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Lisa Hickey: One Job Away from Revolutionizing Masculinity

Lisa Hickey is the CEO of Good Men Media, Inc. and publisher of The Good Men Project, a multimedia, cross-platform site that asks, “What does it mean to be a good man in the 21st century?” The Good Men Project is a social movement that sets out to challenge long-held notions of what manhood, men, and gender roles mean. The Good Men Project is a destination for thoughtful, insightful, and surprising stories that speak to modern men.

Before launching The Good Men Project, Lisa worked in advertising. Her experience in the industry is extensive; she’s worked as an art director, a copywriter, a creative director, and a CEO. She has won a host of regional, national, and international awards ranging from Cannes, MOMA, Clio, and The London Show for her work in advertising.

Transcript:

BRYAN WISH: What is the One Away moment you’d like to share with us today?

LISA HICKEY: The One Away moment was when I got involved in The Good Men Project. It changed both my professional life and my personal life in very amazingly profound ways. 

BRYAN WISH: I can only imagine how starting a platform that you have has completely taken your life down so many different pathways you probably never expected. For those that don’t know the Good Men Project, would you mind sharing what it is?

LISA HICKEY: Right now, it’s a multi-media, international platform with a conversation about men’s changing roles in the 21st century. We get about three million people a month to the platform. We publish about 45 articles every day. We have phone calls with our community. We have a live event. We have partnerships with other media companies. We’re a multi-dimensional conversation about how men’s roles are changing. At the moment, when it started, it was nothing. It was just an idea. That’s why it was so transformative. 

BRYAN WISH: You’ve created a platform that most men never thought possible that they could have for themselves. You’re serving in a really special way for expression. What was the impetus? 

LISA HICKEY: That’s what’s interesting. That’s why it was such a random thing and a moment of chance. It’s kind of funny because, during the pandemic, I was binging on romantic comedies late at night to get me through this past year. There are always these chance meetings or this moment that changes someone’s life. I was thinking, “Oh, they’re so unrealistic.” Then I thought about the Good Men Project and how I happened, and it was this chance, serendipitous event. What happened was I had a career in advertising my entire life. It was a great career. I was a copywriter, art director, creative director, and I owned my agency.

Then after I owned an agency and merged, and it didn’t work out, I found myself out on the street with not knowing what I was going to do next. I didn’t feel there was a place for me back in the advertising world. I looked around, and it was right when social media was starting. This was moments before Facebook had a like button. At the time, Facebook was just status updates with no way of interacting. Social media seemed like the next big thing. I thought maybe there was a way I could combine my advertising expertise with social media. I started consulting on social media and help people build their platforms. I’d stay up until 3:00 in the morning figuring out Twitter for three months straight. I was going to figure out how to get followers, keep followers, interact with them, how the leaders were, and who the influencers were. Then I started consulting with other people. I helped them build their own platforms. This was back at the start of one of the bigger recessions.

A lot of people and ad agencies were getting laid off. I’d help them use their platform to get other jobs. I met with this old friend of mine, Mark St. Amant. I worked with him in advertising when he got his very first job. I sort of mentored him. He had just gotten laid off. I met with him at this coffee shop, and I taught him everything I knew about social media. He said, “Wow. This is amazing. You should meet this guy, Tom Matlack. He’s a venture capitalist, and I think he needs help getting on Facebook. He’s writing a book. Can you help him?” I’m like, “Yes, I can.” 

I had lunch the next day with Tom Matlack, who was running his venture capitalist firm but wanted to become an author, wanted to write a book. He was compiling stories of men and the defining moments in their lives. I’ll never forget. We were walking to this restaurant, and I was like, “So, what’s your book about?” He said, “It’s a book of essays.” My heart fell because, at the time, essays sounded so boring. Then when he said it’s about the defining moments in these men’s lives. He said that the thing connected when he talked to men was when he said, “What was the defining moment in your life?” He said they all wanted to talk about the moment they woke up, looked in the mirror, and said, “I thought I knew what it meant to be a man. I thought I knew what it meant to be good. I realized I didn’t know either.” 

BRYAN WISH: Meeting Tom was a lucky kind of moment. Seeing his vision and how things you were learning allowed you to be emotionally captured by somebody’s vision. Then saying, “How do I bring my skills to give this vision flight and liftoff.” Is that correct?

