All you ever wanted to know
about feminist business
A conversation with Coach
and Journalist Becky Mollenkamp
Feminist business is a thing!
I was sooo excited to learn this ☝️ from Becky Mollenkamp, a feminist business owner, coach and journalist who is launching an incredible new podcast, Feminist Founders. As she was launching the podcast, Becky and I sat down to talk about Becky’s feminist business journey, what feminist business is, what she’s learned from the changemakers she’s talked with. Plus, she shares some first steps to help you use your business as a force for good.
Below is both the link to the YouTube video and a transcription of our conversation about feminist business. Prepare for your mind to be blown! 🤯
Nicole: Hi there, good morning and good afternoon or whatever time zone you might be in. I’m Nicola Havelka. I am your anti-burnout coach, and this is Defy the Trend LIVE. So grab your snack, grab lunch … and a beverage, and sit down to learn all you ever wanted to know about feminist business with my friend and coach, Becky Mollenkamp. Today, she is launching a new podcast called Feminist Founders. I’ve listened to two of the episodes, and they are amazing. And so I’m beyond honored that you would be here and chatting with me today, Becky – about your podcast, about your process … both in terms of the podcast, but also the process of even learning how to be an intersectional feminist business owner.
That’s a process that I know I’m on as well. And that I’ve learned so much from you in terms of your coaching as well. And so just before I let you introduce yourself, which I definitely will, I want to take this moment because we’re in public to thank you. Becky is one of my coaches. And I really, I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for the times you’ve talked me off the ledge, like keeping me in doing this work. Because when you’re doing a new thing, especially when you want to align with your values, it is so hard, and it feels like failure a lot of the time, and to have someone talk me off that ledge and say, “Yep, pick yourself up and do a different thing.” It’s so, so helpful. … So thank you. I wanted to say that because I might not get a chance to do that again – to thank you publicly for that.
Becky: Thank you for saying that.
Nicole: Sure, of course. So I know that you’ve taken a pretty… it’s a long road, this Feminist Founders journey. So what led you on this road to become a feminist founder yourself? So tell us a bit about your journey. … What brought you to starting your own feminist coaching business?
How Becky’s feminist business journey got started
Becky: Yeah, I mean, definitely that’s how I started. I think there’s like two sort of key turning points in my journey. The first is in 2010, when my brother died of a heroin overdose. And that was like a wake up call for me. So that was a real wake-up call for me, it shook me out of this sort of good-girl behavior of, like, just doing all the things I thought I should to be good. And had a really … great on-paper life, but it didn’t really feel good.
And so that was the first thing that sort of shook me out of what I was doing, which, at that time, I was a journalist, which is serving me well now in this role. But it wasn’t something that I found particularly fulfilling. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
And through … several years of discovery that included a lot of journaling and crying and reading and everything else. I realized that what I really wanted to do was help other women … primarily stop being good girls.
I wanted to help people stop living lives of should, and instead, like, find what they really wanted to do. Because I started to discover that that was the thing that felt great to me. And that’s what moved me towards coaching. And then, at the tail end of that, as I started to move into coaching, I was living back in St. Louis, where I’m from. And in 2014, when Michael Brown was murdered by the police a mile from my doorstep, I really got another wake-up call. That put me on a journey of realizing my version of feminism that I had – because I would have always identified as a feminist since I was in junior high – but starting to realize my definition of that, or the way that I was approaching feminism was definitely like a white feminist. It was white feminism that was very centered through my own experience. And that taught, you know, everything that happened in my town around Michael Brown and a lot of what that did nationally at the time, really helped me to start saying: “I need to do some pretty serious work here in better understanding other lived experiences beyond my own.”
And that’s what introduced me to intersectional feminism and the idea of understanding all of the intersecting oppressions that happen with your various identities, and really changed the way I look at feminism, and necessarily then began to inform my work as a coach, which gradually, eventually led me to where I’m at today – which is that my work … operates through that intersectional feminist lens. But it was a long journey. And one I’m still on, by the way.
