The Ms. Q&A: Meagan Hooper Wants to Connect Women to Mentors—and Help Them bSmart

After serving as the Chief Operating Officer of a premier hedge fund, Meagan Hooper founded bSmartGuide.com as a multi-dimensional resource for women to articulate and achieve their goals, whether they be professional or personal. Ten years of experience in a male-dominated industry exposed her to challenges and led her to confront inequalities—and out of that, she recognized the need for a platform for women to gain mentorship and to support each other in their endeavors.

The host of a variety of resources, bSmart contains interviews with professional women who are leaders in their fields, an online community in which users can participate in discourse with each other and a marketplace for its members to promote their products and services. Ms. spoke with Hooper to discuss her inspiration for founding such a versatile resource, what her experience working in finance taught her about the challenges women face in the workplace and the benefits of women-run mentorship.

Photo Courtesy of Meagan Hooper

For those who are unfamiliar with the site, what is bSmart, and what are its primary goals?

bSmart is a mentorship platform. We want women to identify their dreams and have the support to achieve them. We do this by taking a three-pronged approach to mentorship through our digital content, online community and member-to-member marketplace. We interview smart, successful women who share their advice about how they achieved success with their career, home and entrepreneurial endeavors. In addition, all of our members are invited to blog and share their life advice or expertise on a variety of subjects.

Secondly, we provide direct mentorship through our online community. As soon as you join the website, an online leader will reach out welcoming you, asking about your goals and how they can support you and connect you with the women and resources you need to accomplish your goals. We offer public groups on life topics run by mentors who have made themselves available to answer your questions and provide support for your journey.

Finally, part of mentorship is seeing you realize your dreams, so we’ve created a member-to-member marketplace for you to promote your brand, product, or service and sell to other members. With all three of these platforms, you have knowledge, support and promotion for your goals.

What led you to create a resource for women after working as the COO of a hedge fund? How has your experience in finance influenced your vision for bSmart?

I had a phenomenal experience working in finance for 10 years. I had mentors who believed in me and, even though I was a theater major, wanted to show me how to trade stock, calculate analytics and learn marketing and accounting and all sorts of things I never thought possible for me. I experienced the power of someone believing in me before I believed in myself and how that can escalate your career.

However, I didn’t see the same experience for many of my female friends. I saw smart, capable women immediately funneled into administrative assistant roles, while men who were less ambitious or accomplished were automatically put on managerial tracks. Seeing this, along with the disparity of female leaders at the top of a variety of industries, made me want to ignite positive change for women.

In 2008, I wrote a nonfiction book, The bSmart Guide to Life, a post-grad life navigation guide where I interviewed successful women to share their journeys and expertise as a “life-curriculum.” The book was turned down by publishers (they didn’t think women needed this content or support back in 2008), so I created a website instead. It then became clear that to truly be effective, we needed not only knowledge, but also a supportive community and a place to promote our passions with each other. At the end of the day, community belief in your potential is what’s going to help you succeed.

On first glance, the site seems to be a versatile space for a variety of different purposes—it hosts a social platform, a marketplace, and blog posts on a wide range of topics. Given that bSmart provides several different resources for women, which is wonderful, where on the site do you recommend women start off with when visiting for the first time? How can women best utilize the site as a resource?

Given that bSmart is a mentorship platform, we recommend you join our community to best utilize the site. As soon as you join, you’ll get a welcome email which shows you how to plug in, learn from our content, receive support in our community and shop and support fellow female founders in our marketplace. Join public groups on topics that matter to you, join mentorship groups run by people you want to learn from and start connecting with women in our online community. In a sense, we’ve democratized mentorship and networking by making it accessible and online. Also, bSmart is mobile responsive, so you can easily add our website icon to your smartphone home screen and access bSmart on the go.

What do you think are the biggest challenges women face in the workplace? How does bSmart aim to counter these challenges?

More women are graduating from college than men, and they also hold more professional jobs than men. However, there is a huge dearth of women holding leadership positions and being decision-makers in their field. This includes women who are on corporate boards and becoming entrepreneurs. I believe there are two reasons for this disparity. The first is that, historically, corporate culture was designed by a man for a male employee. This male employee had a female secretary who would do his junior level work (and sometimes senior-level work) and take care of his calendar to free him up to be a leader on a managerial path. Similarly, this male employee had a female caretaker at home—a wife or mother who took care of his food, clothes, vacation, kids and medical needs. The corporate environment of working 8 AM – 5 PM and taking two to four weeks of vacation worked because this male employee had lots of support at the office and at home. Today, many women are hired out of college and consciously or unconsciously filtered into these types of supporting roles while also taking on the home responsibilities. As women began to increase their professional responsibilities and take on senior-level work, they would often retain the junior-level responsibilities at the office and home-care responsibilities. By the time they’re making six-figures or promoted to vice president, they’re completely exhausted and don’t have the same resources or support that a man has (in general). If you plan on starting a family, it can become exhausting and cost-prohibitive to keep your career going balancing those roles.

