By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
When Tessa came to Vis this past summer and joined one of our retreats literally everyone fell in love with her within seconds. Her incredible energy, inspiring stories, never fading smile and instant friendship are just impossible to resist!
Besides being an amazing human being, Tessa is a women empowerment champion, a women entrepreneur coach, founder of multiple projects dedicated to women and their businesses and an avid advocate of equality. As an addition to the awesomeness factor, here’s a fun fact – her family has roots in the beautiful Komiza village on our lovely island!
We’re beyond thrilled to share this “The Madame Guru” interview with Tessa Petrich – enjoy!
Tessa, what is your background, what do you do at the moment and of course – what is your connection to Vis and Croatia?
I started working in tech as a sophomore in college and moved out to Silicon Valley soon after graduation. There I worked at early stage companies (I was the second employee at Zimride, which everyone now knows at Lyft), my team rebuilt AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and most recently I oversaw the teams that did big health tech data integrations at Rally Health. The longer I stayed in tech, the more I realized I missed the organizing and person to person work I’d so enjoyed throughout college. I wanted to return to the mentality that had driven me before: see a problem in your community? Fix it. So that’s what I’m now doing. I coach entrepreneurs, managers and people just looking to grow (mostly women), Katherine Daiss and I developed a training program to prepare women to respond to sexual harassment and I run a weekly newsletter Ruby Anaya about rad events for women in NYC, LA and SF (www.ladylist.us).
As for my Croatian connection? All I can say is KOMIZA! KOMIZA! KOMIZA! My great-grandparents and their kids (though my grandpa, the youngest, was born in the US) came to America at the beginning of the 20th century. They moved to San Pedro, where I grew up going to events at the Dalmatian American Club and celebrating our Komiza at the yearly dinner and dancing the kolo. I’ve now been lucky enough to spend almost a month in Croatia (mostly in Vis, but exploring the rest of the great country) and I feel so grateful to get to claim it as part of me!
Could you expand a little on how all your women empowerment work came to be?
Growing up I didn’t think much about sexism. I consider myself “Tessa” first and a woman second. I kick myself for this now but I rolled my eyes at feminism, it seemed so passe, so unnecessary. When I began working in higher level roles in tech, and having women report to me or I worked as their mentor, I suddenly starting hearing more explicit stories and visually seeing more problems. A lack of representation in the C suite, fundamental issues in hiring procedures or workplace activities, explicit sexual harassment. It was frustrating to watch and really raised my awareness to the systemic cultural and institutional barriers holding women back in the workplace, or any minority for that part, and especially women of color. Over the last five years, I’ve really grown into the feminist and organizer I am today. There is too much at stake – there is too much stacked against so many women entering into these fields that have been historically dominated by males, particularly white cis-gendered males. And a toothless nod to diversity & inclusion initiatives is simply not enough to change it.
So, what am I working on now? In addition to my work coaching incredible, inspiring women, I work on a few other projects:
– Lady List is basically an email I send out weekly (founded with my friend Ruby Anaya) of rad events for women in LA, SF and New York. It started because I kept hearing about awesome events for women and also observed a deep desire for connection, support and shared badassery amongst my peers. Why not create what I wanted? A listing of all the cool things to do in a given week. It’s turned to into a platform where I also just get to write a note to a bunch of friends with things that I think matter: stories that are important to amplify (like work by Natasha Alford about activist and organizer Tamika Mallory) or a holiday gift guide focused on purchasing primarily from businesses run by women of color.
– The Practice Your Lines workshop grew out of a specific experience I had (told in far more detail in this essay (https://medium.com/@tessapetrich/frozen-c7b8f40cf826 ), where I was unable to respond to a pretty minor incident of sexual harassment. After conversations with lots of friends to define the need, Katherine Daiss and I started the workshops. In them, we focus on three things: creating a safe space for women to talk about experiences with sexual harassment, reviewing a framework we devised to prepare responses in the moment and, most importantly, practicing using that framework (practicing your lines!) in role play scenarios over and over and over again. The response has been tremendous and we’re now working to develop that workshop for a mixed gender audience.
– Finally, I’m exploring a fund focused on investing in women-led businesses because women have so little access to capital even they are amazing at building and running companies. In Venture, women received 7% of funding in 2016 and 2.6% last year! In the small business, women receive only 16% of conventional small business loans. THAT IS NOT OKAY! I also believe that community (for both practical and emotional purposes) is primary to a successful venture – that’s why I’m thinking about it as an incubator, rather than simply an investment fund.
Why do you think this work is important and how far do you think we still need to go on the path towards the equality?
Well…if that’s not the hardest question. I learn every day more and more about how important this work is. It’s important because black and brown men are still being killed by our police, because rape culture is pervasive, because Hollywood has had a reckoning but I don’t understand why Silicon Valley’s stopped so quickly, because women get 2.6% of all venture capital funding in the US, because 493 million women still can’t read and because we have not reckoned with the racism in our country. It’s all related, and we all have to address the parts we can, but we can’t ever stop being aware of how this all feeds into the bigger mission living in an equitable world.
During your path personally, have you ever encountered issues just because you are a woman? How did you deal with that?
Of course, I have. It’s funny though, how many things I look back on now on so many things that happened when I was younger – that I thought happened just because I was me — I didn’t connect that they happened to my gender. So then, I didn’t deal because I didn’t even know. But now? I’m quick to call things out when I can, to speak up, to be an ally and an accomplice. But, I’ll admit I still don’t know how to respond when I’m getting catcalled on the street. I wrote this essay, describing my confusion a year and a half ago and I still don’t have the answer. https://medium.com/@tessapetrich/yesterday-hilary-clinton-was-named-the-first-female-major-party-presidential-nominee-in-our-206122d511af
What would you say to a girl or woman who is insecure and afraid to take the steps towards their dreams and goals?
You are not the only one! Talk to friends, say the dreams out loud. Form a small group/small circle with 2-4 other women and commit to meeting weekly for 2 or 3 months to talk. It will change your life. It changed mine. Email me if you want more advice on how to do this!
How do you unwind? Is yoga important to you?
Reading has always been my escape, my adventure, my salve. I think there is no better way to truly explore and inhabit the inner workings of another human than by immersing yourself in a well-written novel. Non-fiction too! A Little History of Economics and Delusions of Gender have been two books really holding my attention recently.
Exercise is also super important for me to stay mentally healthy. I try to practice yoga a couple of times a month and have recently joined a communal meditation group at the co-working space I work out of.
If anything in here resonates, email me! Let’s talk about it: firstname.lastname@example.org