The Tory Burch Foundation’s Embrace Ambition Summit, held June 14, filled Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall with powerful stories and conversations about challenging stereotypes and creating new norms.
Speakers at the daylong forum ran the gamut from Temple Grandin and Dolores Huerta to Julianne Moore, Billie Jean King, Eva Chen, Min Jin Lee, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Samantha Boardman, M.D. Some 1,200 people attended the event in-person, with many others virtually. The summit’s presenting sponsor was Bank of America.
Performances included Adrienne Warren, Tears for Fears’ Curt Smith and his daughter, Diva Smith, Flor de Toloache and Ian Manuel.
Key topics ranged from advocating for gun control, the stigma of mental illness, bias in medicine, women and work to funding women entrepreneurs and the bias against Asian Americans.
In her opening remarks, Tory Burch, executive chairman and chief creative officer of her namesake company, said, “When we clear the obstacles that stand between a woman and her dreams, we can change the world.”
Samantha Boardman, M.D., positive psychologist and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and Michael A. Lindsey, Ph.D., MSW, MPH, and executive director of McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, spoke with journalist and filmmaker Perri Peltz about mental health. Discussing the barrier to getting health care one needs, Boardman said more than 50 percent of people don’t seek care.
“Generation Z has been called the loneliest generation,” said Boardman, and that can be a ramp to mental illness. She said that perfectionism is on the rise and people think every aspect of their life has to be perfect.
As people with anxiety start getting back into social situations, she said they should choose their social situations carefully and engage in events where they can have meaningful conversations.
In a very touching conversation, Oksana Masters, a 17-time paralympic medalist was interviewed by journalist Cari Champion. Masters was born in the Ukraine three years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that resulted in several radiation-induced birth defects.
“My mom saved my life. she adopted me at 7 1/2,” said Masters. She said she never thought she could be an athlete and hadn’t seen people with prosthetics doing sports. “I wanted to be a visible example for a little girl or boy,” she said.
Masters donated part of her proceeds from the recent Beijing Olympics to No Child Forgotten, which helps Ukrainian children with disabilities. “War is 24/7 every day. I hope people don’t lose sight that this is still happening. My mom taught me how to be resilient and a fighter,” she said.
In a conversation with Tory Burch about gun control, Julianne Moore took the stage with Monisha Henley, Everytown for Gun Safety’s senior director of state government affairs. The three discussed the urgent need for regulation and the best ways to take action.
“The majority of people believe in common sense laws. The majority of people want this,” said Moore. She said a statistic that really affected her is that the majority of homicides are committed by men aged 18 to 22. “Simply raising the age to buy a gun would decrease [homicides] significantly,” said Moore.
“Hopes and prayers are not enough,” said Burch. “There is not one person I can think of, Republican or Democrat, who isn’t horrified and heartbroken by this continuing violence.”
Grandin, Ph.D, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, spoke about how different kinds of minds exist (e.g., visual thinkers, math/pattern thinkers and word thinkers) and how we need the different kinds of minds “because they can have complementary skills.”
During the lunch break, Mindy Kaling was interviewed virtually and spoke about the imposter syndrome.
“It’s very in fashion now to ask people in interviews who are successful if they have imposter syndrome, but it tends to only be asked of women,” said Kaling.
“The implication that you’re supposed to approach your success like, ‘OMG, can you believe ? Every day I’m worried they are going to find out that I’m a fraud.’ It’s irritating because for someone like me who has worked so hard and tirelessly, if I had imposter syndrome at that point, I have pathologically low self-confidence. But if you say, ‘I don’t really have imposter syndrome, I’ve done the work and I belong where I am right now,’ it makes you seem like, she thinks she’s so amazing and important. It’s this fine line, because I think one thing we have to worry about as working women is that if we’re successful that we don’t come across as thinking we’re overconfident. Those questions of our identity and our success are things my male colleagues just don’t have to think about. They just exist,” said Kaling.
Slaughter, chief executive officer of New America, and Tiffany Dufu, CEO and founder of The Cru and author, also tackled women and work. Slaughter said we still have workplaces which were designed when men would work until 65 and retire, and then have 10 more years of life expectancy. “Our children should live to 100,” she said.
“We are cramming life into the first half of our expected years….Why do females live so much longer? They help care for their daughter’s children and they help transmit cultural lessons and knowledge. That’s who we are as a species,” said Slaughter. She said we should be thinking of those periods in one’s life when they’re investing in themselves and their careers, when you’re investing in their children and other family members, and older family members.
They discussed the popular article that Slaughter wrote 10 years ago for The Atlantic called, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” which created a national debate on the continued obstacles to full male-female equality.
“What I found remarkable was here was this woman with so much public power expressing such vulnerability publicly,” said Dufu. “You were sharing that you were finding it extremely difficult fulfilling your role professionally and your role personally in your home. That was the thing that especially at that time, good women leaders didn’t do.”
According to Slaughter, the article created a tsunami and changed her life and helped rekindle the whole debate on what’s going to change to get to gender equality. She said she never thought it would have that kind of impact, but she said that women today are much more comfortable about vulnerability.
“The other thing that has really changed is we now talk about care. We don’t just talk about work/family balance, or women’s issues. Now we talk about care, and need to make room for care, that’s changed,” said Slaughter.
Asked what were her blindspots were when she wrote that article 10 years ago, Slaughter said she was a foreign policy expert and hadn’t taken women’s studies courses. She said when she toured the country, someone would raise their hand and say they were a woman of color and their mother, and grandmother and grandmother’s grandmother always worked. They would say, ‘I don’t know where this story of sitting in the suburbs in your fancy house, you go to work and hire other women to care for your children, that is not my experience.” And women came from working families who said their mothers always worked. She said at the time she didn’t know to talk about feminism and to think about different women.
In a conversation about Bias Against Asian Americans, novelist Min Jin Lee chatted with Eva Chen, vice president, fashion partnerships at Instagram. “There’s extraordinary hostility against us and it’s baffling because Eva and I are so adorable,” said Lee. She said people thought that the virus came from Asia. She said from March 2020 to December 2021, there have been over 11,000 reported incidents of hate, and the highest rate of incidents occurred in New York City. She said they’ve seen people get murdered, stabbed, hit with hammers, elderly women set on fire, people being insulted and spat upon as well as micro-aggressions on a daily basis.
Chen, who wrote a children’s book, “I Am Golden,” said she’s worried for her parents’ safety in New York City and her daughter, who is seven years old and just started reading, and saw graffiti that had Asian hate. She said the book explains what it’s like being a first-generation American and growing up between two worlds. While Chen was born in the U.S., she spent all her time speaking Mandarin Chinese, and she’s still very much a translator for her parents. She said Asians are often shown in stereotypical roles.
“This book was meant to be an anthem and a manifesto for Asian American joy,” she said.
Wrapping up the summit, Billie Jean King spoke about her career and advocacy for gender and pay equality. “It’s not just the money, it’s the messaging,” she said.
“It’s very important to keep breaking down barriers and going for it,” said King, who has won 39 Grand Slam tournaments in doubles, singles and mixed. She and Burch ended the presentation by hitting tennis balls into the audience.
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