Join us for another episode of SheBoss, as we chat with Devin Ford, a commercial photographer, and Founder of the Focus Women’s Conference, or Focus WC. Ford’s mission has led her to start Focus WC in South Alabama, which brings women of all ages together to ‘learn how to live their best lives.’ Ford is a native of Grand Bay, Alabama, and has been a professional photographer for 20 years and spent almost a decade in California learning the business of photography & community organizing before returning to Mobile in 2012.
She Boss with Devin Ford
Megan: Hey guys welcome to another episode of She Boss, I am Megan with Flourish and I’m so glad that you decided to join us today; feel free to pour yourself a cocktail, we have a phenomenal guest joining us today who is making massive waves in the industry, helping empower women. Before we get to her just a quick word on She Boss, this is a video series that we do every week where we like to highlight and promote the journey of amazing women who are doing phenomenal things within our community and we’ve had the absolute blessing to interact and mingle and collaborate with some of these fascinating women.
Although we feature a lot of women who are in the Rocket City or Huntsville, if you’re not from here, today I’m excited that we are spreading our wings a little bit and we get to chat with someone who’s down in South Alabama and she’s doing amazing things. As I was researching, pretty much bad asses in the south, I came across her name which was pretty awesome. So, our guest today is Devin Ford. She’s going to talk to us a little bit about her journey as an entrepreneur and some of the challenges that she’s faced. Then we are going to dive into something really cool that she is doing for women. So stick around and we’re going to jump right into her events. So Devin I’m going to turn it over to you. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate your time and why don’t you give us a little bit of background on you.
Devin: Thanks for having me. I grew up in Mobile, Green bay Alabama which is a tiny conservative town then ended up moving to California for Santa Barbara and then West Hollywood; and West Hollywood is maybe one of the most liberal places that you could ever be so it was like completely opposite and I’m a commercial photographer and I trained there I worked under really amazing photographers. And then, I moved back to Mobile, June eight years ago and I have been back here and working ever since.
Megan: That is awesome and there is something that you brought back with you from California that you were inspired by which is now going on its 4th year down in Mobile so tell us a little bit about what we can see the signage for behind you there.
Devin: Yes so we launched 4 years ago, Focus women’s conference and our mission is to encourage, educate, empower women and girls and we encourage them to be economically empowered, to be engaged in their community and to be personally fulfilled and healthy. So we really try to cover all of the bases so that you can live your best life. The conference is a full day this coming year we had planned it for two days but we have decided to postpone our 2020 event to March just because a huge part of Focus is the vibe there is lots of hugs, high fives, you get in close proximity to people and we just really would rather postpone the event than to mess with that vibe. This last year we kicked off the conference starting out with the ‘Second Line’, I don’t know of you know what that is.
Megan: Wow what is that?
Devin: It’s a ‘morty girl thing’. So basically you have musicians who play and people will get in line and kind of start following and you dance your way to a place where we started at one part of the convention center and we are all the way through the convention center to kick off last year’s event. It was just so fun and we do talk about some heavy subjects but it doesn’t have to be boring, it can always be fun and engaging and we really are passionate about that.
Megan: That’s awesome. So, experiencing that type of event and initiative in California and coming back here to Alabama you obviously recognized the need for something like that, that was lacking. So, I’m curious from your standpoint as an entrepreneur, as a mom, as a wife; what are some of the things that these initiatives really help to instill that you feel is lacking within some women and how has it helped to people you and your own career and with some other things that you guys are really passionate about?
Devin: I attended a conference in West Hollywood, I am still friends with the first lady that I met, I had met one of the most amazing mentors, she’s still my friend, still my mentor to this day who I love and I learnt so much about empowering women and how important that is and so much about what feminism actually is. I did a photo series when I first moved back and in the interview called, ‘In her Shoes’, I would ask the women, “Are you a feminist?” and it horrified me that most of them did not want to be called that and because there is this perception that feminism means that you hate men or want to be above men and that not it. All a feminist is, my husband is a feminist, most people are feminists, and you just believe that people deserve equal opportunity and equal rights and equal protections under law. That’s it! That’s all it is. It doesn’t mean to be above or to dislike. We are very careful in not using that word in our branding for that reason which I find to be incredibly frustrating sometimes because so just want to be able to say what I want to say but you’re in PR and you know every little word matters.
