Leave it to Cathy Lewis Long, formerly of The Sprout Fund, and Anne Sekula, formerly of the Remake Learning Network, to join forces to create a venture with a concept that is unique to the region — The Salon. NEXTpittsburgh caught up with them on the day of their announcement — International Women’s Day — to find out more.
What is The Salon?
CL: The Salon is a reimagination of the women’s club. Women need a space to build more authentic connections. We see The Salon as that kind of third space, where women can find conversation, social connections and exposure to new experiences. Members also have unlimited access to our regular and daily programs. Or, they can pop in anytime to linger over a coffee.
AS: The physical space is a 500-square-foot studio that has its own unique aesthetic (designed by Colleen Simonds) and nests into a corner of the Beauty Shoppe’s new co-working space, Arsenal Motors, in lower Lawrenceville.
Why did you start it?
CL: As I began to think about life after The Sprout Fund, I knew I wanted to do something that continued to bring people together to build community. I knew I wanted to work with and support the amazing leaders, innovators and educators that drive so much in this city.
AS: I knew I wanted to continue my network-based work after I stepped away from leading the Remake Learning Network and was very interested in focusing these efforts in ways that support women. Cathy and I had early conversations about this while walking our kids’ to the bus stop. And, our chats led to many conversations with other women. We were trying to understand what’s next in our careers, by first asking what was missing in our lives.
CL: We knew we craved a community and that we felt more inspired when surrounded by inspiring women. And so, we put all the pieces together, studied the market and set out to develop the concept.
Is this a trend in other cities?
CL: We’ve spent much of the past year researching and coming to understand the landscape and growing market for women-focused clubs and programs. Female community-focused business models are popping up all around the country in various forms from all-female co-working spaces like The Wing, or career coaching networks like The Chief, or networks like Girlboss.
AS: We’ve adjusted the model for the Pittsburgh regional context. We think a space-focused model will address professional female burnout, toxic and inflexible workplace cultures and isolation of female-run businesses. In addition to providing professional resources and development, these spaces provide community, collaborators and collective impact.
What’s your goal in terms of membership and events?
AS: Not knowing how the community will respond to this new concept, we’re approaching The Salon much like a startup — small and lean. We hope to have a few hundred members in our first year that represent a diverse cross-section of women in Pittsburgh. As we grow, so will our weekly calendars offered at different times to accommodate women’s work and family schedules.
CL: Our goal is to create a space where women of many ages, backgrounds and cultures come together around shared interests and topics. We’ll have daily activities as well as weekly and monthly programs.
What kind of events would you like to have?
AS: We see The Salon serving as a bridge between great minds, services, organizations, ideas and our active and engaged membership. We’ll have an array of clubs for informal dialogue and connection. We’ll also program talks and panels with leading women in their field of interest. We’ll create space for member-led discussion and affinity groups. And, host workshops and series for women who want to take a deeper dive in a subject matter. As we grow, The Salon will curate retreats, excursions and community partnerships all focused on enriching women’s lives. We’ll make the space accessible to members so members can further develop their own ideas and new ventures and get early market feedback.
CL: Work/life balance, self-care, career development, empowerment, relationships and community are the themes we heard over and over as being important to women.
In a city not known for diversity, how will you achieve it?
CL: Frankly, as two white women, we know there are a ton of ways to get this wrong. But we won’t avoid this challenge. For The Salon to be successful, we need a broad array of perspectives, representation and conversations. From our programming approach to our membership model, we’ve baked into the design of The Salon ways we hope encourage women of all backgrounds, races, ages, cultures and lifestyles to be involved. We know that if the Salon looks like a lot of people just like me or just like Anne, it will not be successful or relevant to our times.