Network of podcasts offer a place women can go to be ‘understood, encouraged and uplifted’

Once she turned 40, Twila Dang noticed a shift.

Everything she read, watched or listened to seemed to carry the same message: She needed fixing.

“It was like, ‘I can get rid of those crow’s feet.’ ‘I can help you lose 10 pounds and get rid of those grays.’ ”

The catch? “There was nothing wrong with me!” said the Bloomington, Minn. mom of three and former radio host. “If anything, I was actually the most confident I’d ever been and the most comfortable in my skin.”

Conversations with friends and acquaintances convinced her other women felt the same way.

“I started saying, ‘There should just be something for women, that talks to grown women like we make sense and like we matter and like we’re relevant — because we are,’ ” she said.

Now there is that something. As the CEO and founder of Matriarch Digital Media, Dang has built a Twin Cities-based network of podcasts where women can be “understood, encouraged and uplifted.”

Matriarch’s stable of shows (six current and seven more on the way) aim to change the conversation around women — from the body-positive, freewheeling “Molly May +” to “Me Before Mom,” which offers affirmations for mothers, and “So Fail, So Good,” which celebrates women entrepreneurs.

Besides producing episodes, Dang co-hosts two shows. In “Twila and Natalie,” Dang and fellow former MyTalk co-host Natalie Webster riff on life “as grown” women. In the network’s most popular show, the “Gyno Cast,” Dang and Dr. Eric Heegaard, an obstetrician-gynecologist, talk about everything from uterine fibroids to perimenopause, starting each episode by coaching listeners through a round of kegel exercises.

Dang is the network’s creative producer, top executive and everything in between, running Matriarch “like a one-person startup” with two part-time employees. She also develops and produces podcasts for clients, including business incubator Lunar Startups.

To encourage more women to take part in podcasts, she hosts free monthly meetups at St. Paul’s Glen Nelson Center, where she records most of her shows, and a convention called Podcast du Nord, which had its debut in June.

“We have a very specific mission for the company, and it is to change the way the world talks to and talks about women and girls,” Dang said. “We deserve better, and we can set a better standard. And we can actually change the way we think about ourselves.”

Dang’s efforts to boost the ranks of women behind the mic mirror those around the country.

WNYC in New York has been hosting a national women-in-podcasting festival called Werk It once a year since 2015. The Los Angeles-based Earios network of women-hosted podcasts was launched last year and now has a dozen shows, including ones hosted by comedian Margaret Cho and singer Feist.

FROM MOM TO MATRIARCH

Podcasts remain wildly popular, with more than 800,000 currently being produced, mostly in the United States. But the vast majority continue to be hosted by men and focus on male-dominated topics. The majority of listeners are male, too, according to a 2019 Edison Research survey. That gap has been steadily closing over the past decade, however.

The podcast is an excellent way to reach women because “it’s a more intimate connection,” Dang said. “The way that podcasting works as a mechanism is it creates these really deep personal relationships very quickly, because podcasts tend to be a little bit more personable, they are vulnerable, they’re less polished.”

While a show is in production, Dang spends several days a week recording new episodes in two-hour chunks and then works with editors to ready each one for release. A single season of a podcast requires about four months of recording and one or two months of postproduction work.

Dang, who grew up in Virginia, came to Minnesota for college at St. Paul’s Hamline University. She met her husband, and the two eventually settled here. For more than a decade, she was a stay-at-home mom in Bloomington.

“I was at home with my kids very happily for the first like 12-, 13-year stretch,” she said.

Seven years ago, she was leaving a weekday lunch with a group of friends, including MyTalk 107.1 morning show host Alexis Thompson, when she cracked a joke.

“I said, ‘I’m so glad I know all of these talented women, because the only thing I’m good at is talking, and nobody pays me to do that.’ ”

About a week later, Thompson called her to suggest that she apply for a job at the station. Within months, Dang had landed a weekend show and was on the air, live, getting paid to talk.

“Really early on, our boss said, ‘You know, it’s about your opinion. It’s not about you,’ ” Dang said. “It meant, ‘We want to hear your take on the things that people are interested in, but they don’t want to hear you just talk about yourself endlessly.’ ”

She spent 3-1/2 years at the station, as a host and executive producer. Now, she scouts for talent for her own network, finding people who have something important to say and helping them find the best way to say it.

People like Laura Roos, who hosts “So Fail, So Good,” a Matriarch podcast about “powerhouse” working women who have overcome major career setbacks.

“I have learned so much from Twila,” said Roos. “I’m so grateful she took a chance on my idea. She’s become a strong mentor to me.”

Dang was moderating a Fashion Week Minnesota event about body positivity when she discovered Molly May McMahon, now host of the “Molly May +” podcast.

“I think the biggest confidence shift that she instilled in me is that I do have something to say,” said McMahon. “That (being) the only soul living my experience in my body is reason enough to share those experiences, and help other women along the way.”

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