Inside "Women Work F—king Hard," the Networking Event Unlike Any Other
Women work f—king hard.
It’s a fact of life, and it’s one worth celebrating. So, on Tuesday night, 105 women with vastly different careers gathered at Snapchat’s secret, no-photos-allowed Snap Penthouse in NYC to kick back, have a few drinks, and connect at the third annual Women Work F—king Hard networking event.
Whereas other female-focused professional mixers feature workshops, panels, and keynote speakers, this one is a party through and through. It’s the brainchild of longtime Saturday Night Live producer Lindsay Shookus and financial advisor Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick, best friends of 22 years who decided to introduce the many successful women in their lives to each other, creating a strong network of women across different industries.
“Lindsay and I have been throwing parties ever since we met on our first day of college, and tonight, we’re celebrating the hard work that every woman on the planet does,” Merrick said at the event, which was covered exclusively by InStyle and featured a pop-up portrait studio with SNL photographer Rosalind O’Connor. “The goal is to have a good time and get a little tipsy; but it’s also to meet each other and uplift female founders. I council women on taking risk all the time in my day job, but the sad reality is that women don’t take enough responsible, thoughtful risk. It’s easy to write a check to charity, but if you invest in a woman, a founder, a company, that money has the potential not only to come back to you, but to grow for you in a meaningful way.”
Of course, there’s a multitude of non-financial ways to show support for female-led businesses. “You don’t have to be a millionaire to help other women,” said Shookus. “You can use your wisdom, your experience, your resources. That’s what this night is about — sharing those things with the people around us, and helping each other pay it forward.” (Pay it forward they did: Each guest was asked to bring an item of clothing to donate to Bottomless Closet, a nonprofit that equips women in need with professional outfits to wear for job interviews.)
Every year, Merrick and Shookus carefully select women-led brands to spotlight at WWFH, down to the drinks served and the products included in guests’ gift bags. This time, the duo chose to introduce Frances Hart, a maternity line founded by Natalie Wadsworth that can also be worn pre- or post-pregnancy. “Natalie is in the beginning stages of growing this beautiful and sustainable clothing company,” said Shookus, who curated a power-anthem playlist for the night featuring Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift, and more. “She just wants to make people feel great during and after a really important time in their lives, so we want to help her gain awareness.” Wadsworth was grateful for the spotlight, telling InStyle, “I have a hard time asking for things from people, so it’s an amazing effort that Lindsay and Kristin are making for brands by doing this.”
Even the wine being served was from a female-run brand, Hall Wines. The founder, Kathryn Hall, and her daughter, Jennifer Brown, proudly served their Cabernet Sauvignon to a room brimming with support. “We never had events like this when I started out,” said Hall, who in addition to running her brand, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Austria by President Bill Clinton in 1997. “Society is changing. And from a business perspective, it’s inspiring that women now have the earning power and the confidence to spend more on something like expensive wine.”
Among those enjoying the festivities — and expensive wine — was entertainment executive Jennifer Justice, CEO and founder of the advisory and legal firm The Justice Dept.; choreographer Kristin Sudeikis, who runs the popular dance studio company Forward__Space; Cate Luzio, who helms Luminary, a professional collaboration hub for women in NYC; and New York Times food columnist and author Alison Roman. “Normally I would bail on this type of thing because I’d feel weird not knowing anyone,” said Roman. “But I decided to put myself out there and talk to people outside of my own industry tonight. It’s a good exercise.”
Of course, with Shookus as co-host, there were a few past and present SNL stars who enjoyed mingling with the other guests. Current cast member Ego Nwodim was on hand, as was Tina Fey. “I don’t know of another scenario where I would get to meet these women,” Fey said. “You’re introduced to people who you want to be connected to — you want to be hiring them, you want to be supporting their businesses. It’s a faster way to get to know them.” It’s the type of event that Fey wishes had existed in the early days of her career. “We certainly didn’t have any of this formal networking back then,” she said. “But all the women that I came up with definitely stuck together and would always try to throw the rope down lower. I think Lindsay and Kristin are just doing that at a more professional and purposeful level.”
Fey’s appreciation for the event was apparent given her choice accessory for the night: a snapback hat emblazoned with “Work Bitch” on the front and “Britney Spears” on the back. “I would officially like to tell InStyle that I thought I was going to go home first before this [event] but then couldn’t,” she said. “I was in the edit room, because women do work f—king hard. So this is my statement: A Britney Spears ‘Work Bitch’ hat.”
A statement worth making, indeed.