Nicole: Right, the journey of learning into and growing into being a feminist founder and business owner and, just in life, right, is not one that ends, right? We don’t arrive. I know that I’ve lulled myself at times into that belief. And that’s just not true. Like, it’s a constant journey, and you’re never going to be … suddenly … a feminist and antiracist. It’s not a destination. It’s a journey.
Becky shares what feminist business is
Nicole: So, talk to us a little bit about what exactly is feminist business?
Becky: Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely still very much learning this, which is what I love about the podcast and getting to talk to other people who know a lot more than I do. But my sort of thought about that is, at its most basic, it is a business that prioritizes people over profit. That does not mean as a business that doesn’t make money or that can’t make money, or that shouldn’t make money. To be a business, you need to make money. To survive in the world we live in, you need to make money. Making money is definitely important. But it’s about thinking about humanity first, and profits second.
Humanity first and money second, because the way we are typically taught about business, is that every decision, every thought, is money first, and everything else second, or never. But money leads all decisions. And what happens when we flip that on its head and say, “Humanity leads all decisions.” And then we think about how we do that in a way that also still can be profitable. And so, I think that means, how do I create a business that honors first, as a founder, myself and my needs? That’s very important, what your needs go well beyond money. They also include time and capacity, and you know, energy and safety and love and all those things. Joy, right?
So how do I make sure I’m creating a business that honors my needs? And then my team – if I have one – right? The people I work with. How do I make sure I’m honoring their humanity, right? That looks like things like, how do I make sure that I’m not overworking them? How am I making sure that I’m paying them a living wage? How am I making sure that their work experience is joy-filled, rewarding, purposeful, all of those things. And then the other prompt to me is, “How do I also honor the humanity of the community that I live in, that I exist in. And sort of at large, which can also, I think, include the planet, or you can make that a separate rung, because Mother Earth is a big part of this as well.
But I think we need to think about all of our business decisions through honoring all of those pieces of humanity. And then thinking about the money, right? And the money gets weighed in there as well. Will this make money? Is this a smart financial decision? But it doesn’t matter if it’s a smart financial decision that will make money if it isn’t going to honor the humanity and all of those parts of the existence of your business. So to me, that’s what I think of as a feminist business.
How feminist business can change how we do our work in the world
Nicole: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I have a lot of both clients and friends who are in the nonprofit world. And so I hope that you all are listening to this today, or later if you’re catching the recording, at another time because I think this applies. I think, because what I’ve experienced in both working for nonprofits, and just being part of the administration or listening to that, is that they do talk about centering humans, right? They have a – most of the time – have a vision and mission that is about humanity, or the environment or fill in the blank. Whatever their vision and mission is around. But then I see the shadow side of that, which is, we pay our employees very poorly. We expect them to [overwork]. Or the workload … demands that they work 60-plus hours a week just to get by in order to meet the needs, in the name of doing the good that they want to do in the world.
There’s nothing wrong with the good you want to do in the world, but you have to do that in a sustainable way. And like you said: That’s not just money. It’s time. It’s energy. It’s, how are you treating people. So I just wanted to … interject that because I know I have a lot of nonprofit people who might be listening to this either now or later.
Becky: Yeah, and I agree completely. And similarly, you work with, you know, as an anti-burnout coach working with business owners. … And I think this is true for so many businesses of all types — we’re in it because we want to do something good. We’re wanting to help people. We want to make people’s lives better, whatever that is. And that is so valid and important. And I think it’s really important to have a vision, like a purpose. But it isn’t going to be sustainable, and it isn’t really feminist, intersectionally feminist, if you’re doing that at the cost of your own mental health, physical health, or the cost of the mental, physical health of your team, or at the cost of not giving back to the community in the ways that you really want to, or in a way that is exclusive of certain peoples, you know. I think we have to think about all of that. Because I totally agree with you, people who are in the giving professions, whatever those look like, whether they’re nonprofit or for profit … Yeah, I think there is that, “But I’m doing such good.” Right? But at what cost? You still have to think about yourself. I see it so often with self-employed people, where they are running their business at the expense of themselves, their own sanity. It’s not healthy.
