Last week I attended the inaugural ‘Women Who Influence Women’ roundtable dinner; an intimate gathering of senior female leaders in media, co-hosted by Ogilvy Public Relations and CBS News.
Jennifer Risi, Managing Director of Ogilvy Media Influence, created the series with the goal of bringing together leading women in the media and marketing communications industries to “really change the face of the Mad Men.”
For me, this was one of those experiences that only somewhere like Ogilvy can bring about for a junior member of the team; a rare opportunity to learn from such an accomplished and diverse group of women in a single evening.
To my surprise, however, many of the guests seemed more interested in listening to what my peers and I – so-called ‘millennials’ – had to say.
I assumed that they would be interested in whatever (off-the-cuff) purchasing insights I could give on behalf of my self-assured millennial peers. But instead of the slightly jaded tone I have become used to when senior professionals refer to people my age, my dinner companions seemed to envy the message of possibility that millennials, and specifically millennial women, have grown up with.
I grew up in a world where I was expected to lead, if I so chose, whereas the women around the table, heard that message far less often – and usually only from other women who were breaking the glass ceiling, rather than society as a whole.
Monica Talan, Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications and PR for Univision, nodded to this, “I try to help other women by pushing them like my mentors did with me. Women can’t limit themselves because the opportunities they see may not be the only opportunities available.”
Nadja Bellan-White, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Africa followed this, sharing the time when Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus, and former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather said to her, “You need to go and finish what we started.” To this, Bellan-White revealed that it is her “goal to pass the baton onto the next generation,” of female professionals. The table of women nodded their heads in agreement.
Several of the attendees continued by sharing their struggles balancing their careers with the responsibilities of having a family and running a home, something that still disproportionately falls to women.
Despite what people think, millennials – even if you still believe we are a homogenous group – don’t expect everything to perfect. Instead of envying my generation, I wish these powerful, successful, and forward-thinking women could see how they were the reason I grew up in a less-gendered world, and are the embodiment of what women of my generation can achieve.
By having these conversations, today’s female leaders allow us to believe we can do anything we put our minds to. By simply engaging in their everyday activities, these women make me hopeful that I will see a gender equal world within my lifetime.
It’s not ‘millennial’ to be optimistic, maybe it’s just youthful. And after listening to the candid conversations at last week’s dinner, I am proud of that mindset, and I thank these women for making this view seem more realistic.
Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest, summarized it perfectly. To empower the millennial generation of women to finish the fight started by our feminist predecessors, women simply need to share their stories with other women.
“That can be the solution,” Vaccariello said, “telling women stories about other women. And it’s showing, not telling. Stories that show become part of the consciousness.”
Thanks to these women sharing their stories with me, their stories are now part of my consciousness. And I leave the ‘Women Who Influence Women’ roundtable invested, inspired, and more than anything, driven to continue sharing our stories.