There were no other programs like that, that I could find in the area and when I first moved back, I started looking because it had been such a powerful force that I wanted to connect with these groups and there was not a group like that. So I waited a few years until I had actually made enough connections and met enough people and then decided to launch it and men are always welcome; my husband is a huge part of it on the committee. He designed our website, he designed my logo. He does a lot of work and the first year, he was the only man, the next year, we had a few and last year, we actually had quite a few men. So all the content is not gender specific, some of it is but men are always welcome in the gender specific content as well because if you only have women working on women’s issues or knowledgeable about these issues, there would be no progress. So we have to work as a community and a team of people and we really encourage that.
So I’m really passionate about the work that we do. Like I said, all are welcome. We are non-partisan. We make sure we stay away from any partisan issues because we want conservatives, liberals, everyone there focusing on what we agree upon and not the few things that tear us apart. Oh my gosh, if you get on Facebook, you see how torn apart we can be right now.
Megan: I love that though because your focus seems to be on a much bigger picture, more impactful things as opposed to these little itty bitty things that we stumble across that tend to take up our day sometimes that are not important and not impactful and not empowering and really at the end of the day, don’t really matter and they don’t contribute to the bigger picture in the positive way. So I want to talk a little bit about some of the resources that you guys offer for women who are entertaining the idea of jumping into a business for the first time. Because I know the audience that you have are professional women who are already working, they are stay at home moms, they are women who are entertaining the idea of starting a business, and I would love to just hear from you some of the types of content workshops that you guys have that help women determine that next step in life if they are looking to make a change or looking to just pivot or just looking for fresh perspective on what’s next.
Devin: Yeah so we always make sure that our key note speaks to anyone. And majority of our attendees are professional women or entrepreneurs but we do always have some stay at home moms. So, we have workshops that encourage community development, for instance, every single year, we have a workshop about running for office and I don’t care if there’s one woman in that workshop, that workshop will be offered very single year forever. Because it’s such an important part of empowering women having a seat at the table and we are passionate about that but we’ve had workshops about engaging your community, how to basically build a cohesion for an issue that you care about because even stay at home moms, they are on the PTO, they are a huge part of the community and those are people who generally have time to dedicate to a social issue more than a woman who’s working full time and a full time mom because you still have to do that full time too.
Megan: That is absolutely a full time job.
Devin: So we always offer things about community development, but for instance last year we had a workshop that educated parents about social media and the dangers of social media for their children but then we also had a workshop about social media in building your brand. So we try to stay engaged on whatever the forefront of what you’re struggling whether, being professional or personal and offer some content.
One of our workshops last year was just about finding joy in your lives and how to do that and I think that that’s something that is so important because you get so busy that you forget about working on yourself sometimes.
Megan: Taking advantage of the little moment and the little things are so important and I think not only as a woman but as a mom, those are so easy to overlook because you get caught up in the day to day stresses of whatever it is that you plan on focusing on that day. So it’s very easy to do that.
Devin: We also had an event last year called, ‘Love Yourself Day’ and it was a separate day from Focus and people came out. We did gratitude journaling and yoga and we had delicious food catered by a company here called, Nourish she does everything healthy and it’s amazing. And we did vision boarding. But it was a lot of time that we had for women to sit around and talk to each other because you’re so busy all the time. We really want to create a community and that’s a huge part of creating a community so that you would have – and you can’t do everything by yourself, you always need help and so we want to create a resource of our people for each other to know who to go to with whatever you need.
Megan: Yeah that’s awesome. So let’s talk about stay at home women and empowering them with getting involved because I think this is something. I love what you said about even though you may not be in an office or a corporate job or running a business, there are still so many ways that you can get involved and make a difference and influence people and others in your community to do good. So can you impact that a little bit and tell me how that means for you down in Mobile or your experience in California or what sort of things do you guys encourage as it relates to that?
Devin: Well, I meant that I was at another event recently and we were all going round and saying what we did and this one woman who was the only woman who was the stay at home mom, and she started it off with, “Well, I don’t have as important jobs like you do, I’m a stay at home mom.” This lady had – I can’t remember how many kids she said she had but it was a lot. And I’m like “Wait, wait, wait, that is an important job”. I feel that often people are worried they are going to be judged if they aren’t trying to change the world or be the CEO and sometimes you just need to take a step back and handle your business and if you decide that you want to have a big family that’s your business. I did not realize until I had a five year old how consuming being a mom could be and I think it’s really important to honor that and to let people know that that work is valuable sometimes that’s the work that someone wants to be doing. So we always make sure that they know that they are welcome and that they are important and that is just as equally respected as the woman who comes and owns three businesses and if you’re making good human beings to go out in the world, that’s amazing, we need more of that. So we do want to bring them in and let them know they are valued.