Nicole: It’s not, and we’ve talked a lot about it in groups we’re in. That comes up all the time with us. And I know that … I mean, I joke about this now, but I often say that I’m the worst boss ever. But not to other people, to myself. And I literally teach people about how to take care of themselves, and I’ve been incrementally working on dialing that back and saying, “Okay, what is really sustainable for me?” And this impacts my pricing. Like, what is pricing that will pay me and other people who work with me a living wage?
Becky: Well, I just want to say, yes, of course, you’re that way. And of course, I’m that way, despite all of the work I’ve done, because we are so indoctrinated into capitalism. I mean, it’s the waters that we swim and breathe in. And … it’s by design. I mean, the education system is a part of the process of our indoctrination into capitalism. It is teaching us how to be good, loyal workers, right? I mean, … everything that we learn is how to be a part of this system, the machine that’s out there. e are cogs in that wheel. And we are, of course, we recreate it. You know, so many people go into work for themselves, because they don’t want to work for the man anymore, right? The corporate life is horrible. I don’t want to do this nine-to-five thing. And then, somehow we end up recreating it, or sometimes making it even worse for ourselves. But of course we do, because that’s what we’re taught. That’s what we know. It is a difficult journey to unlearn. And it is a lifelong process.
So even when you’re in it, you will still continue to find ways where you’re like, “Oh my gosh, look, there I am, again, still recreating this capitalist system inside of my business.” And so, it’s a journey that never ends on trying to stop that for yourself because I catch myself all the time. The process of launching this podcast, I am recognizing, like, I am feeling really overwhelmed with all of the process of the promotion and everything. And so, like this morning, I made myself take a break and go take a walk. Everything inside of me was saying, “No, you need to sit at your desk and get back to work.” And I had to really fight that messaging to say, “No, what I need right now is some space for mental clarity and for physical health.” I had to force myself to do it. Because that voice of capitalism is always there saying, “Ah, ah, ah, that doesn’t count as work, that’s not valuable. Right?”
Prioritizing your needs and the needs of others
Nicole: When often it actually is valuable. How many times have you gone for that walk or even taken a five-minute break for that matter, and then go back and suddenly everything’s easier? You know, it’s so ridiculous. These tapes we play in our heads, the tapes we play from our capitalist indoctrination, right? That teaches us that grinding constantly is the only way to be successful. And it’s successful by their standards, not ours – certainly not by the standards or standards of our bodies, which will tell us that we’re doing way too much. They’re not going to function in the way that we need them to function when we are working. Anyway, I talk about that all the time. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Becky: I fully agree with you, and listening to the body is something that we all need to do more of. And I’m writing a piece right now for my Substack newsletter about some of the ways that like our patriarchal conditioning will hold us back as business professionals, and one of those is sort of that like we we’ve learned to not trust ourselves, to not trust our intuition, to not trust our embodied knowing. And we can learn to listen to that it changes everything. That is to me, part of what it looks like to run a feminist business, is to say, “Wait a minute, who told me that logic and reason and, you know, evidence and all of that is more valuable or somehow superior to my embodied knowledge of what I need and what is right for me.” And so I totally feel that.
Nicole: Yeah, for sure, for sure. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about your experience of creating the podcast. So I had the privilege of previewing a couple of the first episodes that I think have dropped by this point. And I would say that my mind just kept getting blown over and over again in the best possible way by you and your guests. And I would say that sort of mind blowing fell into a couple of categories. One was like, “Oh, this is just new” or in some cases, it was an answer to a question I’d been struggling with, and could even barely articulate sometimes. Like, there was something I’ve been struggling with, or it was just a brand new idea, or it was something that really just challenged, especially my privilege as a white bodied, cis, straight, educated middle-class woman. So those were sort of generally the two categories that they fell in. So for you what was, like, a new idea that you learned from a guest? I’m sure there’s a million of these. But if you get one that pops to mind, what is something you learned from one of your guests that like, you know, blew your mind and maybe even changed something that you were doing in your business?
