Lessons In Modern Feminism From NYC's Coolest Entrepreneurs

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1We're going to call a spade a spade here, dear reader: As much advancement as we've seen for womenkind in the last century, we're still not satisfied. Sure, record numbers of us are kicking ass in the workplace, but we're still being stifled by lesser pay and an overarching inequality. While many have attempted to right this wrong, few are doing it in as innovative a way as Rachel Sklar and Glynnis MacNicol, founders of the email listserv and Web community TheLi.st. (Think of it as a sort of LinkedIn-meets-Facebook, all with the goal of helping women help each other.)

"There is a lot of money to be made by taking women seriously," said MacNicol (left) when we visited their downtown Manhattan corner office. "We dare to be proof of that philosophy." While their company may still be getting off the ground (thanks in large part to some lucrative new funding), the cofounders are very much successes in their own right — Sklar, a self-described "Agitatrix" (our new favorite term), is a lawyer-turned-media-writer-turned tech superstar, and helped to launch Huffington Post and Mediaite; MacNicol is a seasoned media vet who's written for everything from HuffPo to FishbowlNY. And for all of their experience, they've got spunk and go-getter-ness twofold — something they're working to impart on the rest of us ladies.

When it comes to career advice, the entrepreneurs can't stress enough the importance of valuing yourself. "The biggest problem we see [with women] is not knowing the value you bring to something and being afraid of seeming pushy," says Sklar. "A lot of it is the tacit assumption that women are more likely to help, and that it is their role to help." You probably know just the feeling — we're ingrained with the need to constantly go the extra mile; and while overachieving is a great thing, we have to get used to making our talents and success known. "Don't be scared to be vocal about what you're doing," says MacNicol. "Women tend to think our accomplishments will be recognized just implicitly, and men do not do that. It's important to articulate exactly what you're doing well."

While the work of TheLi.st (and its non-profit arm Change The Ratio) isn't a lesson in how women can be more like men (far from it), there are some things we can learn from the other half. The idea of the ol' boys club may seem like a sexist, played-out affair, there's no denying that our male counterparts seriously capitalize on relationships they have with other successful men, and that translates to big promotions and even bigger salaries. Just look at Obama and his golf partners. "It's unfortunate that the phrase 'bro-ing out' is gendered, because we need to be 'bro-ing out' all the time with our ladies," says Sklar. "But there's no 'lady-ing out' — it's interesting that the language of power is still a masculine one. We're really trying to upend that in every way we can."

Of course, as much as we all desire to have an even playing field with our male counterparts at work, we can't discount the fact that many of us will end up juggling career and family responsibilities (if we aren't already) — which is why it's up to us to find the new normal that lets us reap satisfaction from all aspects of our lives. We no longer fit neatly into the boxes of "career woman" or "stay-at-home mom," and that's a truly wonderful thing. "I actually think women are very entrepreneurial across the board because of all they have to juggle," says Sklar. "It’s more like being a MacGyver — which is why I think a lot of women come back to starting their own business later in life, particularly stay-at-home moms. If they had a career and now they’re home and they realize, ‘Huh, why doesn't someone do this or that? I'm going to do that."

So far, TheLi.st's formula of empowering and informing women while giving them the infrastructure to network and build relationships and businesses seems to be working. They have a laundry list of success stories that have been borne out of connections made on the site and at events. But, what does true success for the company mean for MacNicol and Sklar? "I think that Gloria Steinem mentioned way back when that the goal of this is to not be necessary at some point," says MacNicol. "I’m not sure that networking will never not be necessary, but the goal is if women find that they don’t need the help, that’s great. Until then, we're capitalizing on women who are higher up reaching a hand back down the ladder to help out."

It may seem to some that TheLi.st is focused solely on helping women become successful in the traditional sense of the word, but its aspirations run much deeper. Raising the income level for working women may be the easiest aspect to codify, but this goes above and beyond the boardroom — money is just a stepping stone. "Money is power and autonomy," says Sklar. "And I want women to be able to have the freedom to do whatever it is they want to do without being stuck and trapped." Hear, hear.

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Sklar