Let me ask you this. How involved in your local community are you? Do you attend events, maybe volunteer for a local nonprofit? Do you have regular ladies’ nights playing Bunco or Cards Against Humanity? Don’t judge.
Jenny Ketchepaw and Jennifer Abbott-Aston met through a mutual friend who thought they’d hit it off – and they certainly did. They formed a friendship that’s supportive, empowering, and often vulnerable. Like many of us, they could have kept that friendship to themselves, but Jenny and Jen knew they had something special and wanted to empower other women to also experience a deep connection.
Here’s their story from friendship to community leadership, and how they’re bringing women together in their own neighborhood — and all around the world.
Jenny: How do we take what we have here and blow that up a little bit, and include more people, and get more people excited? I think we’ve just found that women want a space to be their most authentic selves and be celebrated for that. I can tell Jen at any point I got a promotion or this is what happened to me, and I don’t have to feel bad about it. I think a lot of women feel bad about sharing or feel ‘how am I going to be seen?’ I just get to show up and be loved for me, be celebrated for me; faults and all.
Both Jenny and Jen have full lives filled with work and family responsibilities. And, while they have their own unique stories, they share a passion for uplifting women and supporting each other to be the absolute best versions of themselves. And, that was their mission when they took their new friendship and created an expansive experience for themselves and others.
Lean In to Life Changing
A Lean In Circle is a circle of women connected to the Lean In Organization where women support other women through their personal and professional goals, challenges, and lives. It was the first thing the pair did together.
Jen: Jenny had read the book a long time ago but I had just read the book and was listening to a bunch of Sheryl Sandberg’s podcasts. We thought what would it look like to have a circle in this valley, a Lean In Circle? Sheryl has a whole Lean In website where you can start your own circles. It’s really, really easy. And, we wanted it to be women from all different walks of life.
We didn’t want to have friends, necessarily, in this group. We didn’t want it to be just a catch-up with friends. So, we started that Lean In group. Now it’s starting to grow into more circles.
Jenny: It was life-changing. And, I can say that for all nine women in the circle. Something inside of me changed when I read that book. And, then when Jen was like, ‘there’s these things called circles and there’s this whole international component,’ I had no idea. And, it was like, how do we do this?
The fact that these nine women are so close now and some of them didn’t even know each other. It’s the rawest, the most vulnerable you get to show up and, warts and all, be exactly who you are and be uplifted. It’s so hard to encapsulate everything that we do in our circle.
If you got work stuff, we get to talk about that. If you have celebrations, we get to talk about that. Sometimes we have a program. We just finished the four agreements, and we’ve done all different things. It’s a really great space. It’s one of my favorite, favorite nights; and I know all other eight women feel the same.
Jackie: what was the motivation when you started that Lean In circle? Were you looking to network, or were you looking to connect for business?
Jenny: It was definitely personal. It was taking our conversations and, ‘how do we include more people?’ There’s a great book about how women rise and how we celebrate and empower each other. We thought there should be, you know, some content. I don’t think in a million years we ever thought we would get like heart-to-heart in some of the stuff that has come up, and how we’ve been there for each other. It has wildly exceeded our expectations.
Jen: It really came from feeding our souls as women empowering each other, sharing our wins, sharing our losses, learning, you know, lots of lessons. Each woman takes a month and leads either a lesson or if something’s come up in the world, for example, we did the history of women in Afghanistan. Every lesson has been, whatever that leader chooses. You can grab lessons from the Lean In website or you can read a book as we’ve done. We talk about women rising, and it feeds our soul, but that kind of got into the next venture that Jenny and I started.
Lean In is very emotional to a lot of us, from that, we were like, these lessons are really good but we really wanted to educate, and that really wasn’t necessarily the platform.
Women Empowering Women in Leadership
WeWil, Women Empowering Women in Leadership is a workshop series bringing fantastic content to women leaders so they can thrive in their professional careers.
