Women in Business: Direction Amidst Uncertainty

by Parade Stone

If you are discovering Homestead Hemp,

you may know a thing or two about the company’s farm grown CBD and hemp products. Whether you’re a CBD enthusiast or a newbie, take a moment to get to know Iris Rogers, the company founder and CEO. Rogers is an outspoken feminist, entrepreneur and champion of women in leadership roles.

Like many farmers navigating the burgeoning world of regulated cannabis and hemp, Rogers is in the midst of quite the balancing act: starting a small business, pioneering a brand new industry and all the while, facing the abundant challenges of gender inequality in the United States.

True to form, men hold a disproportionate percentage of leadership roles in the cannabis industry. According to Forbes, as of April 2019 only 17.6% of women hold a “Director” or “Executive” role in cannabis companies across the US. This doesn’t even account for the vast disparity in cannabis business owners within communities of color. As of 2017, less than 5% of stakeholders of cannabis companies were people of color. 

Are these disappointing statistics? Yes. Are we shocked? No, of course not. Issues of inequality for marginalized people aren’t exactly a new phenomenon in any field. As we continue to hold space for the voices of those least represented, it is not only inspiring but necessary to acknowledge the triumphs of marginalized leaders. 

As Rogers continues her journey in business, and grows a company that embraces ethical practices as well as strives to promote equality, she looks to other women leaders for support, guidance and inspiration. As an acknowledgement of all the badass women out there building their careers, we want to introduce you to these three entrepreneurs and their important work. 

Jean L. Chou

JLC & Associates

Tegan Miller

MTC Music Academy

Marla Louissaint

Claim Our Space Now

Photographed by Jill Lotenberg for Mann Report

Photographed by Jill Lotenberg for Mann Report

Jean L. Chou:
JLC & Associates

Jean L. Chou, Esq. passed the bar exam in 2009, the same year she began building a strong client base for her firm, JLC & Associates. The real estate firm celebrated their 10-year anniversary in May, amidst planning for an office move, a transition to remote working and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you think starting a law firm is an easy task (you probably don’t, it sounds objectively difficult), then consider the most recent statistics for women in legal fields. According to the American Bar Association’s 2019 Commission on Women, as of April 2019, women made up 38% of staff in legal professions as opposed to the 62% of men working in law. And then, of course, there’s the ever-pervasive pay gap. As of 2018, women lawyers made 80% of male lawyers’ salaries. 

Despite these daunting barriers, Chou speaks of her legal practice with the ease and confidence of someone who knows exactly where she’s meant to be. When describing the seeds of her trailblazing career path, she recounts an interest in entrepreneurship from an early age. Chou  laughs as she recalls selling soap bars on Ebay in high school over summer break: “I’ve always been really drawn towards having something of my own.”

Chou built JLC & Associates to be a firm that practices law with compassion and integrity. Her team represents a host of clients, from business owners looking for commercial leasing to individuals looking to purchase or sell a home. Her firm offers pro bono work to organizations that actively support their communities, including GLAAD and the New York City Bar Justice Center. 

As Covid-19 continues to set in motion massive systemic change, Chou confronts her relationship with her role as a leader:

“It’s been a really humbling, eye opening journey because a lot of us (women in business) entered 2020 with certain visions of growth. I think you really start to test your own values and integrity when you’re facing a loss or the opposite of what you perceive as success.” 

Much like the values that her law firm promotes, Chou rose to the occasion with compassion and integrity. She worked to keep her staff employed and adapted to the changes in business throughout the pandemic. Her perseverance reflects the values she sees in her mother, a practicing dermatologist. 

Chou’s mother immigrated to the United States from Kaohsiung, a city in southern Taiwan. When she was 33, she started medical school while pregnant with Chou. As she reflects on her upbringing, she describes her mother with admiration: “I think I’ve inherited her work ethic…She always said as long as you work hard for it, it’ll come. It just reminds you to focus on long term goals.”

It is clear that Chou’s propensity toward thorough, long-term planning contributes to her effective leadership style. I was inspired by her assured and professional demeanor, even in the face of a global emergency. Chou’s moments of vulnerability as she described her family only highlight the combination of strength and humanity that true leadership requires. 

Tegan Miller:
MTC Music Academy

Tegan Miller juggled a lot of jobs before founding MTC Music Academy. Thanks to her many talents (and NYC’s exorbitant rent), Miller’s professional music career has included voice coaching, music directing, choral conducting, teaching music to both adults and children, and performing live. 