LISA HICKEY: That’s exactly it. If I hadn’t been trying to figure out this new digital frontier or had been so immersed in it, then meeting Tom, who had an idea but didn’t have the understanding of how to make it happen – it was the combination of those. You had asked, as a woman, why this was interesting to me, and why did this have such a profound effect on me? As I got into it, I thought, “Oh, men have problems too.” I didn’t get that as a woman. I always thought I was a woman who was very gung-ho on fighting sexism.

However, I could and rising the ranks in corporate America to prove that women could have leadership roles. It was always hard. It always felt like a struggle. The thought that men have their whole different set of problems that I just never knew about it, that in and of itself, changed my life for the better. Now I could relate to men in a way that I never really had been able to before. Everyone has their struggle, and I just didn’t understand the different struggles of men until I started getting immersed in this. 

BRYAN WISH: It seems like you were set on the issues you faced and never had the perspective of what men face in life. It’s neat how you switched over and took the male gender into account. As you’ve built this platform and served so many stories and topics, what are some of the areas that you think men face that are most challenging and surprising that you’ve latched onto?

LISA HICKEY: One of the big things that I learned early on was that so many men had been abused in some way by their fathers. I don’t mean that they were all with abusive parents. It was a lot of the times when you disciplined the child by hitting them, or you showed your dominance, or you yelled at them, or you told them to “Man up. Be a man. Don’t be a wimp.” All of those stereotypical things I didn’t understand that so many men had been traumatized by that way of being raised by their own fathers.

The good news is that so many men are recognizing that now and saying, “I am going to be a different type of father than the father that raised me. I’m going to take all of the good stuff and none of the bad. I’m going to be a conscious father.” Just in one generation, there was a monumental shift in the way men saw their roles as fathers. That, to this day, gives me optimism, hope and makes me incredibly happy that shift happened. 

BRYAN WISH: I often think about the relationship I have with my dad. It’s evolved over the years, but to have a dad who is thoughtful and caring and can show up for me during a hard time and knowing I can lean on him for support has tremendously grown our relationship. It would make me want to do the same if I have kids one day. What was your relationship with your father growing up? 

LISA HICKEY: There were good times and bad. He had been in the military. He had run things like a tight ship. The good things were really good, but the bad times were pretty horrible. 

BRYAN WISH: Was meeting Tom a bit of a catalyst for you from childhood? Did it help you make more sense of things and give you hope? 

LISA HICKEY: Having the conversation about the changing roles of men ended up being a conversation about all of the hard things in life. It ended up being a conversation about not just parenting but about racism, sexism, the way that gender roles are changing, the way that gender is seen as a spectrum, and all of the LGBTQIA+ issues that go along with them. It ended up being a conversation about sports and politics and workplace and ethics. Growing up, I had never really talked that much. I was shy.

I was insecure. I was socially awkward. I could pretty much manage a conversation with one other person, but if you got two or three people in the room, I was almost completely silent. I like to think that having this conversation on the Good Men Project taught me how to talk. When I say it was profound changes, it was that profound. Now you can’t shut me up. I’ll talk anywhere to anyone. I’ll get up and do a speaking engagement in front of hundreds of people. I’ll be able to go on these conference calls and lead them. It’s been such a profound change, but it really is because we started talking about really difficult issues all the time. If you’re going to talk about difficult issues, you’ve got to learn how to talk. There’s a lot of skill involved. It was pretty profound. 

BRYAN WISH: To have a platform that could support your expression or give you the expression in a way that you never had a way and teach you some of these social skills, that’s life-changing. That creates a really strong bond and emotional attachment to the work that you’re doing. 

LISA HICKEY: Thank you. That’s exactly right. We started in 2010. It’s been over ten years now. A lot of writers, who come to us, had never been published anywhere before. They publish their first posts on the Good Men Project, and they get some feedback, and they see that people are reading it. They decide to publish again. The next thing you know, they’re writing weekly, and then they put all their blog posts into a book, and they’re publishing a book. Then they decide to go onto another big, more well-known media company, and they’re writing there. Or maybe they’re doing the talk show circuit with their book. I’ve seen people who start out with us for the first time grow and evolve and, in some cases, become famous. They will write to me and say, “Thank you for giving me a chance on the Good Men Project because that’s what got me started on this path.” 

