Barbara Walters, ABC News and
I don't believe that there is a gene for ambition. In my case, I had to make a living, but I'm not sure that alone produced the kind of drive or perseverance that I exhibited. When I look back now and see how hard I worked, I don't even recognize myself. When Beverly Sills, the great operatic star, retired from singing at the Metropolitan Opera, her husband gave her a ring with an inscription. Years later she gave the ring to me and said, "You should read this." The inscription on the ring read I DID THAT ALREADY. Maybe when one feels "I did that already," ambition and drive diminish. That's probably true in my case now.
When I first worked for the "Today" show at NBC, a very long time ago, I was a writer, but I was only allowed to write the so-called women's features. It sounds as if I'm talking about the 1890s. But I had a huge break when Hugh Downs, the then host of "Today," put me on the air. Sadly, the man who eventually replaced Hugh, a man named Frank McGee, didn't want me to participate in his "hard news" interviews. He insisted that he do them alone. Now there is a difference between whining and standing up for what you feel you must, and that was one of the times when I did. I protested loudly and strongly, and so the big compromise was that Frank McGee would ask the first three questions. I could come in on the fourth.
Later, in 1976, after 13 years on the "Today" show, I came to ABC as the first female co-anchor of a network news program. My partner was a man named Harry Reasoner. I was a terrible failure. Harry didn't want a partner. He made it very plain. You could feel the tension in the air. On top of this, I think the country did not want a female at that time delivering the news. And I'm not sure, when I look back, that I was the right woman. I think that my delivery, my appearance, maybe everything about me, worked against me. (There was the feeling that the man was more authoritative whether it was a male doctor, a male lawyer or a male anchor. And to some degree, that feeling hasn't changed. It has changed for doctors and lawyers, but not necessarily for female anchors on the network evening news.)
Then ABC appointed Roone Arledge to be the new head of the news department. To my great relief, Roone made the determination to send Harry Reasoner back to CBS and to keep me at ABC. He had faith in me. He began to send me all over the world as a kind of roving reporter. It was during this period that I did possibly the best interviews of my career. The only joint interview with Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin. Another with Cuba's Fidel Castro, and later with General Torrijos of Panama, at the time the canal was returned to that country. Finally in 1979 I joined ABC's newsmagazine "20/20" and worked happily doing hundreds of interviews for 25 years.
If I think about the downsides of interviewing, my idea of hell is when the interview is finished—and all the cameramen have left—somebody says, "Did you ask such-and-such?" and I think, "Oh! That's just what I should have asked." There's almost never an interview when I don't think, "How could I have missed asking that question?" It is torture.
On the other hand, I have been blessed with a fascinating career, one I never expected to have when I began as a writer on television. And if today, if a young woman comes up to me and says, "I'm in journalism because of you," I think that is my reward. I never had a mentor, and I am both grateful and so proud that I can be that for someone else.
Jonelle Procope, CEO, Apollo Theater Foundation
You should always be open to new opportunities and new experiences. You don't always know where life is going to take you and where the next opportunity is going to come from. If you're open to trying different things, you can eventually find yourself at the right place at the right time. Very often, you have to create your own opportunities by building on the expertise you have and capitalizing on it. You also have to be able to understand your strengths. Many women never step back to determine their strengths and look at their accomplishments, whereas men do that all the time.
In order to be a leader, you have to know where you're going and how you plan to get there. Then you can inspire people to take that journey with you. Women generally do this differently from men. We are more inclusive and willing to give credit to others. We identify the people who have the expertise and then give them the latitude to run with it. It's key to have really great people around you and to encourage them to be the best that they can be.
Alexandra Patsavas, Owner, Chop Shop Music Supervision
As I was finding my way in the music business, I was often the only female in the room. I just didn't acknowledge that fact and I still don't. I felt it was essential to be regarded as part of the team.
I am convinced that a good boss must be eager to teach, and reciprocally one's employees must be eager to learn. As a boss, it is so important to be inclusive and to share information. My office is located in an open-plan loft, and this simple architectural fact leads to group participation and open (and sometimes lively) discussions.
I am grateful for all my early low-budget projects because I learned so very much. I had time to practice my craft, so later I wasn't overwhelmed when I had bigger projects with bigger budgets. Although it took a lot of determination to break into the field, I never put limits on myself. If I had focused on all of the impossibilities ahead of me when I was young, I think I would never have tried.
Lauren Zalaznick, President, Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, Nbc Universal
I have a broad bandwidth for a million different things, but the bigger the thinking, the more detail I need to be able to speak calculatingly about it. I like huge ideas, but I don't like generalities and I don't like hype.
I think that people are more likely to assign the word "emotional" as a negative trait to women leaders who have incredibly strong convictions. Instead of saying about a male business leader, "He has very strong convictions, he is so emotional," the perception stops after the comma and it's only perceived as a positive.
