3 Fierce Lessons in Female Entrepreneurship Inspired by The Baby-Sitters Club
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Nineties girls like me grew up on The Baby-Sitters Club. We collected every book in the Ann M. Martin hit series like they were rare, mint-condition Beanie Babies. We put our names on bookstore waiting lists in anticipation of the latest adventure. And when we got that call that the newest novel we’d reserved was ready for pick up? The dopamine high that social media tries to replicate with its notifications and “likes” has got nothing on that feeling of pure 90s joy.
It was a simpler time. Long before the invention of the smartphone as a distraction device, we soothed our souls with good old fashioned tales of friendship, mystery and entrepreneurship. The Baby-Sitters Club was a serious, successful, female-run business. Each girl had a very specific job title and role within the club. Their small business had brand loyalty, and they all made good money — always enough to throw the ultimate slumber party replete with all the TGIF musts: pizza, ice cream sundae-makings and snack foods galore!
Many millennial women who grew up wanting to be a part of The Baby-Sitters Club are now the newest generation of female entrepreneurs. With the July 3 release of the female-led, 2020 version of The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix, here are three fierce lessons for female entrepreneurs inspired by your favorite babysitters and business leaders:
1. Proudly state your strengths
At their initial meeting of The Baby-Sitters Club, Stacey McGill, who becomes treasurer of the BSC, enthusiastically declares that she’s good at math. This is important, not only because girls have typically been socialized to believe they aren’t as good at math as boys — which is scientifically untrue, yet leads to a marked gender disparity in STEM fields — but also because women are too often taught as young girls to downplay their strengths. Confidence tends to be seen negatively in women, as boasting or arrogance, while it's just expected from men. This is exactly why girls of all ages need role models to look up to — so that the double standard can be eradicated.
Lucia Aniello, executive producer and director of eight of 10 episodes of the first season of The Baby-Sitters Club, says that she grew up identifying with BSC founder and president of Kristy Thomas. During a Q&A following a pre-screening of the series premiere held by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Aniello emphasized that she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that she grew up to be a director when her BSC idol literally sat in a director’s chair during club meetings. Representation is important. As the institute's tagline states: If she can see it, she can be it.
So, fellow female entrepreneurs: Get out your fluorescent highlighters, because this is important. Confidently vocalize your strengths. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let impostor syndrome get the better of you. Get used to saying “I’m excellent at math, writing, science, marketing." Whatever your talent is, shout it out proudly. Not only will you be inspiring the women and girls around you to confidently promote their talents, but you’ll also be more likely to be taken seriously as an entrepreneur.
2. Your time is valuable, and you should be paid for it
The members of The Baby-Sitters Club are only available to schedule babysitting appointments Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 5:30 and 6 p.m.
They meet in BSC vice president Claudia Kishi’s bedroom (in the books, she was the only member of the BSC with her own private landline number) and promptly disband after a 30 minutes for homework and other after-school activities. If clients wanted to make appointments with any of the babysitters, they had to adhere to a strict time schedule.
Even in the modernized, 2020-version of The Baby-Sitters Club — a world where teens are technically reachable 24-7 via text, social media and email — the old-fashioned boundaries of the original novels are kept intact. The Netflix series even retains the charm of the landline, which Claudia purchases from Etsy because “it’s iconic”!
Grown-up female entrepreneurs can take a lesson from the middle-school entrepreneurs of The Baby-Sitters Club: Your time is valuable.
When you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner — particularly when you’re just starting out — it can be tempting to work around the clock and to say “yes” to every project, even when your gut is telling you to say a big fat “NO.” Without the stability of a regular 9-to-5 job and the certainty of a steady paycheck, it can be hard to hold firm to your limits. This holds particularly true for female entrepreneurs, as women are socialized from a very young age to take on the emotional labor of considering everyone’s feelings, even at the expense of their own.
In an early scene of The Baby-Sitters Club pilot on Netflix, BSC president Kristy Thomas' mom (played by 90s icon Alicia Silverstone) is stressed because she needs a last-minute babysitter for Kristy’s younger brother, David Michael. Kristy’s two older brothers, Sam and Charlie, say no without a second thought.
Kristy, however, hesitates, even though she has plans she’s really been looking forward to: A special sleepover at her best friend and fellow BSC member Mary Anne Spier’s house. Kristy doesn’t want to disappoint her mom, so she takes on the emotional labor of her mom’s feelings on top of her own. She immediately considers canceling her plans with her BFF, but thankfully, Kristy’s mom shuts down her daughter’s vacillation with a very good point: If the boys didn’t agonize over saying no, why should Kristy?
Female entrepreneurs: Take Kristy’s mom’s words to heart. Your time is valuable, and you should be paid for it. Emotional labor is taxing, grueling work, and you shouldn’t be doing it for free. Don’t feel guilty saying no to spec work or rambling, hours-long interviews with potential clients who take advantage by squeezing every good idea they can get out of you for free. Set limits. Be like the members of the BSC: Tell clients they get 30 minutes of your time for free and that every second after is on the clock.
3. Diversity is important
Rachel Shukert, show runner, executive producer and writer of eight out of 10 episodes of the first season of The Baby-Sitters Club, says that the original Baby-Sitters Club books (which were published from 1986 to 2000) were considered inclusive and diverse for the time. Claudia Kishi is Japanese American, and Jessi Ramsey, future “junior officer” of the BSC, is Black. However, when looking to update the brand for 2020, it was important to make the cast more representative of the world we live in. In the Netflix series, Mary Anne Spier is a mixed-race Black girl and Dawn Schaefer, future “alternate officer” of the BSC, is Latina.
It was also important to Shukert to include same-sex parents in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Shukert says “I view this as a mindful organic shift two decades forward as opposed to reimagining the series.”
Why should entrepreneurs make a point of hiring and working with a diverse group of individuals? From a purely greedy standpoint, diversity is profitable. But from a human standpoint, representation matters.
Malia Baker, who plays Mary Anne Spier, says “I was really happy that they made Mary Anne a Black character, because I didn't have many to look up to when I was growing up.”
Xochitl Gomez, who plays Dawn Shaefer, feels the same way about her Latina character. She says she’s happy to have the opportunity to be a role model for Latina girls because growing up, there weren’t enough Latina girls in the media for her to emulate.
The amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, means that brands are talking about diversity and anti-racism now more than ever. But consumers are smart. They know the difference between performative allyship and actual activism. And they’re willing to cancel business owners and brands that are “hashtag” inclusive rather than being actually inclusive.
So be actually inclusive. Not just because it will help your brand (60 percent of American consumers want to make purchases from brands that proactively address systemic racism), but because it’s the right thing to do.