6 Steps to Becoming a Visionary Woman
by Sophia Carter-Kahn
A recent college graduate, I am surrounded by peers who are just as unsure and unclear about the future as I am. The amount of experience, ability, talent, and confidence at the “Women at the Forefront of Technology” panel was so inspiring as to be almost overwhelming – and certainly left me with a million new ideas. In this room, I felt that the speakers and the audience shared more than mutual respect – almost a kind of universal competence, a sense of communication and listening and learning from each other that felt both natural and, to me, aspirational.
When I walked out, I felt like my future could be aligned with theirs.
Angella Nazarian, the President of Visionary Women, along with her co-founders Mayor Lili Bosse, Ambassador Nicole Avant, and Veronica Smiley organized the sold-out event at the SLS Hotel. In her introduction, Angela spoke passionately and intelligently about the future of Visionary Women as a place for “exploring and amplifying the voices of women.” Angella’s clear and strong belief in the mission of Visionary Women was penetrating – and catching: she was interrupted several times by applause. Her goals to provide a “voice and sense of agency” within current world topics has both a wide, global focus, with a broad slate of knowledgeable women on deck to speak, as well as a specific outreach on local women and girls. For this event, several high-achieving girls from the Ladies First program were sponsored to attend – they looked so proud when they stood for cheers!
Giselle Fernandez, a 5 time Emmy Award winning journalist and the moderator of the panel, got some belly laughs right from the get-go. Her reading glasses broke that morning, she told us, but knowing the panel must go on, she worked them lopsidedly, with a cheerful smile and a quip about a woman’s resourcefulness. Giselle started us out with a beautiful metaphor about women’s lives as nautilus shells: continually growing and building on its former shell, buoyed by the past but not defined by it.
There is an unparalleled value in hearing other women’s voices. As several panelists noted, media is saturated with men’s voices. It felt good to be in a room where being a woman was the default, where my voice seemed like it could blend naturally forward into theirs. Normalizing women leaders’ voices is key. I’m not too far out of college, so this felt like a master class in leaning in from four master teachers.
Pauline Fischer, vice president of original films at Netflix, spoke with a smile about her gatekeeper role, choosing and refining the glut of content offered to Netflix to focus only on projects she connects with and sees as successful. Overall, moving to Netflix was a purposeful choice for success too, as Pauline believes that movie-viewing in theaters will swiftly be gobbled up by streaming services like Netflix. Asked about her strategy, Pauline laughed and mentioned that people underestimate her, as a compact, calm, minority woman, and she often uses their obliviousness to her advantage. Particularly for my currently floating job status, I was glad to hear Pauline talk about the 8 months she spent unemployed and searching for the right next step, because she so obviously found her spot to succeed at the end of that stressful time.
Dawn Ostroff, the president of Condé Nast Entertainment, has a touch for successful media content as well. She honed her taste at the CW, where she helped Vampire Diaries and America’s Next Top Model rise to the top, as well as Lifetime, where she developed the channel’s voice for women and helped it rise to the top. The media world is shifting and changing, she proclaimed, and she believes that digital, premium short form content is the next wave. She’s right, of course; short videos and click-throughs are how all my friends and I devour content. Asked for an over-all career take-away, Dawn exhorted us to trust our instincts. As a millennial, I was born into the quick mutability of technology and media, and therefore know absolutely that Dawn’s instinct was spot-on.
Julie Uhrman started as an investment banker and ended up creating a console-to-TV gaming experience so successful that she has been buried in an onslaught of awards and honors. She, too, talked about past failures and missteps, all within her constant belief in herself and her intuition. Kickstarter, specifically, allowed her to reach the actual potential audience for her product and provide a proof of concept to those who doubted her. Julie’s experience in the glittery world of tech start-ups led her to caution us: ideas are a dime a dozen; execution is what’s key.
Doris Kim Sung provoked literal oohs and aahs from the audience with a demonstration of her smart thermobimetals and shape-memory alloys. Basically, these are metals that change with temperature that can be used architecturally. For example, she showed us a beautiful in-window shade that stretched into a shady pattern as the sun grew brighter. Doris has an intense understanding of how architecture can be moved forward and shaped to better fit our lives, especially as cities and urban populations continue to grow. She spoke about her work with strength and excitement that was quickly communicated to the audience in a ripple of whispers. I took from Doris a wish to be as calm and confident as she is, to speak about what I know with a grounded intelligence that is neither pandering nor self-aggrandizing, but simply clear.
And that was it! An information-packed and laugh-filled panel, capped off with delightful goody bags from Net-A-Porter. The audience chatted with a feeling of camaraderie as the event spilled outside, suffused with new ideas.
It’s hard to imagine what my career will look like in one year, much less ten or twenty years. Hearing a diversity of opinions, paths, and voices allows me to try on different options. Really, it seemed like each speaker could have ended up in a thousand different successful places, and that following their intuitions and ideas with confidence and tenacity got them to one of a myriad of possible triumphant career highs. As a woman who is still trying to see how the varied threads of my mid-twenties life will weave together, I left with some new ways to look at the path I am currently on – though where I’m heading, I won’t know until I get there.
With that in mind, here’s my study-guide for becoming a Visionary Woman:
- Embrace my failures. They will help me build to my successes.
- Follow my instincts, no matter how many times I hear “no.”
- Allow people to underestimate me to their detriment, and calmly keep doing my best.
- Putting the work in is far more important than just having the big idea.
- Look to the discovering the future, not to copying the past.
- When all else fails, laugh.
I cannot wait for the next Visionary Women event. In the meantime, I’ll be out here in the big world, shooting for a 4.0.