Our Fairygodboss of the Week is committed to making the working world a better place for women. After an eclectic career in marketing, reality television and more, Jennifer Dziura has crafted a mini-empire to support her feminist mission and will inspire you to do the same. You can catch Fairygodboss President and Co-founder Romy Newman at Jen's Bullish Conference in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 2-5. You can register online here — Fairygodboss readers can use the code FAIRYGODBOSS35 to get a discount!
Fairygodboss of the Week: Jennifer Dziura
New York, NY
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
JD: I've always been a weirdo who refuses to follow requirements, but then surprises everybody with some great big strange thing nobody even knew I was working on. In college, while majoring in philosophy (it's mostly arguing with old dead white men in a strict outline form, which was easy for me, because I like arguing and organization), I taught myself HTML and started a web development company. I had 8 part-time employees by the time I graduated.
Later, I opened a physical office and took on some stupid, unnecessary overhead and my company failed. I moved to New York and started a little marketing firm, then worked for an early social network as a director of marketing, then developed a career in teaching, developing curricula, and writing books to teach the GMAT, GRE and SAT (a bunch of my GRE products are on Amazon now!) Somewhere in there I was in two pilots for reality shows (both about "geniuses") that didn't take off, and I traveled the Middle East as a comedian entertaining U.S. troops.
I wrote some notes on a napkin for a book I wanted to write called "How to Make Money Without Becoming a Republican." Soon after, I met Jennifer Wright (now an author of several humor books about world history), who was then an editor at a women's blog and was looking for a career columnist. Bullish was born! Originally an advice column about feminism + business and careers, Get Bullish is now its own website, a membership club called The Bullish Society, an annual conference now in its fifth year (November 2 - 5, 2017 in Washington, DC), and a retail store that sells stuff like travel mugs that say "WE WILL DANCE ON THE GRAVES OF THE PATRIARCHY AND DRINK THE BITTER TEARS OF MEDIOCRE MEN."
I speak at universities and companies on topics including designing your own career, networking for people who hate networking, entrepreneurship for non-entrepreneurs and ways to fight sexism in the workplace even if you're not necessarily in a position of power. We're currently located in a (very pink!) office and warehouse (we offer over 2,300 products!) in Industry City, Brooklyn. I usually have one to three people working for me at any given time. Just a side note, I really love writing slogans for products. You wanna know what a philosophy major ends up doing for a career? Well, there you go.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
JD: I expanded my company (into a real warehouse!) three months after having my last baby. After two torturous pregnancies, dehumanizing treatment by medical professionals and the tyranny of low expectations on my life activities, I was all like DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT. I sublimated my rage into entrepreneurialism. One advantage of having children a little on the later side is that you know yourself and what kind of shit you just cannot abide. (The kids are great! I have a sarcastic type-A one and a happy, agreeable one who really likes me! It's society that's screwed up.)
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
JD: Do things that don't have applications. By the time you're competing against other people who are a lot like you for an opportunity someone else has defined and advertised, you're mostly f*cked. You have no leverage. You can't negotiate, because they'll just pick someone else. There's also less competition for things at the top than things at the middle. And there's zero competition for the thing you just made up that exactly fits your skill set and obsessions. Before you put your name in some application form, stop and think: How could I do this same thing, but in a way that's better and more "me?" How can I take it directly to the people who have money for it, and cut out whoever made this freakin' application?
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
JD: I have a La Croix fridge, my own box cutter (girly warehouse!) and total control of the thermostat. I get to call myself "CEO" and then roll my eyes in a way I hope makes me not look like an asshole.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
JD: My Fairygodboss was Lorraine Eaton, currently the "Staff Epicure" of The Virginian Pilot. When I was a 13-year-old in Virginia Beach, Lorraine came to speak at a career day at my middle school, about being a newspaper editor. The next day, I called her at her office and told her the newspaper needed "more teen voices." Amazingly, she asked me to send in an article, which I did — on notebook paper, in the actual mail!
Soon, the newspaper was sending someone to take my picture, and my parents were ... confused. After the article (about parental warning labels on music, a big issue in the Tipper Gore era) ran, I was offered a bimonthly column, and Lorraine became my mentor. Throughout my high school years, Lorraine would pick me up at my house and take me to after work get-togethers with journalists, tours of the newsroom, and even once to visit a college I had gotten into.
I became notorious in my hometown and high school for writing "godforsaken liberal" opinions in the newspaper — I spent my entire adolescence getting hate mail from evangelicals (it's the South, y'all). And my classmates often assumed I had gotten my gig because my dad worked at the paper. Nope! It was just that fateful phone call, and Lorraine being awesome. In the years since, Lorraine has moved on from being the Youth Editor of the paper to basically the most gentlewomanly job in existence, reviewing all the food and food-related events of the Chesapeake Bay region, which is a really amazing place to eat. Fairygodboss!
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
JD: Drink Old Fashioneds alone in hotel bars.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person — dead or alive — who would it be?
JD: Dorothy Parker (and for the record, I'd choose alive).
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
JD: “Bust A Move,” by Young MC. I like that Harry has a brother named Larry. Cool family.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
JD: I'd buy a house with marble floors and bathrooms, and an entire floor for myself. Like a penthouse in my own house, that no one could ever enter except me, for decades. And when I died, my kids and grandkids would break down the door to the penthouse and discover all my weird secrets, which would probably just be a well-stocked bar and more marble floors and a long browser history of college boys performing a capella.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women - so each week, we celebrate a woman who made a difference in another woman’s career. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate her and thank her by nominating her here.