BRYAN WISH: That’s extremely empowering. You’re creating something that’s an extension of voices. Words matter, and words matter when they get into the hands of the right people at the right time. I want to go back to Tom. You met him, and you were inspired by what he was doing. How did that progress? You had that conversation, and there was no talk of a platform per se of what you built. How did things happen and flow from that conversation to get to where the platform is today?

LISA HICKEY: At the time, it was this book of stories. What he needed me to specifically do was help with the marketing and promotion of the book. At the end of that lunch, he said, “Lisa, go write out a plan for what you would do to help promote the book and put a price on it, and then we’ll talk.” I was so excited about the idea that I walked to my car, got in my car, opened up my laptop, and wrote out the proposal sitting there in my car parked on Newberry Street in Boston. For the next six months, we worked on just getting the book out there. The book wasn’t even finished. The book didn’t even have a title.

We ended up naming the book the Good Men Project, which was the name of the platform. We held a series of live events. Tom kicked off his book tour by talking to one of the authors in the book who had been in Sing Sing Prison. We kicked it off at Sing Sing. Then we had a live event in New York City, in California. We got a bunch of press. He was on several TV shows. As we were promoting the book, we had the website. We were blogging every day about the different stories in the book. We started to build a little bit of a platform but what I had said to Tom originally, in that very first meeting, was “I don’t know if I can sell a million copies of your book, but I can sell a million people on the idea that there is a profound moment in men’s lives when they realize they don’t know what it means to be good. They realize they don’t know what it means to be a man.

They want to figure that out. That idea, to me, was so powerful that I just knew. I just recognized it as an idea that could resonate with millions of people. We didn’t sell a million copies of the book. We did sell thousands, and it was self-published. To sell thousands within a few months was a lot. He said, “Tell me about how you would build this into something bigger. Write a business plan for how you would not just grow and get the reach but how you would actually make money doing it so you could be a sustainable business.” 

I wrote a business plan. I went back to him, and he says, “This sounds good. I’m going to give you a very small bit of money to get started, but you’re going to have to go out and raise venture capital to get enough money to make it into a business.” I had never done that before. He said, “Here’s a list of people that I know. Go out and ask them for money. That’s how you do it.” I’m like, “Oh.” He’s like, “You just wrote a business plan. Get a meeting with them. Show them the business plan. Ask them for money.” I was like, “Okay.” I actually did that. 

BRYAN WISH: You were terrified. You were excited. 

LISA HICKEY: All of the above. The good thing was Tom being a venture capitalist himself and having a venture capital firm. He had just so much experience and wisdom that he could impart to me. That was really great. I couldn’t have done it if it was someone else who didn’t have that background and experience and who didn’t have the network of people that I could reach out to. He certainly didn’t want to fund the whole thing. He didn’t want to be responsible for it. He wanted me to take on the financial responsibility by myself if that was what I wanted to do.

That’s what I did. We ended up getting a total of seven investors, and we raised just enough money to get it off the ground and get to that point of making it profitable and becoming a self-sustainable business. It was incredibly hard. Even though we had some funding, we were down to the wire. We were just about to run out of money when we turned the path to being profitable, and we’re able to create a business that has been pretty much profitable ever since. That’s another thing that I’m actually very proud of. We were able to turn it into something that was sustainable. 

BRYAN WISH: I know how hard these media platforms can be to show profitability. It seems you had a plan and were able to follow it and get the business to a point where you can have the viewership and members and audience to support a self-sustaining operation. That must have been so empowering for you. You must have learned a ton about yourself as a leader. You are building a team and bringing a vision to life. 

LISA HICKEY: Yes. Thanks. I do want to point out to the listeners that it wasn’t just that profitability was the hardest part. It was that we were having this difficult conversation, and there are men out there who don’t want men’s roles to change; who want to keep the status quo; who want to keep the stereotypical view of men; who want men to continue to have power and dominance. Those groups of people found us early on, and they would do everything they could to stop us from having this conversation on the Good Men Project. Everything from trolling our comment sections to threatening ourselves or the authors that write for us to trying to get people to try and boycott us to calling for me to step down as a leader because I was a woman. There was an active measure to try and get us not to have this conversation. That was interesting. 

BRYAN WISH: When you’re doing something a little different and trying to change norms that have been in place for centuries. You’re always going to have pushback. To be able to keep going and persevering against the tide is remarkable. When you go back to those early years, do any conversations with people stand out, articles, or moments that you look at and say, “Wow?” 

