that have worked for me along the way. I know I'll pick up some valuable tips from attendees, as well. We all have something to offer each other.

Kailynn Barbour: I attended my first BlogHer Conference last year in New York City, just an hour away from my home. I was fairly new to blogging, and a bit overwhelmed. I found a community of bloggers who understood me and my thoughts, and friendships and communities were formed with people I wouldn't have necessarily have met if it weren't for blogging. I'm a lot more at ease this year than I was last year, and I'm looking forward to meeting new bloggers, learning about the stories of others, and finding some new form of connection amongst the madness! I'm also really looking forward to sharing my identity as a non-traditional blogger. People tend to forget that there are some "miscellaneous bloggers" that don't really have a niche in the blogosphere, and it's always really interesting to me to let people know that you don't have to have a label to be successful blogger.

Lauren Marie Fleming I'm speaking on a panel about how to use marketing tools without being a tool and I'm excited to teach other bloggers to tap into their network and help promote each other through social media and in-person networking events like BlogHer. I started the #BigDealCampaign which encourages attendees to pass out cards to bloggers they respect and admire, letting them know they're a Big Deal no matter what the size of their readership. Most of the best supporters in my personal and professional life are people I've met at BlogHer and many of them I met by simply sitting down and saying hi to a stranger. As a BlogHer Newbie Mentor, I'm excited to seek out people who look lost and encourage them to talk to as many other lost strangers as possible and make great friends in the process.

Stacy Jill Calvert While I am very excited to be presenting on video production and attending the other informative panels and workshops, it's the people that keep me coming back. I have met people from all walks of life and the BlogHer conference is a welcoming and open environment which allows for these friendships and business relationships to thrive.

WCT: What is your connection to Chicago?

Deb Rox: I was born in Chicago, as were both of my parents. My mom's father brought my grandmother over from Denmark to Oak Park in the 1940s, happily in pursuit of the American Dream, and my dad was born and raised south of Chicago. We moved when I was in grade school, but my most treasured childhood memories are of the Kiddieland train, Bozo the Clown, and making Mold-a-Rama souvenirs in Lincoln Park Zoo and The Field Museum. I'm happy for any reason to visit Chicago!

Deborah Goldstein I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and left to go to college in New York. I also spent 5 years of my early adulthood in Chicago proper where I met my partner/wife/baby-mama. And, in 2009, when I was living in my current state of New Jersey, I traveled to Chicago for my first BlogHer conference. Living outside of Chicago has allowed me to I appreciate my Midwestern roots. I am most proud of the Chicago killer combination of sincerity and dry wit that I can spot no matter where I am living. I love being in Chicago where I always feel at home.

Kailynn Barbour: My grandfather's side of the family lives about half an hour away from Chicago, and I only met them twice—as a baby years and years ago, the last time I was in Chicago, and at my grandfather's funeral in 2008. While I won't be able to see them during my trip to Chicago for BlogHer, I'm really excited to spend some time in the city I grew up hearing my Grandpa rave about! It's sort of a heritage coming home for me I suppose, and I'm really looking forward to it for so many reasons.

Lauren Marie Fleming One of my most popular blog posts was about flying to Chicago for a weekend tryst, which is the only other time I've been to the city. I'm excited to go back to attend BlogHer and to see that tryst who is now one of my best friends.

Stacy Jill Calvert I grew up in the Chicago area, lived on the west coast after college, but returned in 2005, just in time to become a staff member on Gay Games VII. I love the city and I'm excited to share my hometown with other attendees next week!

The upcoming BlogHer Conference struts into the Windy City on July 25 and will make a splashing exit on July 27. Ticket information and more is available here: www.blogher.com .


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