The collective as a key part of feminist business
Becky: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t want to say that nothing has completely radically shifted things for me. There’s been a lot of reinforcing and validating for me. That’s the thing I’m getting the most from is this, like so much validation, or just starting to see things in a different way.
So the first episode – the first three episodes are out now, anywhere you listen to podcasts. The first episode was CV Harquail, who literally wrote the book on feminism and business. And she talks about the three … things that are key for her vision of what feminism is: It needs to be inclusive. So intersectional, right? It needs to be transformational, needs to be leading to change. And the last piece is it needs to be collective. It needs to be about the collective, but it needs to happen collectively.
And that collective piece is something that has really been sitting with me since I talked to her, and she was the first person I interviewed months ago. So it’s been sitting with me a long time, of just realizing how much I need community. And you’ve probably seen, and, I think, you know, others in my world will have seen that I have really been putting that into action more and more. Like, how can I create intentional, meaningful community, where I can be with people who I know, going into the space, we have this shared set of values around humanity, right? So that I’m not walking on eggshells or anything, and where I can go and be seen, be heard, be loved, be validated, be supported. And that is just so much more important than I ever really allowed myself to realize. … In America especially, and in capitalist societies in general, there tends to be a strong focus on the individual versus the collective, right? It’s all this individualism, lift yourself up by your bootstraps. And then that leads into this, like, super-person phenomenon of, like, Superwoman, especially like, we should be able to get it all done – all of this. Like this idea that you should be able to do it all, handle it all, be strong, be smart, be pretty, be happy – all of the things, all the time.
And that’s nonsense, of course. And if you look at human history, and how humans are actually meant to live, we are meant to live collectively. It takes a village, not just to raise a child, but to survive life. It takes a village, and we’ve lost our villages. And that idea of the collective is part of what I think makes feminism feel so different from the masculine sort of systems – the toxic masculinity in which we live right now. This idea of, instead of this, like, rugged individualism, it is like, “No, how do we work together to lift all of us up?” Right? So, I think that’s the thing that’s just been sitting with me and showing up in so many different ways. And thinking about, I’m a solopreneur. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still do my business collectively. And what does it look like? Right? To think about my solo business collectively? So, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things, you’re right. But that’s maybe the thing that’s been sitting with me, or just has been hitting home for me the most is around this idea of how deeply we all need community.
Nicole: Yeah, yeah. For so many reasons. First of all, none of us does anything alone. Like that’s such a myth, right? Like, literally nothing I’ve done is done alone without support of one sort or another. Whether that’s, you know, emotional support or financial support, or something else. We don’t exist in a vacuum. And I have found this journey of starting my own business – and I worked independently a lot even in my work prior – but this is so isolating. I had no idea. I like working for myself and I can self-manage myself pretty well. But you’re right, like, we need those other people to help us, you know, stay on track, to stay creative. I feel far more creative when I’m with other people in community and get – like, with your podcast – get exposed to new ideas that push me to grow in a lot of cases and helped me to do what I’m doing a lot better. Like, we just don’t work very well by ourselves, right? None of us has all the things. Like, none of us is good at all of the things. So that’s why we need the collective. So, I love that that’s been pushing you because it’s been pushing at me a lot lately, too, now that I’ve been in this three years or something and spent an inordinate amount of time by myself. Which, I’m an extrovert, so that’s just even weird for me, honestly. But I’m learning that that’s really tapping my energy. Now, people who are introverted might not have that same problem, but I’m like, “Oh, I need to go and be around people.”
Becky: And I’m an introvert.
Nicole: Right? And … you’re saying I need people and community, and I’m an introvert, right?
Becky: I think the last three years have really shown all of us, like – just as humanity – how much we need people. Because being forced into more isolation definitely shows you how much maybe you need people. So yeah, I think we just are all learning that, and I just feel like, I feel a collective sort of movement towards, like, a return to like a little less of the social media and more … just social living, and what does that look like, even for the introverts among us? Three years, three-plus years of feeling isolated is definitely taking its toll.