LISA HICKEY: There was a lot. Early on, we had these men’s rights activists showing up all the time. The good piece about what they did was they highlighted some of the problems that men were going through, and they talked about those in no uncertain terms. For example, the fact that men take on all the most dangerous jobs or that men are struggling with custody agreements and are heartbroken when they can’t see their kids as much as they’d like after a divorce or the idea of the disposing of men. The idea that men are the ones that go off to war or that get injured in football games and get CTE wasn’t even a thing when we started, but now it is coming into the landscape.

Asking women out on dates all the time, being the ones that always had to be the ones to gain consent. The fact that people talk about abuses against women but don’t talk about abuses against men. All of those really difficult issues were very much a part of the early conversations. I think the problem with the men’s rights activists is that they wanted to blame women for a lot of their problems. They wanted other people to solve all the problems and have men still have dominance and women to be the ones that are weaker and not liked. We didn’t agree on the strategy but highlighting the problems. We had some incredible and profound conversations. The other one that sticks out is when Trayvon Martin was killed. Trayvon Martin was a young, black man.

He was walking home with skittles in his pocket and was shot dead by someone patrolling the neighborhood. One of the authors, a black man, Jackie Summers, was writing about racism. The moment this happened, he texted me and said, “This just happened. This is going to be a defining moment. This is a catalyst for what racism is all about.”

When you looked at what happened with George Floyd now years later and the way that it sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and all these protests, it got the conversation about racism into the general public – Jackie Summers saw back then that that was the start of what this conversation is that’s happening today. He got me to understand what was going on with racism in this country in a way that I just hadn’t known before. That was another moment where one conversation changed a trajectory of how we talked about racism on the site and how we helped solve it. 

BRYAN WISH: I think what’s so neat is you created a platform that’s been able to give you a window and perspective and lens into topics that were previously very unfamiliar to you and so many other people. It’s neat you’ve been able to see the magnitude of situations before they were ever nationally or internationally known. 

LISA HICKEY: Thank you. It has expanded my worldview and the worldview of many people who have gotten involved in The Good Men Project and who have come to the calls or written the articles or read the articles. That expansion of people’s worldview is what it’s all about. 

BRYAN WISH: You have done a lot at the forefront of racism, diversity, and inclusion efforts. I’d love for you to speak to those.

LISA HICKEY: We started mostly with articles on the site, and we now have over 115,000 articles on a variety of topics, all relating to the changing roles of men. Several years ago, we started having phone calls with the community to talk about those topics in much greater detail in a more intimate setting, like on these hour-long phone calls that we’d have every day of the week. Recently, we saw that diversity and inclusion were getting a lot of traction in corporations that understood the need for not just a more diverse work environment but a work environment where people who are formerly marginalized really felt included in that culture.

Companies are looking for a cultural change in how they get a variety of viewpoints, how they get diversity to really be a way of making their company stronger and better. We’ve had so much experience doing this, and not just that. We had experience doing it from the perspective of men. We understood why men might be resistant to change, how change could actually benefit them. We really believe that understanding things like racism, sexism, gender, LGBTQ issues are leadership skills for the future. Men who really do want to leaders are going to need those skills. They’re going to need that understanding.

We’ve developed a curriculum that goes into detail about all of those issues, and we’re going out to corporations and working with them and showing up at their existing groups or existing meetings that they have and giving our unique perspective on this, what diversity and inclusion look like through the eyes of men. How do we get men to be allies? How do we get them to understand the benefits to them? How do we get people to understand that these are leadership things? It’s a core competence for leadership skills for the future. That’s the initiative we’ve been focusing on lately. It’s been great. We really feel we’re making a profound impact in these places we’re going into. 

BRYAN WISH: I love how you’ve taken these issues and societal injustices head-on, how you’re equipping leaders, how you’re equipping organizations to learn what is going on in this country and around the world to better navigate these conversations and put in the right procedures and policies. You’re using your platform to make an entrenched change in these communities. I find your work, from the beginning, really empowering and very on top of topics that are progressive and need a lot of refinement and change. Where can people find you?

LISA HICKEY: The website is goodmenproject.com. My email is lisa@goodmenproject.com. You can also email info@goodmenproject.com. We’re on Facebook and Twitter. We still have these phone calls with the community. We’d love to have people join in. If you want to write for us, just shoot us an email, and we’re always taking on new writers and contributors. We love hearing from people. Please feel free to reach out in any way you can. 

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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