Jen: So, that got us into, WeWil. Education tools for women that they wouldn’t necessarily get in professional development at work. We were like, ‘Oh, there’s so much that we need to share and learn. Should we do this in, you know, a workshop setting,’ and then COVID hit.
So, we decided to move it all online. And, we have reached, 300 women that are on our mailing list that have attended workshops. And so, that was really the tools, you know, the education. So, all of these things have come out of feeding your soul or what do we need, and just empowering women.
Jenny: We envisioned coming to a physical space and then when we put it online, we got people from all across the nation. We got someone from Italy once, and it was so neat. I got to talk to somebody at Vanderbilt University that kind of does what I do for work.
I never would’ve been connected with that person, and that was really cool. I think we were so worried. I mean, everybody went on Zoom, but it really lent itself to what we were doing just for an hour to 90 minutes, to connect with women that you don’t know.
And again, the synergy and the underlying principle is that you get to show up and be our true authentic selves. And again, the congratulations, the cheerleading for each other, the celebrating while we’re getting really great content for next to nothing, you know, we charge $15 and the organization keeps none of it. It all gets donated to local nonprofits that empower women.
Jackie: The first WeWilI ever attended was one that you ran, Jenny, about Strengths Finder. I’m actually going to link in the show notes because you did an episode of this podcast about strengths as well.
Jenny: My first podcast.
Jackie: One of my most popular episodes. I think Strengths Finder is a tool that not as many people know about, but it’s really, really powerful. For 90 minutes, you taught us how to lean into our strengths. You’re so good at delivering the information with enthusiasm and excitement and you clearly love the tool.
I was honored to run a workshop for WeWil, and then attend one, for International Women’s Day. I’m really excited to be a part of WeWil. So, why don’t you share, what a woman would expect in the next workshop?
Jenny: Friday, May 13th. I’m really excited because my boss is leading it. I feel like throughout our career, again, we find people that lift us up, and we find people that maybe hold us back a little bit. And, I am so lucky to work for a woman that believes in empowering other women; and that the more she can help us, the more we all help each other. She talks about her mom, and how her mom was a really strong woman and guided her. Her daughter is one of the most empowered women, and she supports her mom. I’m hoping she’s going to talk about that generational effect as well, but it’s really amazing to hear the stories about her daughter.
My boss just really believes that your authentic self, like if you can be your true self, there’s nothing better than how we empower each other and how we support each other. Unfortunately, there have been times in my career when women didn’t support each other, and that just hurts everybody.
The more that we find women that support each other and are there for each other, I mean, man, that’s how we change business. That’s how we change our future. That’s how it’s better for my daughter.
Jackie: I have to ask though, I hear a lot from women who, you know, really try to get out there, try to connect with other women, try to work in places that might empower women; and you hear a lot of stories. Do you purposely intentionally attract women who empower other women, and how?
Jen: I don’t think it’s purposefully at all. I think it’s very organic. I think that the biggest thing with leading these groups is that we weren’t necessarily the only ones who’ve picked the people to join the groups. I probably knew four out of nine of the women in Lean In. I think you just attract it. Jenny talks about positivity a lot. I think that when you’re a positive person like she is; she can attract positivity. Sometimes the negativity doesn’t even have light to shine. And, if you don’t want to connect with women, you don’t want to lift them up; you’re probably not going to want to hang out with me. So, I think it’s all really, really organic. Fundamentally where our core values are, we’re usually all on the same page. And, that makes it really easy and lovely. So, I don’t think there’s a purpose behind it at all. I think it just happens, which is the magical part for me. There’s another networking piece that I’m doing right now as well for women. And, it’s all happened so easily and beautifully; and all of it’s morphed into even bigger than we could have ever imagined.
Jenny: Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, It’s been magic, right? It’s been magic, but I think inadvertently, we’re purposeful. Does that make sense? I think that we have these goals and this heart and these values. And so, I do think that we kind of put that out there. I love what Jen said because my positivity means a great deal to me. And so, there’s not a lot of space for negativity. You don’t have a space in my world if you’re going to always bring me the negative and you don’t want my positive side. Like, you can bring me the negative, and I will help you. But if you just want to bring the negative and just sit in that, that’s not going to go over so well.