Places to start on your feminist business journey
Nicole: Oh, for sure. For sure. I’m feeling that in my body these days. So I’ve been working at finding even more ways to get connected with people. … So, if someone out there is considering either starting a values-driven business, or maybe they already have, and they maybe haven’t thought about integrating any of these principles into their business – or again, it can be a nonprofit, or whatever they’re working on … what might be a good first step? Maybe you have places to read. I know you’re a great reader, and always have great book recommendations, Becky. Maybe there’s places to read or podcasts to listen to aside from your own, of course. We’ll keep plugging that because it really is awesome. Any other places that you would send people or just recommendations on first steps?
Becky: A first place to start, I think, is around values, like you just said. And I would encourage people – we often think about what our values are, sometimes we put them up on our website, or we you know, write them somewhere or whatever. But I challenge people to really think about how you’re using them practically, right? It’s one thing to say you have a set of values, but how are you actually putting them into action? Are they being used as a filter to make your decisions? And sometimes we have to really confront and be honest with ourselves about things. That has certainly been part of my journey, is having to get really honest with myself about the ways I thought I was showing up when I was a good white feminist, and how I had to recognize the ways that I wasn’t really showing up. That it was one thing to say I valued certain things, but then what did it actually look like an action. And episode two of the podcast with Toi Smith is a really great place to start with that, especially if you’re somebody who has a lot of privileged identity, to think about what she asks, really pointedly like, “What are you sacrificing?” If you’re someone who does have a lot of privilege, and you say you care about creating a more equitable world, “What are you sacrificing?” That doesn’t mean that you have to, again, go live in a cardboard box on the street. That’s not the point. But the point is, if you have privilege, and you claim to have you are a values-led person: How are you using that privilege? And that includes your money privilege, but also time privilege, you know, safety privilege, energy privilege. How are you using the privileges, the resources that you have to make real change? Because just talking about caring about people, and just saying your values-led or putting your values on your website doesn’t actually do anything, right? We have to really start thinking about: What does it look like in action? How are you going to make a difference?
So I think that’s a great place to start. If you are white, I highly recommend reading White Feminism by Koa Beck. It’s a really great book to help, I think, for people who haven’t yet done a lot of the deeper unlearning around the feminism that many of us learned as white women in our youth or in college, especially when we were those folks in, like, the ’80s and ’90s. I think for younger feminists, certainly their idea of feminism is not white feminism. But for those of us who are older, or if you’re still sort of in that Girlboss-y online space.
If your feminism is about empowering you, and you’re a white person, it may still not be the kind of feminism I’m talking about. And that book will really help you open your eyes to understanding the ways that sort of feminism falls short, and how to start exploring, like, what an intersectional vision of feminism means, not just in theory, but in action.
And then if you’re not white, or even if you are white, after you read that book, another book I really, really recommend is Rest is Resistance by Trisha Hersey, which I’m sure you’ve read, Nicole, as an anti-burnout person. It is a beautiful sermon. I love listening to it on Audible, because she reads it. It is like having this beautiful sermon in your ears, about why we all need rest. Rest is a right. It is a need. It is not something we should put last, we don’t need to earn it. And I think it is a really important piece of this journey of rethinking business. Because if you’re going to prioritize rest, value your rest, you will have to do business differently. There’s no way you can do business as usual and truly be putting that into practice. And so, I think it’s a great place to start, sort of start at the end and work your way back on, “Okay, then how does my business have to change for me to be able to rest?”
Nicole: Yeah, for sure. And I love that episode with Toi Smith. And the thing you named there about “what are you giving up” was the thing that’s been with me for the last few days since I listened to that, like I’ve been sitting with. I think you even said in the podcast, like “sit with the discomfort of that.” And I’ve been trying really hard to sit with the discomfort of that. And what does that mean in my own life? Because, I don’t believe that she did say something like, “Oh, that means you just give everything up and live in a cardboard box.” She said, “Look at what you’re able to do and act out of that.” Right? What are the changes you have to make in order to sacrifice? And for some people, that’s going to be a ton of money, because that’s what they have. Or it’s a restructuring of time so that you can give back to your community. There’s a million ways that you can do that, right?
