I love connecting with fellow educators and when they also happen to be founders of anything women empowerment-related, it does not get much better than that! I am so happy to have the chance to share an interview with Beth, one of the founder of Infinite Sisters, a beautiful line of inspirational pendants that encourage women to feel empowered to uplift not only themselves but also to motivate other women as well. Enjoy, and thank you for all that you do, Beth (and Kat!)
Name: Beth VanderMeer
Location: Chicago, Illinois
- Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with Endorsements in Middle School Teaching, Science, and Language Arts
- Master of Arts in Multicategorical Special Education
- STEM Certification, National Institute of STEM Education
How did you determine what to study in college (and grad school if applicable)?
Science has always been a part of my life. My family exposed me to astronomy, geology, biology, horticulture, and general Earth phenomena. As special as my childhood was, I was indirectly led to believe that science for girls was simply a hobby, not a career opportunity to be taken seriously. For the first 25 years of my life, I believed the myths. To prove to myself that I deserved to have a career in science, I returned to college and studied to be a science teacher. I chose teaching because my mom was a teacher, so she mentored me. In the years following, I reflected on the negative impacts that gender discrimination had on me. I share my experiences as evidence on how far I’ve come since then.
Walk us through your initial job search strategy and how you landed your first full-time role.
My initial job search strategy was to work for a school district who supported its science departments with supplies and other resources. Having the financial backing of a district is important to be a successful science teacher. During my interview, I was honest and transparent. I shared snippets about my experiences growing up and how I overcame those obstacles. I was a great researcher and problem solver, but I knew I did not have all of the answers. I just loved science and wanted to help our youth appreciate it, too. I was hired within hours of the interview.
What advice would you give to your early-career self, knowing what you know today?
Advice that I would give my early-career self is that I should have set clear boundaries between work life and home life right away. I graduated from college at a time when the economy was just beginning to recover from the financial crisis of 2008, so competition among teachers was at an all time high. It was very easy to take on extra duties to advance within my career, but oftentimes it brought me to the point of total exhaustion. I carried the load when tenured teachers who made more than me should have pitched in. As expected for a teacher, I was never financially compensated for my efforts, and that bothered me. I was willing to take on leadership roles but compensated as a volunteer.
In 2013 and 2017, I became a mom to two amazing little boys. My perspective on the work-home balance became increasingly valuable. This year, I rearranged my daily grind. I no longer feel intensely stressed out, and the relationships with my husband and children greatly improved. Establishing work-family boundaries very early on are essential in every woman’s career.
What advice do you have, specifically, for young women who want to get into STEM fields?
My advice is to find a mentor who will continue to support and guide the young woman into reaching her career goals. I had both personal and professional mentors. They can be someone in person or online. Organizations love volunteers, apprentices, and activists. Get connected through social media. Goals have a higher rate of success when the woman is surrounded by positive, like-minded individuals.
Tell me about Infinite Sisters. When and what prompted you to start Infinite Sisters?
Infinite Sisters blossomed as a result of the Women’s March in 2017. Kat Tuohy, owner of Welded Roots and Tuohy Photography in Venice, California, is my sister, and we created the jewelry company to provide something for women on a global level. In the short time that we have been in business, we have made a positive impact on women in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, and of course, here in the United States.
On January 21, 2017, I participated in the Women’s March on Chicago with family and friends. It was a life changing event for millions, no doubt. Across all 7 continents, more than 5 million women (and allies) stood up in 653 marches across all 7 continents. When I read the book, “Together We Rise: The Women’s March,” written by the organizers and Condé Naste, I was acutely aware of how monumental this moment became for human rights.
In Chicago, a reported 350,000 individuals attended. The dense crowds allowed us to move only a few blocks in a few hours. I recall standing still in the middle of Jackson and Michigan Avenue, looking up at the skyscrapers, reading the beautiful posters, and listening to the protest chants. The sky was clear blue, and the sun was warm. This was rare for Chicago in January, so I took it as a sign that this global march was meant to happen. I was meant to be there. I recall thinking that I was going to devote the rest of my life to helping people learn how to treat women and girls better and to give them better opportunities in life.
The front of my hand-painted protest poster read, “May this experience bring forth the fiercest, smartest, and toughest generation of amazing women this country has to offer.” On the back it included three hashtags: #notmypresident, #whyimarch, and #sistersinsolidarity.
For months following the March, my sister and I talked about how the Modern Feminist was reshaping the world and that having a sisterhood made women feel united and safe. I knew I was a feminist from the days of musician and rebel girl Ani DiFranco, but now I was an outspoken feminist. The types of keepsakes that Kat and I wanted to wear after the march were not on the market, so we began to design our own designs using Kat’s skills from Welded Roots. We launched Infinite Sisters the summer of 2018.
As women began to wear our jewelry as a form of strength, courage, and comfort, we knew we were onto something important. Shortly after we released the Glass Ceiling pendant, it became a best seller on Etsy. Since then, we have launched our own website, added more pieces, and recently added a blog called Sister Stories where contributors can write in. We are now busier than ever, collaborating daily, and in the next phase of our jewelry line.
Do you have any advice for women who might want to start a small business but are not sure how?
For women who want to start a small business, my advice is to really do the research and make a plan before going public. There are plenty of free podcasts and library books that share a variety of ways to prepare for a successful business. I like to rent one feminist book at a time from our local libraries. I am fascinated by how women do what the do (or did). I want to be as brave and outspoken as them.
The podcast, “How I Built This,” was an early source of inspiration for me. Memorable episodes include Raegan Moya-Jones of Aden + Anais and Melanie Perkins of Canva. Both women started with virtually nothing yet persevered. I am also inspired by the podcast, “Encyclopedia Womannica,” where women’s successes are featured with every short episode. Basically, what other companies are doing. Think about ways to spin your brand so that it is unique and special. And most importantly, reinvest your earnings back into growing your company so that your debt is low or non-existent.
What does sisterhood mean to you?
Sisterhood is universal. A sisterhood can be an exchange between two people or a group of women who share a common bond. A sisterhood can also involve complete strangers. Random acts of kindness reminds us that we can look out for each other. It is an unspoken language between women. When women are kind to each other, progress is made. And believe me, nearby people notice. It is a healthy reminder that there are lots of good people in this world. To me, sisterhood comes in many forms, and I embrace it whenever possible.
Do you have a mentor? Who do you look to for inspiration and support?
Yes, my sisterhood is important. My mom, Char, is a patient, kind-hearted woman who helps me be a better parent and investor of my money. My sister, Kat, is a funny, nature-loving Cali girl who helps me be more creative and adventurous. My cousin, Amanda, is a talented choreographer and feminist who helps me stay true to myself. My long-time Insta friend, Glenda, is honest and hardworking, and she helps me be a better mom. I also appreciate sister-friends and former colleagues including Nicole, Gayle, Julie, Erin, Deb, Tammi, Laura, Margie, and Sarah.
Final words of wisdom to all the young women out there who are strategizing to reach their education, career, and wellness goals?
We women should always trust our instincts. If you want to go after something but might be difficult, do it anyway. Overcoming challenges makes us more resilient. Find the joy. Like my Grandma Ruth used to say, “You’ve got one life here on Earth, so give it all you got.”
If you are open to connecting with our readers, how can they reach you?
I’d love to hear from your readers! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our newest pendants and Sister Stories at www.infinitesisters.com. You can also find us on Instagram @infinitesisters.co, Facebook, Etsy, and Pinterest. Thank you for all that you do!