I feel too, for me personally, the older I’ve gotten, I mean, I’ve been a mom for 11 years my headspace is different in terms of who I want to hang out with, what my Why is. So, I think I put that out there more
One of the things about Jenny and Jen is that they don’t sweep things under the rug in a positive fashion. So, what do they think about those who talk about toxic positivity?
Jenny: That’s a great question because we make assumptions all the time. Although we shouldn’t because that’s from The Four Agreements, a great book. So, a lot of times when someone shows up really positive, we make the assumption that it’s fake or it’s not real. For me, it’s very genuine, but I also had to recognize a blind spot. I’m very quick to see the positive. I heard this line once; it was called Radical Acceptance. It’s when something bad is happening and you radically accept it. This allows you to process and move on rather than sitting in it. Now, sometimes you like to sit in it, but there’s not a lot that happens in the sitting in it. I’m quick to find the positive in a situation. My positivity is real. It doesn’t mean I’m happy all the time.
That toxic positivity, when it’s not genuine when it’s not authentic when it doesn’t lift people up, then that can be really problematic. I don’t want to get labeled a part of that, because people sometimes make assumptions about positivity or about what people bring to the table, but I bring my whole self; and you know, that’s what you get, and you’re going to get someone that sees the glass half full. You’re going to get someone that believes that tomorrow is going to be better.
Jen: My number one strength– It’s funny how Jenny and I, our strengths marry, is futuristic. So, I love to foresee what’s going to happen. And, as Jenny has taught me, people can think of that as a dreamer. So you’ve got the dreamer and you’ve got the positive person together.
Jackie: So, I’m going to assume that you have had someone, at least one person in WeWilor Lean In or one of the other areas that you work together in your lives that showed up and was not such a great fit. So, how does the dreamer and the positive woman deal with a situation like that?
Jen: We have had that. I’m visionary, I’m futuristic, but I really love things to happen naturally. And, if I’m feeling that way, I’m betting that the other person’s probably feeling that way too. It’s beautifully happened in that, those people have removed themselves ‘now I’m going into a different part of my life or I think I’m going to step back from this project. It’s been great and I’ve learned so much, but right now it’s not a fit for me.’ And, I love that because that’s the truth. It’s not a fit for her right now. And, it wasn’t probably a fit for the group, but everybody loved on that woman when she left.
And, that’s where we really lift each other up ‘thank you for so much of the time that you gave us. And, we get that it’s not a fit right now. And, we’re always here for you.’ You know, if you let that person, that woman come to it on their own, and it’s organic. It happens naturally, there have really been no issues in any of our groups.
Jenny: Sometimes it’s hard to get to know somebody in the initial space. With Lean In, it’s interesting because the principles behind it are to go really, really deep but in order to go deep, it means your circle’s closed. And so, one of the things we’re doing right now is because we have so many women that have reached out to us is create more circles, create more spaces. So, we’re working on empowering women to create more circles.
There’s something to be said for vulnerability. Jenny and Jen are not only getting vulnerable themselves but giving other women the space to be vulnerable too. What are the benefits of being in a space where you can be vulnerable as a woman?
Jen: I think there’s not always the opportunity to whether it’s with a best friend, husband or partner, or with your family. And, we aren’t a part of each other’s daily lives, but we have each other’s trust. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that, even with my best friend, sometimes you’re so close with them that you can’t confide in the stuff that’s happening in your life. So, I think it’s a value that I’ve never experienced before and something about women coming together for the same purpose. And it’s very hard to put words to it. Very hard to put words to being able to confide in somebody that you’ve known for, not that long. The room just turns into this amazing space.
Jenny: It is such a gift to be seen by others. I’m going to get a little emotional. To be seen by other women for exactly who you are. It is such a safe place, but I know that I can make a mistake, but I really, can be my most true self. And, I think that’s what scares people; ‘how do I be my true self? And, are people still going to like me, love me, care about me?’ We get to be our truest selves. There’s going to be no drama behind my back. I just feel really, really seen and really, really heard.