After years of freelance work, Miller noticed the joy she felt from voice coaching and how little time she had to devote to teaching. “I wanted to teach on my own terms, on my own schedule and teach the methodologies that I believe in most,” she explains. She hired a business coach for some extra guidance and thus, MTC was born. 

MTC stands for Musicianship, Technique and Confidence, the three pillars that support Miller’s pedagogical philosophy. It is clear to me that her own foundational creative beliefs reinforce the core values of her academy. “Music is for everyone. I believe that people have everything they need inside of them, they just need a little guidance,” she confidently asserts.   

Miller opened up her academy to students in December 2019. Just as she began to find her footing as a new business owner, pandemic safety procedures forced her to quickly adapt to online teaching and learning. 

Despite the formidable task of moving forward in unfamiliar territory, her business has only grown.

 In fact, she recently moved to Georgia and plans to expand MTC to her new home state in addition to furthering the development of the New York location. Additionally, she channeled her love of music into a women’s choir that she led via Zoom throughout quarantine. 

Marla Louissaint:
Claim Our Space Now

The same week that the theatre world paused all programming to stop the spread of Covid-19, Marla Louissaint prepared herself to begin tech rehearsals in what would’ve been her Public Theater debut. As her quarantine continued, images and videos of Black people murdered at the hands of police spread with relentless frequency.

The overwhelming combination of state sanctioned violence and growing civil unrest dropped a match in Louissaint’s reserve of emotional gasoline; she’d had enough. She partnered with Dimitri Joseph Moise, a fellow actor, activist and national HIV spokesperson. In just two months, Louissaint and her network built Claim Our Space Now, a non profit organization that facilitates what she describes as the “swiss army knife of activism.”

The need for organization and correct information fueled Louissaint’s concerns in regards to the activism surrounding the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the fight to dismantle white supremacy. She explains, “I truly do see a lack of resources for people…If we want to be steadfast in this fight, we have to have a trusted source of information that’s fact checked – that’s beyond journalism and Instagram.” 

Miller isn’t afraid to dream big when it comes to MTC: “I see MTC growing much larger past me into something much bigger because I really believe in the philosophy and the methodology and the approach. I would love to see it grow across many cities, many countries, many teachers and therefore, affect the lives of many, many students.”

Miller leads her students and teaching staff with a steady hand and compassionate heart. While her impressive resume speaks for itself, she never assumes she’s finished learning. In her words, “Music and I have a deep, deep love. I could probably say that it used to be a love-avoid relationship…but it’s like my best friend. Once I realized that, our relationship got stronger.” Her teaching philosophy continues to encourage students to form their own ever-growing relationships to music.

Ken @gken.ny

Michael Kushner @themichaelkushner

Three core tenets shape the work of Claim Our Space Now: Inform, Inspire and Speak Truth to Power

The organization provides a wide variety of offerings including a national resource directory. Anyone in need of support can search through helpful filters like “Queer Safe Spaces,” “Reproductive Health” and “Legal Aid/Bail Funds” in order to connect with the organization’s vetted resources. Additionally, Claim Our Space Now partnered with HeadCount.org, GLAAD, Swing From Home and Drag Out the Vote for their Claim the Vote initiative. Through their work with these advocacy organizations, the team aims to educate new voters and ensure that intersectional and intergenerational communities are counted in the census and registered to vote.

Under Louissaint’s mission to ‘Inspire’, the organization promotes Black artists from a variety of mediums. The site features its multifaceted founder modeling in a series of photos that she curated. Louissaint strives to visually represent a Black woman’s journey to empowerment in her work: “She’s stepping into her power, into her sexuality (despite) whatever they call her – a jezebel or the strong Black woman trope…She stands in her truth.”

A model, activist, performer, and computer science major at Fordham University, Louissaint reflects on how her many skills inform her style of leadership. “I realized I can use my computer science knowledge and I can also use my love of art, knowing that art is the true vehicle that’s been at the helm of every revolution.”

In speaking with Louissaint, I was struck by how comfortable she seemed in her role as a changemaker. “I am a rebel through and through,” she proudly states. In a culture that has for so long taught women, and Black women in particular, not to embrace their power, Louissaint unapologetically claims her space as a leader. 

Final Thoughts

Through my interviews with Chou, Miller and Louissaint, and my work with Rogers, I’ve learned that great leadership requires as much vulnerability as it does strength. With the help of the trusted support system they’ve built for themselves, these women leaders continue to pave their paths 

with confidence, compassion and the courage to keep educating themselves.Get to know the good work they’re doing in the websites linked above! And if you’re a product of a 21st century upbringing like me, check out their Instagram pages: @jlclaw, @mtcmusicacademy and @claimourspacenow.