In an impeccably decorated and meticulously organized Manhattan Uptown apartment, Stephanie Nass without hesitation responds to the final question of our interview, “Free time? I don't know what that means," she says offering another homemade cookie decorated with a Chefanie Sheet. “This is my oxygen. This is my fun."
Nass, known to most only as Chefanie, is the founder and CEO of Victory Club. Launched in 2014, Nass' private club features her culinary art, both in presentation and taste, inspired by the visual arts of the space. She soon followed this venture with the premiere of Chefanie Sheets in 2016, a line of artistic edible premade cake sheets. To succeed in two self-funded business ventures is impressive, but what separates Nass is a determination to achieve so much so young.
"The accomplishments of this young entrepreneur are not only a demonstration of Nass' expertise, but a testimony to the power of conviction" - Photo Courtesy of Chefanie
Having only turned 27 in April, Nass is every bit the entrepreneurial success story. The cultivation of what she describes as “a lifestyle brand that is culinary focused," is a showcase of both her talents as a chef and an artist. However, the accomplishments of this young entrepreneur are not only a demonstration of Nass' expertise, but a testimony to the power of conviction.
When you ask most children what they want to be when they grow up, you'll usually get a carefree and uncertain response. Perhaps one day an astronaut, another day a mermaid, or maybe even a cowboy—but if you had asked a young Nass you would have gotten a definitive answer: a chef.
“I've gone by Chefanie, my nickname, since I was a little girl because I've always loved cooking, passionately since I was very, very young," Nass remarks sitting amongst her practice cakes, always close by in case inspiration strikes. “From the time I was 16 I said, ok I want to do this my whole life, this is going to be my career. So, every decision I've made from that point has been to that end."
Nass' commitment to becoming a chef led her to Brittany, France when she was only 16. Although Nass was too young at the time to attend culinary school, her desire to be fully immersed in French culinary culture inspired her to take every opportunity to learn from various residents of the small town. She spent her free time training informally in local restaurants and snatched every opportunity to eat in Paris.Upon her return, she attended Columbia University, where she earned her BA in Art History, and she also attended night classes at the International Culinary Center in New York City where she received her Grand Diplôme. But determined to understand business from the ground up, Nass moved to Silicon Valley following graduation to join a fast-growth tech company, “I worked out there for a year [and] learned so much. [I] learned how to do financial models, how to project headcount and all these things I never would have known."
After moving back to New York City Nass began to host dinners in her shoebox apartment for her friends, “these dinners that I was hosting, which I really organized because I wanted to cook for people, I also did because I wanted to way to meet new people," says Nass. “I would tell all my friends please bring one person that everyone can meet, and make new friends. Art was really the springboard for conversation. As you'll see my apartment is full of my artwork, artwork of artist friends, of mine and art pieces I've collected."From this ritual, Victory Club materialized. Nass began hosting events through the club and has hosted elaborate dinners in New York, the Hamptons, Miami, Nashville, London, Rome and Vienna in just three years. With most of the club members located in New York members pay $100 monthly for invitations to private dinners and discounts to public events. Each event differs in style and format, created and cultivated by Nass who fuses “the culinary [and] visual arts" together. On top of conceptualising the food, she hand paints the menu cards and designs the place settings, to align with the artist's vision.
Following the success of Victory Club, Nass launched Chefanie Sheets. The chef, who jokingly acknowledges her perceived persona as “the cake girl", decided to market the sheets after her dessert accessory began to be popular with her social media following. Since the collection was released, Chefanie Sheets have been featured on the Today Show and Nass has appeared in various digital channels with the product, including Refinery29, Instyle and Business Insider.
Despite Nass' tremendous success, she shows no sign of stopping. In the next five to ten years the young entrepreneur hopes to open her very own store which she describes as “not your typical bakery." But don't expect to only see the baking mogul's signature cakes, as she plans to venture into prepared catering, premade food featuring her family's and her own recipes.
“For me my way to spend a day is taking on a challenging project and completing it," says Nass, whose success stems not only from her talents and artistic ideas, but most of all her dedication to hard work. She is a model of social media success story, networking both in person and electronically to develop a self-identified brand. This may seem like a difficult undertaking, but for Nass this has been her technique from the beginning.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.