Jackie: And, isn’t that really the goal? You nailed it, so many women have not felt that, right? I think now I’m over 50, you start to realize who you want to be seen and heard by. You no longer care about the masses. And, you find these groups and you find other women and you find opportunities, I think, to be yourself. And so, I love that you have that.
Jenny: And, we said it before, the magic is these nine women are not college besties. Most of them did not know each other. I mean, it gives me chills. It truly gives me chills.
Jen: And, I can’t wait to see the next step of this because we’re having a mixer with anybody who’s been interested in being part of our Lean In group or who has said, “How do I start my own?” it would be so cool to have a bunch of circles, especially in this valley. And, then we can all support each other one way or another.
Starting Your Own Community
Jackie: What would you say to someone who’s like, ‘this is all fine and good, but I’m not necessarily a leader. I don’t want to go and start a circle. I don’t want to go and start WeWil. I just want to join something?’
Jen: I think that for me as I said earlier, Lean In feeds my soul. WeWil feeds the educational part. And, then there’s definitely a networking piece, women in business networking piece. You first have to look at, what’s missing? Do you need to feed your soul right now? Are you feeling like you’re not getting the professional development tools at work or do you just want to network with women? I think the first thing is, you have to recognize what you need right now in your life, and then lean into whatever that might be
There are Lean In circles all over the world, and there’s tons of professional development online for women. There’s going to be something either online or within your community that you can join. So, I think, for me, I would say, definitely figure out what part of your women’s empowerment within your own persona are you missing.
Jenny: I have to say with the Lean In Circles, while Jen and I started it and we’re technically the leaders, it requires nothing. It was registering on Lean In, and then they give us all the content, and then each woman hosts a different month. We don’t even have a schedule. It happens, again, so naturally.
And, sometimes we have a topic and we even have homework. Then something else has happened either in the world or in somebody’s life. And, we go, ‘okay, let’s talk about this.’ And, everyone’s fine with that, which is so cool. Really the hardest thing and the most important thing was bringing the women together. So, if someone just wants to join, they can either find a circle that they could join or get a couple of people together, kind of throw it out there. And then after that, they can kind of step back, and it kind of starts to build. We’re really passionate about this. So, honestly, if anybody’s interested in starting a circle anywhere, we are happy to share tips, and tricks; help guide the first couple of meetings.
Networking is a Long Game
Jackie: So, you’ve talked about networking a couple of times, Jen. I think about, when the word networking first came into my universe, we were probably in college and it was like, you have your business cards and make sure you wear a suit, and there were drinks; you know, and it was an hour or whatever it was. Obviously, it’s evolved through the years; and especially networking with women, what does women’s networking look like in 2022?
Jen: So, it still looks a lot like that.
Jackie: The wine is just better than when we were 22.
Jennifer: Right! It’s really not my favorite thing. My husband and partner in our business, he’s amazing at it. I put myself out there as I knew that that piece was missing for me. The Chamber of Commerce here in Santa Clarita, actually happened to have a women’s event. It was a lunch-and-learn, and this was pre-COVID and then they stopped everything. So, a girlfriend of mine co-chairs it with me now so we got to kind of redefine what networking for women looks like, which has been such a cool tool for me because I don’t love it to begin with. So, it still is the suits and the drink and the hour after work. But what we’ve done is we have speakers from the community that are women. We’ve talked about women in service, or we’ve done women working in a man’s world and all different leaders from our local community so that there’s an opportunity for everybody to feel comfortable because I do not love going into a room and for an hour, I just have to chit-chat with people. It’s just not my thing.
So, by having a program, you still have that chit-chat, but then when the program’s over, you have something to talk about, which is so great. It is still kind of old-school networking, just with a little more entertainment and all-women.
