by Diane Hahn, SCLSNJ adult services librarian
There’s no denying that “In the Company of Women” is a stunning and ambitious project – over 100 female artists and entrepreneurs are profiled, candidly sharing the successes, mistakes, lessons, and attitudes that have accompanied their experiences as business owners. Their interviews are paired with intimate, striking portraits and vividly rich photographs of their workspaces and creations. It’s as much an art book in its own right as it is a spiritual guide to anyone thinking of making the leap into the world of owning their own business. The author, Grace Bonney, is herself an entrepreneur and she skillfully accomplishes her goal to “provide motivating and relatable examples of all kinds of women running their own businesses, so that any woman, anywhere, can open to a page and see herself reflected”–and much more.
The women featured here represent a wide range of artistic professions and backgrounds. The experiences and challenges that marked the path to their success are also varied. Some of the women are more easily recognizable than others: Carrie Brownstein, Neko Case, Abbi Jacobsen, Carla Hall, Mary Lambert, Roxane Gay, and Genevieve Gorder. Dozens of others featured are lesser known. Their answers to Bonney’s questions reveal common truths about the nature of entrepreneurship: mistakes should be seen as learning experiences, feelings of insecurity and imposter syndrome are typical, trusting your instinct is a necessity. They stress the importance of learning as much as you can from other entrepreneurs, of making strong connections and genuine relationships with your peers, of being able to say no, and taking care of yourself. Their answers are snapshots of their struggles and reveal the mindset and determination one needs in order to succeed as a business owner.
Their honesty can be heartbreaking at times. When asked about the biggest sacrifice they’ve had to make in order to make their business a reality, the vast majority lament the sense of stability, financial security, and the even more difficult loss of time with family and friends. Writer and professor Roxane Gay’s answer to this question is one of the most striking: she bluntly admits that she has sacrificed motherhood. There’s no further explanation, no other details to fill in the blank space that surrounds that statement.
There are deeper stories to be told here, which the format of the book doesn’t allow for. Profiling over 100 women in just 350 pages is a dizzying whirlwind. It’s an exploration that only scratches the surface of who these women really are and what they have done. As much as I appreciated the book, I can’t help but wonder what a more focused but detailed approach would have resulted in. I encourage you to let this merely be your introduction to their work. If you’re craving more of a deep-dive into the lives of entrepreneurs, other resources of I recommend include:
- “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir” by Carrie Brownstein
- “Bad Feminist: Essays” by Roxane Gay
- “#Girlboss” by Sophia Amoruso
- “Own It: The Power of Women at Work” by Sallie Krawcheck
- “Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World” by Joann S. Lublin
The book provides honest, invaluable insight into the conviction, strength, and integrity needed to be an entrepreneur. It’s a beautiful analysis of the mindset and spirit needed to persevere in the face of the challenges that are inherent with these risk laden, but undoubtedly rewarding undertakings. Anyone with even the smallest sense of hesitation or uncertainty about embarking on this journey would benefit from having the words of these women guide and inspire them.