I had a friend too, her husband got a big promotion, and he was going to be making way more money and they were not able to keep up with both of them working so she decided to step back and only went to have coffee. She explaining that to me as if she’s ashamed and I’m like, “Why are you ashamed? This is okay, this is the decision you made for yourself, for your mental health, so that you could be the best and be there for your kids, so that’s okay”. So we definitely want to make sure we never make anyone feel like whatever choice they made is the wrong choice.
Megan: Well I think you hit it earlier when you said you may not be running three companies but you’re raising three amazing children who can end up being so impactful in the way that they grow up and what they believe in and how they are taught and I don’t know about you but having kids at home and having a full time job definitely makes me feel like I miss out on some of those moments and there are times when I want to be there and be teaching them Math even though I’m horrible at it, and I have to learn on YouTube, you know these different things. There’s somebody else who’s stepping in and taking that role and I don’t get to do that so I mean I admire women who stay at home and have the opportunity to stay at home and spend that extra time with their kids. I realize it’s not for everybody but they have such an opportunity to make such a big impact not only in the lives of their kids but in the lives of the world their kids are going to be going into which I think it’s just awesome.
Talk to us a little bit about the STEM initiative that you guys for some of the younger girls being in Huntsville and being in the Rocket City surrounded by engineers and PhDs all over the place, you know that’s such a huge focus here for some of the education initiatives and community outreach programs that we have as far as encouraging STEM and STEAM related programs and stuff like that. Talk to us a little bit about what you guys were doing down there on that.
Devin: Well so when I was growing up every time my parents talked to me about a career they said I should be needed to be a nursery teacher and let me be clear that those are amazing wonderful and important careers. A teacher, after having a child, is like the most important career in the world. However, I did not want to live in the world those are girl jobs that were not encouraging our girls and our boys to go for whatever their skill set is. I was actually reading an educational article about how there’s a shortage of male teachers and how negatively that impacts the school system for not having enough strong male role models for young boys and so two sides of that coin. So we hosted a camp called Camp Girl and we had half the kids on scholarships and the other half pay and that’s kind of like our model. We have engineers come and we them build structures that can be withstand an earthquake and the earthquake was a giant tin of jello which was hilarious but artists come we had a professional-
Megan: Great idea
Devin: We made them get up and do public speaking we made them do a writing portion because what we want them to do is find out what their skill set is, what they’re interested in and pursue whatever it is. Poverty so heavily affect women especially in Alabama and we have a huge industrial area down in Mobile; we have Airbus, Austal, Evonik, Mitsubishi. There are just multiple plants here with very high paying jobs that don’t even require a college degree but you see women without college degree go and apply to be the checker at Walmart or to be a maid. Those are jobs that will trap you in poverty. Whereas if you were exposed to these other things- you help women and you help children. So we want to start working to get them young and then be there to support for the women but we decided that since they’re such a small group of us doing multiple camps, it’s really tough for us right now so we’re going to do a team track at the next Focus. So we will have a special track for them and they will be able to go in for the keynote and we have a big networking session and we would like to connect them with mentors or potential internships right there and let them start networking with adult women and hearing about what you’re doing from the time that they’re young.
Megan: That’s awesome Devin, kind of gives me goose bumps just even thinking about it. How do you know what you want to be when you grow up? It’s kind of this vicious cycle too where I would imagine you do have areas that have high amount of poverty and low education level, it’s just this cycle that continues to go around and if there isn’t something that causes a break in that and a change in that, the cycle is not going to change. I can agree with you, it starts with women because in a lot of areas, unfortunately, they are not the ones who go out and work for whatever reason it’s just a lot of lost opportunity. What were you going to say?
Devin: Well I use to teach a summer program which is essentially the jail for children and every kid- there was one kid out of the two summers that I did that actually lived with both parents every other kid with a single mum or a single grandmother all working multiple jobs which is why they keep which is why the kids end up in trouble and trapped in a cycle of poverty. Almost every kid was like well my mum was at work at night and so then I left and I did so and so. If these woman were able to make enough money to live in better neighborhoods, to not have to work multiple jobs, to be able to pay for someone to be there when they couldn’t be there, then this wouldn’t be a problem. Sometimes the kids are stealing because they literally don’t have enough food. There were multiple kids who didn’t have enough food to eat and you’re thinking ‘I thought we are the greatest country in the world, how are any kids here that don’t have enough to eat’. I mean it’s unacceptable. So what we want to try to do is to do our little portion to make that not an issue.
