The LAist Interview: Karen Allen and Mara Schwartz, Ladies Who Brunch
Like it or not, Los Angeles is all about networking. Who, what, why and how people know each other can create smaller social associations that make big cities more tolerable and humane. Whether inclusive or exclusive, they're part of what makes urban living so dynamic.
Plus in a town like LA, with its collection of special and creative folks, crafting social networks can be both fun and practical. Mara Schwartz and Karen Allen had these objectives in mind when they began Ladies Who Brunch in January 2003. Simply put in their words, LWB is an informal professional women's networking group. LWB has expanded beyond its initial focus of upwardly mobile women in the music industry (in fact, Karen now designs a line of kid rocker gear) to include events and bring in speakers who focus on everything from current events to dating. In short, myriad topics geared to what might interest the modern LA woman.
Through this forum and its email list, the 670 women who count themselves as members (recruitment is entirely by word of mouth) have created a growing professional and personal support network that harnesses LA's essentially unlimited resources. They plan to have many, many brunches and lunches in this town again.
Age and Occupation:
Karen Allen, owner and designer of Renegade Babe, a line of rock 'n' roll-inspired baby accessories; Co-Founder of Ladies Who Brunch.
Mara Schwartz, 38, Director of Film, Television and New Media at Bug Music; Co-Founder of Ladies Who Brunch.
How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
K: I've been in Los Angeles for 12 years and just moved to Ladera Heights from the Fairfax District.
M: I've lived in Los Angeles since coming here for college in 1985, and I now live in Silver Lake.
Where are you from?
K: I grew up in Arizona, though I think of Los Angeles as my true home. I always wanted to move to California. Phoenix is a soulless city of tract housing and malls, and Tucson was fun but too small.
M: Orange County.
How did Ladies Who Brunch come about, and what's the goal?
K: At the time, Mara and I were going to a lot of new technology networking gatherings and we noticed we were almost the only women there. We decided to organize a women's brunch and each invited about 15 people. It was a great success, so we did it the next month as well. Our intent was to do the events as long as enough people came and found them to be enjoyable and useful. Two years and over 670 women later, here we are. The events draw between 50-100 women, so even with a group this big you don't get too lost in the crowd.
I believe a key to our success is that recruitment is entirely by word of mouth - a current member has to recommend a new member in. We are not exclusionary; we just believe that this process ensures that our members will be active participants and respect the other women in the group. In other words, Ladies Who Brunch works because its members want it to.
The events have branched out from just brunch to occasional evening cocktail parties with speakers on topics such as career counseling, financial planning, self defense, wine tasting and online dating. We like to plan events that the modern LA woman would find interesting. We get bored of brunch and suppose the members do, too.
In what ways is a decentralized city like Los Angeles harder to network in, or how might it be easier?
K: Networking requires effort no matter what city you live in. If anything, being in Los Angeles makes networking easier, especially if you are in the entertainment industries where screenings, record release parties and concerts occur on a regular basis. I think it would be much harder to network in a city with no dominant industry to unite people.
M: I don't know if it makes much of a difference any more, with the Internet, faxes, home offices, etc. We not only organize networking events, but we have an email discussion list for members to meet and talk about various topics. There are women who've never come to an event because they're busy with family or other commitments, but they still feel linked in thanks to the list.
What kind of balance do you try to find among members?
K: Our only requirements for joining the group are that you be a woman living in the Los Angeles area and be referred in, so we make no official attempt to balance the membership based on occupation or interests. Coming from the music and new technology industries, that's where Mara and I invited the original members. When I launched Renegade Babe, I started inviting women I was meeting in fashion because that is where I needed to network. It really blossomed and has been very helpful to me.
While most of our members are in entertainment, publishing and fashion, we also have a strong contingent of artists, designers, small business owners, personal and professional service providers and even teachers. I'm continually impressed with the variety of women who join our group.