Leadership is different from "management." To me, a leader is being a vision- and strategy-setter, and a manager is being more of a great boss in the day-to-day. I think there are plenty of great leaders who are terrible managers, and many terrific managers who will just never grow to become true leaders. But I think a common misconception is that you can't learn to be a helluva lot better at both.
For me and my teams, it's all about talking and questioning and debating that gets us closer to success. As a leader, you need to ask the questions and entertain real opinions about the answers you get from the people who work for you.
Lisa Dennison, Executive VP, Sotheby
s North America
You're always at somewhat of a disadvantage when you work your way up the ladder at the same institution. At the Guggenheim Museum, I climbed from a summer intern to chief curator, and then to director. At times, I had difficulty adjusting my own perception of myself. There were days when I was running the place, but I felt the same as I had when I was a junior curator. You have to project change and growth. And you have to be somewhat demanding and make sure that people recognize how you have grown so that you are given the opportunities you have earned. Women often don't ask for what they deserve. They accept what comes their way and make the best of it.
I have learned that the best way to deal with difficult people is to never say no. Saying yes immediately catches people off-guard. Then I try to determine if I can make it happen, perhaps with some modifications. If I can't, I go back to them with a no, but it's always much better appreciated because I tried to find a path.
When I went to Wellesley, there was this idea that you could be superwoman—that you could have a great career, be a fantastic wife and mother—all at the same time. But the superwoman model doesn't work. You are never going to be all things to all people. Don't be afraid of that. Just try to be as balanced as you can and compensate for the suffering that anyone might be feeling at a particular time—including yourself!
Carla Christofferson, Attorney and Co-Owner, L.A. Sparks
Sometimes we get locked into things we know how to do or that our parents are doing. Doing something strange or unusual or entrepreneurial may seem more frightening. To me, everything was equally odd. I grew up on a sheep farm. No one in my family had graduated from college. I didn't know any lawyers. And so to me, buying the basketball team was no more difficult or strange than going to law school. My advice is to be fearless. I've failed at a lot of things, and it didn't kill me. Sometimes it's embarrassing, but I really got used to people saying no, and getting up, pretending it didn't happen and trying something else.
When you're looking at a big problem or task, break it down into small, manageable parts. Then, if one or two things don't work, it's easy to try something else. Don't let the overwhelming nature of the entire burden that you're trying to carry or the entire improvement stop you from taking the first few steps. Even if you think there's no way you're going to get to the end, it doesn't matter. You have to take the first steps.
I think it's important for young women to understand that there will be days when they just cannot believe how unfair the world is and they cannot believe how hard it is, and they really want to lie in bed and pull the covers over their head. That's normal. What's important is that you get up the next day—or a couple days later—and continue down the path. There are still days when I want to pull the covers over my head. But I get up anyway.
Julie Hembrock Daum, Practice Leader, Spencer Stuart
Even today, there are times when a woman might find herself the only woman in a room. In all situations, but particularly then, it is important to be present in the room and to make sure you are a part of the conversation. Women have a tendency to hang back a bit in a group and think that they shouldn't speak unless they have something that is either absolutely 100 percent correct or astonishingly brilliant. In fact, if you don't speak up, if you're waiting for that opportunity and it never comes, people just assume you had no ideas and will write you off. In a meeting or gathering, you should try to be one of the first handful of people to speak even if it is only to ask a question. If you don't, it will become harder and harder to enter the conversation.
I think women also have a tendency, myself included, to couch things in a way that's easy for people to hear. So we will say, "Well, I am not sure if this is right, but I was thinking that perhaps we could do this, or we should think about doing that," when what they really mean is "It seems so obvious we should be doing this." Unfortunately, women have a tendency to speak with hesitation and, it appears, without strength in their conviction. They may be afraid of making a mistake—and you will make mistakes. But many times they are also trying to make it easy for people to accept the idea. However, if you do that, within 10 seconds a man will take the idea and say, "You know, I've been thinking, we should do x." And you're sitting there going, "Oh my God! I just said that." But nobody heard you say that. This has happened to every woman I know. You need to be bold, be willing to make statements affirmatively and take ownership of your ideas.
Life is so fulfilling if you can have a family and a meaningful career. I love my daughters and have a very close relationship with each. But I have always loved my job and think it is important to have something that is mine—something I am good at and that I take pride in. I also think it is important to know that I can take care of myself. This is all-important to me right now because my last child just left home. I don't know what I would do if I were just looking at their empty bedrooms. But I have my work, and I find it intellectually engaging. I want young women to know that it's wonderful to be able to do both, though I would have liked to have more time to exercise and occasionally have a manicure.