Member Spotlight: Julie Lawrence

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Julie Lawrence. I’m based out of Halifax. I have a background in marketing and communications, and then transitioned from that realm into journalism. So I’m kind of a mixed bag – I call myself a jewels of all trades

I’m also the founder and CEO of a digital magazine called Defy, which is a feminist magazine for professional women that tackles misogyny in the workplace. It validates some of the collective anger that I think we all feel, and then gives tips from experts on how to conquer that.

Can you tell us one achievement you’re very proud of?

This magazine. 

You know, you spend your 20s “stomping your perimeter”, learning all sorts of different stuff. You might not be exactly where you’re supposed to be, but you use all of those skills that you collected along the way to help you get to exactly where you’re supposed to be. 

Defy was an idea that I had while I was working for a magazine – I was the editor at a health and wellness magazine for women…run by men. 

I saw firsthand what goes into deciding the content, and it was basically a bunch of men deciding what women should think and feel and be interested in. And I was like, this is really messed up, right? 

I had so much relevant experience: 10-15 years in marketing and communications. I’m a journalist. I am a woman. But even still, it didn’t seem like my opinions mattered nearly as much as the next guy. 

I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a magazine for women that was run by women? One that actually tackles the issues that mature, educated, professional women care about? And what if it gave them best practices for how to deal with things like being interrupted, or having your opinion not matter in the workplace? 

And that’s a long winded way of saying that this is how I’ve stamped my perimeter. And now I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

It’s sad that so many women experienced that same story.

A lot of women – especially the ones that are on my advisory board – but I have talked to so many women who feel most fulfilled by stepping outside of the patriarchy completely and doing their own thing. 

I don’t want to work with men. I don’t want to be in this patriarchy anymore. So I’m going to step outside and create my own space and a space for women while also keeping in mind that the majority of women don’t have the ability to do that. 

What’s one piece of advice you would give them to others who would like to follow in your path?

The very first thing that I would say is, don’t do it in a vacuum. “By yourself” is not going to work, you’re going to make yourself nuts. You’ll always be questioning whether you’re doing the right thing. 

I opened things up, choosing advisors and other women that I show the magazine to first. I need people around to help me, to bounce ideas off, to tell me if I’m right, to tell me if everything looks good…so looking at other women as teachers and supporters rather than competition.

For me, before I started anything, I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of women that are a lot smarter than me. I picked the brains of women in all sorts of different sectors, from HR to body image experts to burnout experts. 

I asked them, what should women care about? What are the top things that we should talk about in this magazine? I wanted to make sure that we’re tackling the issues that are relevant and that really matter to people. 

And another thing: set a timeline. 

Originally Defy was supposed to be my side hustle. But when I talked to a lot of women entrepreneurs, they said, if it’s your side hustle, you’ll never end up doing it. And you’ll end up being another 20 years in at some agency or some corporate job that’s going to be soulless, and this thing will never get done. 

I decided that I would give myself one year. I shut down all of my Indeed notifications, and stopped taking interviews for more corporate jobs. I set from June 1 last year to June 1 this year. It’s my full time gig with no guarantee that it’s going to work. In a year I can assess. But that gives me a timeline. 

What really kept you feeling driven and motivated during those harder parts of entrepreneurship?

Feedback from women. I’ve done a lot of roundtables and talking to people and talking to other experts while putting this magazine together. 

When the first one came out, I didn’t love looking at the readership numbers and my unique visits. I come from a marketing background, so you’re always looking at numbers and when you can start monetizing. 

But I was getting these heartfelt emails. I got one email right after the first issue dropped and the woman had a master’s degree in agriculture and started at this cannabis startup where she had the most horrible experience. 

She told me, “I was so angry. And when I read your magazine, my anger turned to excitement, because I feel like we can make meaningful change.”

Is there a message you’d like to share with other women?

Just: be unapologetic. Be unapologetic about who you are, be unapologetic about taking up space. 

I used to find when I would go into meetings, I might have a brilliant idea, but I would apologize for it. We tend to do that – we apologize if we have any kind of emotion and that needs to stop.

Let’s move forward unapologetically and ask for what we want and need, and take up the space.

What made you sign up with the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce?

Well, it was a natural fit. Defy magazine is for women – educated, savvy, business women. And I think that making meaningful change is really about everyone pulling together and moving in the same direction.

I saw this as an opportunity to band together, when we move forward, progress can actually happen. I’m trying to make a movement instead of just a magazine. We’re leaving a legacy so the next 22 year old that graduates law school and goes into a law firm is equipped to say no, to ask for the right salary, to not let anyone talk about sex around her, or not to get bullied. We need to build each other up like that, for real.

What your area of expertise that can people reach out to you about?

I’m always looking for partners of any kind. If you are a content creator, and you have a really great idea for something that we should talk about in the magazine, or that you would like to write about in the magazine, I’m open to getting pitches from anywhere in North America. 

If you’d like to sponsor an article or work with me, I don’t do cookie cutter advertising. I want to work with my sponsors as actual partners. If you are looking to connect my audience with your product in a meaningful way, then I’m always looking for ways to do that. Let’s help each other out.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length

Connect with Julie Lawrence

Watch The Interview On CanWCC’s YouTube Channel