Jenny: I’ve been in the same networking group for 19 years. It’s not a women’s networking group, but it’s a more small networking group that went rogue off of one of those big networking groups years ago. I tend to like rogue, and I love that group. It’s a group of really incredible people. I don’t get business from the group because I’m in HR. I don’t need business. People are like, why are you still in this group? Except that we truly, truly care about each other. And so, it’s been a really great networking group, and I love it.
Jen: That’s one of the things, Jenny, that I really love too about networking is that I’m only going to do it if it feels natural and, it feels organic. I’m starting to get that in mine. And, networking in business can’t happen, in my opinion, if it’s forced. I want to work with the people that I can empower and they can empower me. I want to work with people who are like-minded, and sometimes that means business isn’t going to come your way. But then, for me, it’s not the right business.
I think that that’s huge for me with networking is I don’t go in thinking, ‘I need to business out of this event.’ I think I’m going to make friendships. And, if something comes down the road, then that’s just a plus coming out of it.
Jackie: So, for someone like myself, who’s a content creator, who’s a coach, why would I want to network? Is it to get clients? Is it to make friends? Is it to– You know, many of us are so tapped out that someone listening might be like, ‘oh, that sounds exhausting.’ So, what would be the benefits of networking?
Jenny: I look at it as centers of influence. And, my networking group is a center of influence. I can’t tell you how many times I get people reaching out to me saying, “I know you know someone that does this, and I trust your opinion.” So, I feel like I’ve built a really amazing center of influence; and, I can go to my networking group too and say, “This is what I really need right now.” And, this was all built on trust.
Jen: And, I think it’s a long game. I think that healthy networking is a long game. Like Jenny’s talking about knowing these people for years and having those resources and places to pull from. Networking can look like a short game by the exchange of cards, but in my opinion, those relationships and businesses don’t last. The real success in business comes from the long game and those long relationships and the things that happen naturally.
Jackie: What kind of tips would you give in finding networking opportunities?
Jen: I would say go to as many as you can. And, when you know the people in the room, you’re clicking and jiving with, and you have great conversations and you come home and you feel empowered and fulfilled; it’s going to be right. But if you come home and you feel dirty, or you feel like it was a lot of sales, then just go once and be done. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right one.
Jackie: I think everything goes back to that first question that you posed, what is it that you need and want in your life right now? I think is really powerful.
Jen: It can change and that’s okay. We need to remember as women if you’re into something that feeds your soul for three years and it no longer feeds your soul, and you want to go into that networking for business, change. There are no rules.
Jenny: If a woman is looking to get involved and whether it’s an official networking group or something else, what calls your heart? And, if you’re in a community that has great nonprofits, what nonprofit calls your heart because you end up meeting wonderful people. It’s a great way to do business and to connect with an organization where you can make an impact. My first foray into anything was getting involved in some of our local nonprofits. And, that totally changed the way I was involved in my community, and the business professionals I met along the way. So, especially if somebody’s like, ‘the idea of going to a networking meeting sounds horrible,’ volunteer for a nonprofit, and be connected to an organization and meet other people that are volunteering.
You don’t go volunteer because you’re planning to get business out of it, but good attracts good like attracts like. I think, especially in a community, specifically like ours, we’re very heavy in nonprofits and we’re very heavy in a lot of small businesses. You’re not there just talking about your business, I’m seeing you as a person and I’m seeing your commitment to an organization that I’m also committed to, so you already get ‘like’ points. Then if you serve on committees, you get to know people and see the way they work. There’s nothing better than serving on a committee with somebody and seeing how they work.
Jen: It goes back to what we were saying earlier about, you know, what cup do you need filled as far as your soul and your education and your networking? Well, you have got to volunteer for what your heart is, for where you’re at. Wherever you are fulfilling and empowering yourself, your heart has to be in it. If your heart’s not in it, you’re not going to attract the right people. You’re not going to feel empowered. You want to come home from everything feeling like your cup was full from that meeting.