If we really want to include women as senior decision-makers, then corporate culture is going to have to radically change. It’s going to have to have work-location flexibility, time flexibility and community functions that allow for healthcare, grocery shopping and childcare if we want to include women and have men participate in home care.

The second challenge women face has to do with unconscious bias. Many people are familiar with this phrase with respect to a thought pattern where someone makes an assessment about your ability based on external factors such as age, race or gender. But having spoken with and mentored over a hundred women, I’ve found it’s the unconscious bias we have toward ourselves that’s the biggest limiting factor to our success. Women have often been socialized to behave in a certain way—to care for people’s feelings, to be nurturers and to be flexible. However, many times these traditionally ‘feminine characteristics’ can conflict with what is required of leadership or are not valued in a leadership role. For many years people thought a woman’s behavior was a purely biological response that determined her ability. But in reality, it’s how we’ve been socialized and rewarded to behave by our family or community.

The way we address this on bSmart is through our 13 core values of leadership. We want to inspire and empower women to think and behave in a way that’s authentic to their true essence, even if it might be different from how they are expected or rewarded to behave. In this way, we promote the characteristics of leadership, goal-setting and vision casting that women want and need to accomplish their goals.

What are the benefits of having a space where women can interact with other women?

We believe intentional community with a set of core values can change your life. On bSmart we have two types of mentors: expert mentors and peer mentors. When you think of a mentor, you often think of a professional mentor helping with your career. That’s certainly very valuable, and we highlight that through our smart women features and by having our mentors create public groups to share their expertise. However, peer mentorship can be just as valuable. Peer mentorship allows you to connect with other women want to support you along on the way. The reason we created an online community is because we believe having people in your life who want to see you succeed and can remind you that your dreams are possible is essential to accomplishing your goals.

I’ve seen men do this for each other in the professional realm for years, whereas women were socialized to not necessarily celebrate each other’s success or show each other the way. When we believe big dreams are possible for each other, then we believe it for ourselves. The benefit to connecting with other women in a supportive community is that when people in your life believe in your potential, you believe it too. That’s what our online community provides.

From the culinary arts to the tech sector, a lot of industries that were male-dominated from the beginning are often hostile to the women who are capable of succeeding (and deserving of success) within them, which has been made increasingly and painfully evident through the recent outpour of allegations against powerful men in industries of all kinds. In your opinion, what are some concrete steps that women can and should take when confronted by sexism in their careers?

Every woman has experienced a time when someone objectified her physically for their power or pleasure without her permission. The Crimes Against Children Research Center, shows that 1 in 5 girls is a victim of child sexual abuse, so conflicting feelings about our bodies and our rights begin very early. This too can be attributed to our culture and how boys and girls are socialized to see women as two types of people—as prudish or overly sexual.  Every woman has experienced this, and I have too.

When you’re sexually harassed, often times a woman can feel like she doesn’t have any power because we’ve been socialized to not hurt people’s feelings and to always be respectful. I would advise women to remember that their self-worth, their body and how they see themselves are far more valuable than hurting someone’s feelings. Hurt someone’s feelings. Be disruptive. Speak the truth to their face or say it to the people around you in a way that’s comfortable and authentic to you.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating and running bSmart?

Seeing women identify their dreams, step into their power and realize they can accomplish those dreams is very rewarding. We run this media company because it has the power to change lives. We have all sorts of stories and testimonials from women who have benefited from participating in our mentorship programs and reading our content. Also, working with our team (we have over 40 women who work with bSmart in a variety of capacities) and seeing their lives change as they step into their power, identify their goals and realize their potential is unlimited is very rewarding and why I keep doing this.

What are your hopes for the future of women in business, STEM, film and television and other fields in which they are underrepresented?

We list statistics about women being underrepresented as a whole and underrepresented in senior leadership positions in all industries on our website. We want to change these numbers by sharing our 13 core values of leadership through our content, community and marketplace, which starts with vision. Our goal, first and foremost, is for women to have a vision for their lives, and that that vision gets bigger and bigger.

Then, with the rest of our core values, it’s about walking alongside our members and showing them the practical and tactical steps to accomplish that vision.  Resourcefulness, strength, perseverance, supportiveness and openness (to name a few) are the characteristics required to accomplish those dreams.  My goal is for women to know that their potential is unlimited and that their dreams have been put into their minds and hearts for a reason—because the world needs their goals, and the world needs them to be their full authentic selves.  That’s my dream.

Maddie Kim is a former Editorial Intern at Ms. studying English and creative writing at Stanford. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada Review and Adroit Prizes. She is a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. When she’s not writing, she likes tap dancing and taking blurry photos of her dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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