Jess Weiss — Giving Women A Platform to Have a Voice
Jess Weiss is the publisher and co-founder of Trix — a magazine for women to define success on their own terms. While still working as a full-time strategist for Google's executive leadership development team, she also handles the overall business strategy and brand viability for the magazine she started two years ago. She uses her organizational psychology background to lead the editorial angle of Trix in research about media, gender bias, stereotype threat and the positive impact of visible role models on young girls and women.
Here’s an excerpt from our interview with Jess.
Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Jess: I would say in this day and age, it's really about giving women a platform to have a voice. And, you know, I think it's a really interesting time to be a woman today. We've seen these remarkable movements over the past few years, such as Me Too, the Women's March and then that has had global reverberations. So I think it's a really wonderful and interesting and challenging time to think about what it means to be a woman. We still have tremendous gaps of all kinds across the world — pay gaps, investing gaps, gender gaps in hiring positions of occupancy and executive
But at the same time, I think more than ever women and girls and allies are really raising their hand to say, let's change the dialogue, let's change how we speak to think about and project power into the hands of women. So, I'm very passionate about doing what I can through Trix and my work at Google to really elevate voices of women and girls around the world in a way that's empowering and demonstrates their agency in a way that is not necessarily tied to their beauty or their looks, which I think has really been the traditional way that we've portrayed women in power.
Passionistas: Talk about how that relates to the work you do at Trix.
Jess: Trix has been my passion project and now official side hustle, functioning, small business that I run with my two founding partners and about a hundred freelancers all across the world. But it started from an idea a couple of years ago. So as many things in life start as, Trix started as a happy accident. I had been thinking about getting more involved in journalism, but being really mid-career and quite advanced in my field, which is not directly tied to journalism, I didn't really know how to get in. I thought, well, I can't really go back and get a master's degree and started as an intern in the mailroom of CNN. That doesn't sound appealing. So, I wonder if there's another entry point.
So, I had that in the back of my mind, then one day on vacation, just right after Christmas day, a couple of years ago, I happened to be sitting by a pool on vacation with my family and my phone died. So, kind of being a busy minded, New Yorker, I not very good at sitting still and doing nothing. So, I had to scramble to pick up the nearest reading material, which happened to be a couple of magazines that I probably normally wouldn't have read. But because I had time to kill, I picked up the first one and it was a typical women's fashion and beauty magazine.
But the title on the cover really caught my eye. It said, "How to have your best year yet. How to kill it in 2018." And I thought, oh, okay, maybe fashion and beauty magazines are creating more content for ambitious hustling women. Maybe there's something in here for me.
And I'll never forget when I opened up the magazine, the first article I saw on this section of how to have your best year yet was called "An ode to liquid eyeliner." And it was like 250 words, praising liquid eyeliners ability to disguise your hangovers. And so, if you're running low on sleep or I'd been out all-night partying, that all you had to do was swipe on this magical liquid eyeliner and all would be well in the world.
And I just remember laughing and thinking, okay, well, first of all, no judgment. I wear liquid eyeliner and I've been hung over before. So that's not really like a problem per se, but the fact that it's packaged as how to have your best year yet to be just felt like an incredibly low bar, almost comical to think about.
So, that really stood out to me. I probably would have just set that aside and not thought twice about it because I'm so used to seeing women's magazines that really focus on this kind of shallow content, only talk about fashion and beauty and portray these really unrealistic standards of beauty through their models and their advertisements.
But I happen to also pick up a men's magazine, a men's lifestyle magazine, which I had never read before. And I opened the pages and was immediately blown away by the variety and depth and intelligence behind the editorial. There were articles on activism and politics and extreme travel and leaders in their fields and the models were varied, you know, and didn't have these perfectly chiseled abs.
And I just thought, wow, I want a magazine like that, but for me, for women. And does that exist yet? So that became the start of what turned into six months of R&D um, talking with friends, family members, our network, and really trying to figure out like, does that kind of magazine exist for women? And what we found out was, no, it didn't. There are some more truly feminist magazines like Gloria Steinem's Ms. mag. And then teen Vogue and Marie Claire have started to introduce articles occasionally that are more kind of political by nature, but there was nothing really like what I had seen in the pages of that men's magazine. So that became our idea to start one and make one. And here we are two years.
Passionistas: How did you come up with the name Trix?
Jess: So, a little trip through history to explain the origins of the name. My co-founder Carly, our editor and chief and I were for months batting around different names for the magazine. We had all kinds of names, but we really wanted to make it not feel so on the nose about empowering women. Like we didn't want to use words like fearless, boss babes or moxie or something that kind of was labeling the fact that women had power. We really want to take like a show, don't tell approach to demonstrating women with agency and power in our pages. And I can talk a little bit more about the psychology behind that and why that's very intentional. We were sort of doing research and I was Googling things like words that are aren't frequently used that refer to strong women.
And I stumbled upon a list of like 10 different words. And one that stood out was editrix. I thought I've never heard that before. And when I looked up the definition said that editrix was a female editor, and this took me then down a Wikipedia rabbit hole to figure out like, why have I never heard this before? And it turns out that any word in the English language that ends in T-O-R, which there are quite a few of like reporter, litigator, administrator, doctor, creator, editor aviator, those are all technically the masculine forms of the word.
So, if you speak Spanish or French or some of the romance languages, you you'll notice there's a feminine and a masculine, like an elle and a la version of the word and in the English language, we've actually simplified to exclude the Trix, which would be the feminine version of those words.
So, technically it's correct to say aviatrix or reportrix or doctrix and that refers to the female version. So, we thought, let's just call the name. And the magazine was called magazine Trix, which really is a nod to agency and action all of those words have some sort of doing or verb or action attached to it. And yet there are so many different possibilities for what Trix can follow in that word. So that's sort of the origin and we're certainly not trying to bring back people using words like aviatrix or reportrix, but it was a fun play on words and a fun nod to language and history and how we think about, and talk about,
Find out more about Trix magazine here.
Listen to our whole interview with Jess here.