Rosie’s Daughters, an informal monthly speaker series founded by friends Anne Diaz and Jena Fiamingo, sprouted from the desire to learn more about all of the amazing work their women friends in the Bay Area were doing. Compiling a “dream list” of 150 women they admired and who they would love to sit down and have a conversation with, Anne and Jena emailed “everyone they knew,” crossed their fingers and launched Rosie’s Daughters last January.
To date, they’ve hosted seven conversations that have featured speakers including chef Dominique Crenn, illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, Katie Albright, executive director of the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center and Martha Ryan, founder of the city’s Homeless Prenatal Program. The conversations, held at the Women’s Building, have addressed topics such as risk, health, turning passion into work, ambition, entrepreneurship and creating a community that protects one another. Tonight, from 6:30-8:30, Rosie’s Daughters will host actress Elisa Donovan for a conversation about authenticity.
Jena, who works in the biopharmaceautical industry, grew up in Pennsylvania and has been living in San Francisco for the past five years. Anne, who works as a User Experience Researcher for a community-focused fashion tech company, is from San Diego and has been in the Bay Area for 15 years. The friends run Rosie’s Daughters (which is not-for-profit) in their spare time, and a small fee for tickets helps cover rental space, food and drinks. Mission Local sat down with them to hear more about the inspiration behind the popular speaker series.
Mission Local: How would you describe Rosie’s Daughters, and why did you start it?
Jena: Rosie’s Daughters is a speaker series, meets happy hour, meets an intimate conversation with your closest friends. That’s the most succinct version. We wanted to create a comfortable space where people could come and share their stories, and we could hear the experiences of some really inspiring Bay Area women. So it’s meant to be like a positive and inspiring and uplifting place to be and to feel.
Anne: I think what’s really neat is how many incredible women are in the Bay Area and how many are doing really amazing things and really bold things. And sometimes, unless you’re looking for them, you don’t get to hear about what they’re doing.
We had been talking in the last year just a lot about issues of gender…mostly in the workplace. And how, as we kind of progressed in our careers, we were very often one of the only women in the room. Or we were looking at our managers and our manager’s managers and realizing that there weren’t very many more women as you move up. But we were also talking just about how much we love the city, and how we wanted to really feel more involved and get to know more and more people and we had this idea for bringing women together, and having conversations not about work, but more about our purpose, and the things we care about most, and all of these things that we had just started to talk about—like sort of, who do you want to be when you grow up, and who are you really?
ML: How do you choose the women you invite to speak?
J: We have our list of 150 women, and then we also ask the people who come, in surveys, if they have any recommendations for speakers. They’re volunteering their time, so the people who are going to be speaking obviously have to be excited about the idea, and just kind of passionate about the idea of what we’re doing. They have no idea what it’s going to look like until they get there. So we just try to kind of paint the picture of what it’s like, and hopefully get them excited to share with people who actually want to learn. I mean so many people, whether you’re a big name or no one’s heard of you, have so much to share with others. And I think for the most part, people want to do that, unless you’re like totally tapped out and overbooked in your life, and asked to do this a lot. Most of us aren’t really asked to do that, right?
A: We’ve tried to make our asks really genuine so we’re not emailing 50 people at once and hoping that one of them will say yes. We really ask people that we would love to talk to.
J: And we try and change up diversity of careers, and also backgrounds, and race and all of that. We want it to feel really inclusive.
ML: Can you describe an evening for people who haven’t been to an event?
J: Our conversation goes for about an hour and 15 minutes. We usually just ask a few of our questions and then the audience takes over. And usually half the time or most of the time, the audience asks the exact questions we have written down, and they ask their own ones that we would never think of. And by the end of the conversation, there are usually still a few hands in the air and people who want to talk. Which is good, right, like everyone wants to keep talking about it. And I usually feel like I could just sit there for hours and keep talking about it.
And then following the events we leave time for people to mingle. The speakers have all been very accessible and warm and friendly, so its very easy to approach them and talk to them. It’s not an overwhelming number of people there (audiences range from 30-70 people), I think we have a really good amount where it’s enough people to get enough diversity, but it’s not too many where you don’t feel like, “I’m not going to get my chance to talk to this person I want to talk to.”