Jackie: I love that. And, I think that if someone’s listening and is like, ‘I don’t own a business, I don’t need to network for business, I’m not into it;’ all of these tips also translate into making friends.
Coming Full Circle
Jackie: So, you two, anything else that you feel like my audience needs to know before we finish?
Jenny: Well, I just love what you have been able to do in the space of bringing women together. I think that the synergies between women being able to come together and be themselves and share and feel supported is really special.
Jen: I want you to also realize how much you are empowering women. I remember listening to your very first podcast. this was all before Lean In and WeWil. I listened to your podcast and it gave me the strength. And, I know that sounds so crazy, but I couldn’t even see myself doing this five years ago. And, you ask, you know, how do people get started on this? Listen to podcasts, listen to things that are going to make you feel empowered; and then you might actually go out and do it. But Jackie, you’re definitely instrumental in so many women’s lives. And, you give us some courage that it’s there, but we just need it brought out.
Jenny: I have to talk about full circle. You listened to Jackie’s podcast with Heather on it. Heather and Vanessa got really close in our Lean In circle, and they’re launching their own podcast tomorrow.
Jackie: And, Heather was one of my podcast students years ago. I taught her how to podcast. And, you know, what else is kind of crazy, Jen, you were, I think the first person to ever reach out to me about that you listened to the podcast, and you asked me to meet for coffee. I was like, ‘oh my God, somebody listens.’ I see the numbers. I see that people are listening, but sometimes you pod, like, one can podcast into the ether, right? You record and you hope that somebody’s getting something from it.
Jen: And, I was having coffee with you to get the courage to be able to start these groups. Like Jackie, do you think this is going to work in this community?
Jackie: Yeah. We’re both fangirling; and man, it was awesome.
Jennifer: And, talk about full circle. Now, Jackie, you are a part of WeWil, which really is full circle to think about me listening to your podcast.
Jackie: Definitely. I think when women have the courage to reach out to one another and ask– I mean, the fact that Jenny asked me to speak at WeWil, I was blown away. Like, why would anyone want to– We all do that, right? Why would anyone want to hear from me? And then, to show up and to do it. It was so much fun. You’re both amazing. You’re both making such a huge impact.
You know, one of the things that I am committing myself to is to make that impact more where I live. I tend to be an online person but there are so many women in our own community who are powerful and amazing and vulnerable and willing to put themselves out there authentically. And, just being around the two of you reminds me how much I want to meet those women as well. So, thank you for that.
Jen and Jenny’s commitment to their community, our community, and beyond, is inspiring and a perfect reminder that even putting yourself out there in a small way, can lead to big things.
Until next time, you are a grown-ass woman. Act accordingly.
ABOUT JENNY & JENNIFER
Jenny Ketchepaw currently serves as the Vice President of Talent Engagement for a financial institution where she manages the Training and Leadership Development initiatives for the Bank. Jenny has been working in the financial industry for 22 years, serving in various leadership capacities. Jenny is a certified Gallup Strengths Coach. Jenny is a positive force who believes in being proactive in life, forging lasting relationships, and making an impact where you serve. Jenny loves to travel and spend time with her husband of 19 years and their two young children.
Jennifer Abbott-Aston relocated from Toronto to Los Angeles in 2002, securing a position at USC where she worked as a merchandise executive for the next ten years. She made the difficult decision to move into the CEO/MOM role in 2011 for her 3 boys. Jennifer stayed active by volunteering in roles of PTA President, Vice President, and Parliamentarian; she served as Treasurer for Arcadia Child Health Council, Little League T-ball Coordinator, Canteen Coordinator and she served as the Fundraising Officer on the Meadows Foundation Board. In 2016, Jennifer made the move to re-enter the workforce and eventually made the crucial decision to join full time the company she co-founded; Human Element Company, a staffing and HR agency. Today Jennifer serves on a Vestry representing Human Relations/Social Justice groups which include Anti Racism Coalition, Immigrant Support Circle and LGBTQ+. Jennifer is a futuristic restorative achiever with a deep appreciation of belief and discipline.