So, I love that you’re lifting that up, and of course, I’m a big fan of Trisha Hersey. And the other thing I would recommend: She just came out with her Rest Deck. I don’t know if you’ve gotten that yet or not. I’ve also listened to her sermon – I think it is a really good sermon – in my earbuds, which is great. And the Rest Deck, first of all, it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork. But one thing, I leave it by my bed table now, and … I try to pull one every morning and every evening as a way of reminding myself about these principles about rest. And I read through that. I do the reflection that she’s invited, kind of as a little devotional-like or mindfulness practice at the beginning and end of my day. So, I’m yes/and-ing your recommendation of Tricia Hersey’s great work.
Becky: I knew you would.
Nicole: Totally. Sorry, I can’t stop [talking about Rest is Resistance] because it’s so exciting.
Becky: Love it.
Nicole: We actually did a group coaching session talking about that book a couple of months ago. Because I love it so much.
Find more of Becky Mollenkamp
Nicole: So where can people find more of you?
Becky: Well, obviously, the podcast. So, hopefully, if my voice doesn’t totally annoy you, you can come and listen to the podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts on Apple, Spotify, Audible. I mean, it’s pretty much everywhere. I think Google podcasts is one of the only places that hasn’t yet picked it up. So hopefully that’ll happen soon. But basically everywhere else, you can find that and listen. There’s also a Substack newsletter that goes by the same name, Feminist Founders. So you can find that – I think the link is down below – where you can come and start to be a part of the community I’m hoping to build around this.
I mean, when I hold the real vision, it is about creating sort of a movement … and a community of people who want to do business differently, who want to be a part of the dismantling of capitalist norms as we know them and saying business can be different. It can actually be in service of this more equitable world.
And we’re going to do it. And we’re going to do it together, collectively. And I want people to be able to go there because … it’s not just about responding to me. But you can be a part of a community, you can talk to each other. I want people to be able to find each other and say, “Oh, here’s other people trying to do it differently.” It’s a free newsletter so you can join that. And then my website is BeckyMollenkamp.com, where you can find out about all of this stuff.
Becky: That makes me feel very good. And thank you for having me and sharing your platform. And I’ve never gone live on LinkedIn and YouTube, and this is also going out on my channel, so it’s very exciting. I don’t know what this will be like or what’s going to happen from it, but if you’re watching, “Hi.” I’ve never done this, and it’s super exciting. I love being pushed to try new technology and do new things. So thank you for that and thank you for giving me not only that push, but sharing your platform with me and saying such nice things. Thank you so much.
Nicole: Again, we’re in the collective, right? I’m into community, not competition.
Becky: That’s right. And those who might be finding this through my channels and don’t know Nicole yet, please go check her out as well because she does amazing work around mindfulness, meditation, yoga, all the things that right now, I’m feeling like I can probably use some of that. I’m getting acupuncture tomorrow because I need my own space after all of this promotion. But Nicole does great work, so make sure you go check her out as well.
Nicole: Awesome. Well you’re welcome to join us for restorative yoga anytime, Becky, for sure. All right. Thank you all. Have a great rest of your afternoon. Bye.
Books, people and other resources to start your feminist business journey from this conversation:
White Feminism by Koa Beck
Feminist Business by CV Harquail
Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey
The Rest Deck by Tricia Hersey
Toi Smith, doing business differently
Coach, Journalist and Feminist Founder
Becky Mollenkamp (she/her) is an accountability coach for smart, high-achieving business owners. She helps them go after their goals without burning out or losing sight of their values. Becky’s also an intersectional feminist and conducts her coaching through that lens (i.e., acknowledging lived experience and never using blame or shame as tools). Learn more about Becky at beckymollenkamp.com.
Anti-burnout coach and feminist founder
Nicole Havelka is the founder of the Defy the Trend coaching community for radicals who resist burnout by affirming their inherent worthiness to rest. Try Nicole’s free anti-burnout community any time by joining the free Defy the Trend community: defythetrend.com/community.