ML: Are these women-only events, or are men invited, too?
A: For the moment, it’s women mostly. I think you get a different kind of environment when it is only women. Unfortunately I think that’s the reality. That being said, we have had men come to our events. And I actually think they get really overwhelmed by being the only guy in the room! (Laughs). And they don’t tend to say very much! We keep going back and forth on this. I think we’re always going to keep the focus on women, and building community between women. But the more men who want to come and be supportive, over time…maybe.
ML: Where did the idea for the speaker series come from?
J: I feel like it started when we went to that screening of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary, “Miss Representation.” It’s about how gender is portrayed in the media and about how women are portrayed in the media, and it was just really eye-opening. And then Anne went to a dinner at Sheryl Sandberg’s house…
A: (Shares the story about being invited to a monthly women’s dinner at Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s house in Silicon Valley after cold-introducing herself at a fundraiser). It was such an awesome opportunity and I’m so glad that I had the chance to do this. I had read [Sandberg’s] book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” and I really enjoyed it, and a lot of it resonated with me. So she hosts these dinners once a month—she brings a very famous or influential person in business to come and sit with like 30 to 40 women. We’ve been trying to model our format a little bit after what she did, because it was so neat. Not just because it was Sheryl Sandberg and because we were in this amazing home, and I felt like, “Oh my god, what did I do to be able to get here,” but also because the conversation was so interesting and it was very intimate and it felt very comfortable. And I was so excited and pumped up when I got back and I said to Jena, “We need to do this! I bet we could do this!”
J: We had talked at my house one night before Anne’s dinner at Sheryl Sandberg’s, and we couldn’t quite put our finger on exactly what we wanted to do. Even with just our own friends, it’s like, you know, you just kind of talk about more social stuff or you touch the surface of the bigger stuff. We don’t really get to talk about the details of, “How did you start this business, what do you do, what’s it like, what’s it about?” So that was initially kind of what we were thinking, and then when she went to that dinner it was like, oh yeah, that kind of like put the rest of it together. And of course we do all this work, and then the night we’re going to send out that email (to everyone they knew), it was like, “I’m gonna throw up, are we really gonna do this?!”
A: Yeah—we were both so nervous! Even making the website, I remember we were both like, “Do we really want to? This is really scary!”
Since we reached out to so many of our friends and we’re relying on our connections, we want this to be something that we’re really proud of and that people really enjoy. And that takes a lot more work than we were originally planning on. But every time we have one of these events….
J: We’re so energized.
A: Oh yeah…the next week after…it makes me feel like I can do anything. I mean I’m bouncing off the walls when I get home. I can’t sleep, I get really excited, all I want to do is re-hash it. I mean, it feels great.
ML: Where does the name “Rosie’s Daughters” come from?
J: The name was inspired by the iconic Rosie the Riveter. It’s a symbol that originated in the Bay Area, and it’s a reminder for all of us to test our limits, try new things and believe in ourselves. So I mean it sounds a little cheesy, but who can’t use more of that in their lives, right?! And we have different challenges in our lives than our mothers and our grandmothers had, and so it’s just a way to kind of come together and, you know, talk about all of that. And at least for me, and I think for most people, you feel better when you talk about those things, whether they’re difficult, or, you know, sometimes it’s good stuff, but when you talk about it with others and you know other people struggle through some of those same things, or that you can connect with them over those things, it feels good, and it makes you feel more connected to humanity.
A: Feminism has gone through all sorts of different stages, and obviously during World War II, that was one of the first times when women were en mass in the work force. And when the war ended, men came home and women sort of went back into their homes. And there hasn’t been, I think until the past couple years, a larger national conversation about women in the workforce, and what that looks like, and how women define purpose and business, and become entrepreneurs, and all of these things that were really important to what we wanted our conversations to focus around, which are women leading in the ways that they want to. So even though I think technically, a Rosie the Riveter daughter would be our moms, it sort of felt like that kind of stage of—
J: We’re all sort of the daughters of that.
A: Yeah, exactly…and sort of the next generation of feminism in that kind of vein.