Megan: That’s awesome. Thank you for doing such an impactful thing within your community I wish there were more Devin Fords running around doing what you’re doing .
Devin: There are a whole bunch of them our community- what’s cool about it is that we are non-partisan. I am a progressive liberal that’s what I am but there are women who could not be hard core conservative in our community we have a broad range of opinions of political representations that’s why no campaign or party is allowed to have a table in a vendor area so actually last time was hard for me because there was somebody I was voting for and they wanted to get a vendor table and I was like, “I’m sorry, I just can’t, that’s our policy”, because we want people there all focusing on being a community and sharing ideas because the truth is no one is all right, no one knows everything, no one has all the answers so we need more coming together and stop arguing each other, and pointing fingers.
Megan: Wow that’s awesome so how can people support you what you guys are doing down there in South Alabama?
Devin: So I would love for people to go to our website and sign up to our newsletter. Our website is focuswc.com and you can sign up, like I said for our newsletter. Follow us in Facebook, Instagram and you will hear about what we are doing. We are about to announce – we have decided to always do it the first Friday in October but again but we are going to move that because we want our people to be safe and also because almost every single sponsor that we have is a locally owned business and we’ve become friends with them. We don’t want to strain businesses harder than they are already being hit right now but we are still going to do something on October 2nd, we just haven’t decided what yet it depends on- we are going to follow whatever the recommendation the CDC are about large gatherings and things like that. If you sign up for updates, we will keep you updated and we have a scholarship fund that you can donate to. Last year we had over 50 scholarships we are hoping for our team tracks and in addition to the 50 scholarships for women that all those teams can come on scholarship as well and we do keep our ticket prices low so we need help to keep that going.
Megan: that’s awesome so definitely support through scholarship funds and just donations to help keep them going and keep the programming up yes, 2020 may be a bit upset because of what is going on as it relates to the event world but that does not mean that the problems go away and it doesn’t mean that these issues disappear I think if anything they get worse. You just don’t have enough opportunity to publicize that in a way that you needed to. It’s awesome what you guys are doing Devin, I so appreciate you. I hope that something like this event should not only be – it’s not only beneficial for women obviously in Mobile and men but across the entire state. It’s not that far of a trip from North Alabama to come down there and check out what you guys are doing you’re just doing such amazing things and it’s a great resource for women to get involved. I think there are a lot of unknowns about professional development and business and starting your own business and going down a path. I don’t know about you but one of the things that I found which has been so helpful is to just keep an open mind and ask questions and reach out to other people who you admire or are influencers in your space and just learn. The continuous learning is just something that is so important and often overlooked. If we all just spend like 30% less in social media and invested that into a really good book we can learn about what fuels our passion that way we can really create a life that is fulfilled, just makes us happy and the world will just be a better place. Thank you so much for what you’re doing, definitely keep it up. Is there anything we should know about what you have going on with FOCUS?
Devin: We do produce, it’s just that i can’t remember if I said this but we do produce articles about women, about different issues, how to ask for a raise or talking to your kids about social media and all types of content so if you sign up for our newsletter, we do not spam you. The most I ever email is every two weeks and that’s what we do close to the conference but on average it’s about once a month. I don’t know about you but if you start emailing me every day, I’m out. I just don’t have time for it. But we would love for you to follow our content, it’s a place for people to collaborate and it’s a safe space for everybody and all are welcome.
Megan: I have a quick question for you because I did check out your website and I’m glad that you brought that up. Is the content generated by women locally in your area or is that from a committee or how do women participate in that regard?
Devin: So we are always looking for new people to produce content and most of them are local. I actually have one writer that I recently hired that is out of Atlanta, there is a writer from New Orleans that does work for us. Currently, I fund it all so it doesn’t always come out as fast as I want it to just because it’s so expensive and time consuming. I do some writing, I have my assistant that does some writing for us, but there are a lot of professional that interview. We have some coaches that are about to start contributing for us so I think you’ll find something you’ll like for sure.
Megan: Yes. That’s awesome. So lots of variety and diversity for sure. Well, Devin thank you again so much for your time, we will make sure that we provide your info in the description for this video that way people can start following you guys and sharing what you’re doing. Again, I greatly appreciate the impacts that you are making and making a big influence on not only women but young girls as well. They need direction, kids need direction and to have a dedicated focus towards their life journey and helping them to figure out what is it that they want to do and what direction they want to go in is so important so thank you for doing that. We are just so appreciative of your time. It was great to chat with you.
Devin: Well, thank you
Megan: Thank you so much Devin. You guys have a good night and stay safe.
Devin: We will. Goodbye