ML: Do you both have inspiring women in your lives who you look up to?
A: Oh yeah! Tons of people!
J: We’ll show you our list!
A: My mom is aaaaamazzzzing. She is a writer, and she has been a columnist for years and years and years. She worked in advertising as a copywriter. And she actually worked in advertising sort of during the Mad Men era, when she ended up becoming a creative director.
J: I didn’t know that. That’s so cool!
A: And she actually told me stories about…you know, she’s a creative director, she obviously had a lot of clout. And she would go to meetings with clients and clients would say, “Hey baby, can you go get me a coffee?” Things like that. And she’s like, “I’m about to present this giant campaign to you…I don’t want to get you a coffee.” (Laughs). And then she ended up leaving full-time work to take care of myself and my brother when we were born. But she’s been writing for a really long time since then. And she’s just amazing. She actually teaches writing at a veteran’s halfway home in San Diego. She’s also done a bunch of work with this program called Women PeaceMakers, which brings women from all over the world who are doing really amazing work towards establishing peace in their countries or their communities.
J: My mom, of course. My parents started their own business out of college because neither of them could get jobs as teachers. And so my dad was kind of like the sales guy and the face of it, but my mom did everything sort of behind the scenes, whether it was accounting, bookkeeping, HR, customer service…all of it. So she’s always been a role model. And I feel like my friends have probably been the most influential and they’re always impressing me with what they’re accomplishing, whether it’s at work or at home or in their spare time.
ML: How did you know that San Francisco was home?
J: The people, the weather, the food, all the things to do, the energy of the people here, the creativity of the people here. Everybody here has such a can-do attitude. I just feel like I’m surrounded by the brightest, smartest, most—I don’t know, it sounds silly, but just the coolest people! And I love that. And everyone’s continually trying to find new things to do and better themselves; it just feels like it’s that kind of place.
A: I was just in New York a couple weeks ago visiting a really good friend of mine and we were talking about the difference between New York and San Francisco. And she was saying that in New York, if you come up with an idea, people will shoot it down and say, “You should NOT do that, don’t pursue that, that doesn’t make any sense, why would you ever do that, that’ll never work.” And in San Francisco, people will say, “Oh my god, that’s the best idea, you should totally do that, drop everything and do that right now,”….even if it’s a horrible idea. And I really like that optimism and idealism.
There’s an essay that Herb Caen wrote—I think it was in the 60s or 70s—and he was describing all of the things that are so broken about San Francisco, but the reason that you love it is because you see its potential. And I think that that’s just such a perfect description of this place. There are so many things that we can make better, and so many things that are terrible about it, but there’s A LOT of potential to make it great. All these ingredients are here for a really great, amazing city.
ML: What’s your favorite thing about Rosie’s Daughters?
J: One of my favorite things is the diversity of women that come to these events. At any given time, we might have an opera singer and a writer, and someone in tech, a scientist, educator, nonprofit, city planners, Burning Man artists (laughs)….sooooo many different women. And same with our speakers. We’ve had chefs, women in nonprofit and business, artists, we have an actress next month, entrepreneurs. So it just kind of gets you out of your own world and you know, the same networks that you’re in all the time, and gets you around, between the speakers and the women in the audience, a lot of different people and ideas.
A: I think that’s been my favorite part, too. One of the things that I’ve also really enjoyed is just seeing people in the audience making connections with each other and with our speakers. (Here, she tells the story of an audience member named Patricie, originally from Rwanda and studying at UC Berkeley, who connected with Rosie’s Daughters speaker and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton because she recognized MacNaughton’s art from a project she had done years ago in Rwanda. The connection moved Patricie so much that she was inspired to start a Rosie’s Daughters conversation in Rwanda). That was just, I think, the coolest thing. Also realizing that having women come together in a conversation is not just a thing that can work in the Bay Area; I think it’s something very universal, where it can be hard to find a venue where women from all these different backgrounds and industries and perspectives come together and just sit down and talk about a topic.
ML: What did that speaker-audience connection show you about what’s possible?
J: Well, it’s funny. I mentioned the night that we were about to email everybody we knew in the area and had that feeling of, “Oh I’m gonna throw up, I feel so sick, are we really doing this?” Where we are now, it’s insane, it’s so much different. I mean just knowing that, “Oh my gosh, I can totally do this. I can do a lot more than I probably give myself credit for, and do it really well.” I mean, I guess that’s subjective!
A: I think it was really neat to realize how universal having a conversation with people who are passionate about their purpose in life and what they do and what they care about, is. And of course that’s universal, but it was really, I think, amazing to feel like conversations can impact people’s lives in a bigger way than you expect.
ML: What has the feedback from both the speakers and the audience been like?
J: For the most part, so many people come to us and tell us how much they enjoyed [the conversation] or were inspired, or they say, “Now I’m going to go do this.” It feels really good, you know? And I feel like we’re just providing the forum for that to happen, and it’s just happening naturally.
A: (Shares an email she received from a friend after the last event): “Yesterday’s Rosie’s Daughters was amazing. I feel so compelled to go do something and help. Most days I feel so drained after work and honestly it’s a bit of a drag to get myself to do something afterwards. But once I get to Rosie’s Daughters I always feel so inspired and rejuvenated. Everybody you guys have brought on is so different and inspiring in their own way.”
Stuff like that feels really, really good. I think also, one thing that has been really wonderful about this is realizing if you ask people for help or you want to do something that you’re really passionate about, that people will help. Even without asking. People will say yes; people get excited.
ML: Why did you choose the Mission for the speaker series? Did you feel there was a need in the community for something like this?
J: There’s logistics…the Women’s Building is located near BART, and it’s pretty easy to get to, whether you’re coming from the city, or the East Bay or the peninsula. And the Women’s Building has a really great history. It kind of goes along with what we’re doing.
A: I think it’s also just a really approachable space. It feels really comfortable, it feels really intimate. It does almost feel like you’re in somebody’s house. I think there’s just something really nice about also being able to kind of put Rosie’s Daughters in this physical location that reinforces what we care about, which is building a community among women.
ML: What do you hope the speakers and the audiences take away from the events?
J: We always want it to feel worthwhile for our speakers. We’re asking them to volunteer their time and take a night away from their family and friends to come hang out with us, so we certainly want them to have fun and feel like they got something out of it, you know…that maybe they even got more than they gave. We send them a thank you note after, and we include the feedback from the audience. And I think they’re really appreciative of that because it’s probably not something that they get that often, and maybe they realize things about themselves, too, that they don’t even notice that other people pick up on.
A: I hope our audience goes home feeling the way that we do. Which is re-energized and inspired and feeling like, “This speaker said something that really resonated with me, or made me realize something about myself.”
ML: Why do you think it’s important to have something like this for women, in the Mission, and more broadly, in the city?
A: Well I think it’s important in the Mission, specifically, because I think that so often there’s a conversation around how a community changes because it’s focused on how different everyone is, and I think that these conversations are a really important opportunity to realize all the things you have in common with women whose lives are very different from yours. And different in all sorts of different ways. And I think it’s really important because of how the community is changing so much. And I think it’s really important in the city for the same reasons. And I think the more opportunities that women have to get to know one another and develop those relationships…I think women play just such a huge role in shaping the personality of the place that you live.
ML: What have you learned from the experience of starting these conversations, and from hearing these inspiring women speak?
J: Well, it makes me feel like I can do anything now! It was kinda scary to start this, and we’ve done a good job at it, and people get a lot out of it.
A: I think I’ve also realized just about myself, kind of what you were saying Jenna, how we were really scared at first, and you realize how powerful you are when you try something new. And that’s one thing that I’ve taken away from a lot of our conversations, too, is our speakers talk about taking big risks, and they talk about doing things that were scary because they loved them, and how that has shaped who they are and shaped what their lives look like.
And I think that’s been such a powerful thing to witness and then to sort of experience ourselves, too…you know, trying something that we really care about and we’re really passionate about, and it all just starts to come together. There are some days when we’re like, “Why are we doing this?!” But I think hearing just how common that experience is of, “This is scary, I am talented, I am passionate, I can pull this off,” over and over again, month after month, is really helpful.
Read more about Rosie’s Daughters here.