Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year conference was about action, with MeToo, a theme of last year, going virtually unmentioned.
Being the first event under editor in chief Samantha Barry, a day of panels and speeches by notable women featured program headlines like “From Anguish to Action,” “Stop Hiding, Start Shining,” “Closing the Dream Gap,” and was a relatively typical depiction of ideals of women’s empowerment that bounced around from women in journalism to making career decisions to founding a company. The logo of the event included the word “Women” with an arrow pointing up from the “N” for reinforcement of the direction women are supposed to be going.
The audience of roughly 500 women, along with a few men, most of whom paid somewhere between $200 and $300 to be there (putting ticket revenue for the day in the neighborhood of $150,000) nodded when Karen Attiah, global opinion editor of The Washington Post, talked about how she felt as a black woman in media and also as the editor of the late Saudi journalist and Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who was apparently murdered last month in the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Turkey.
“I’m still coping,” Attiah said of Khashoggi’s death. “It’s not just an attack on journalism, it’s an attack on The Washington Post and anyone who believes in being able to be free to speak your mind. It’s tough.”
Picking up the action thread, Barry asked how Attiah turned the Khashoggi tragedy into what’s become a death that’s resonated widely, during a time when so much bad news is tuned out and so many journalists are being detained and threatened around the world.
“We’re told [in journalism] to separate ourselves and not be in the story and this was something that was personal to us — a friend of mine was killed and I think it was to try and put that human face on it…it’s unacceptable to be butchered in a diplomatic building,” Attiah said. “We’re still screaming about it and we’re not going to stop.”
The event took a turn in tone when Yvonne Orji, an actor known for her supporting role on “Insecure,” started to speak about getting into comedy after being on a pre-med track in college when God spoke to her. She got some laughs, but some eyebrows also went up and there were some audible “hmm”s at the notion of holy intervention in an acting career. The event flipped again when Aerie, a major sponsor of the event, had a 30-minute block dedicated to its “real” models and their speaking out about being photographed for an underwear campaign with their various ailments on unapologetic display. But the audience returned to nodding when three female business founders took the stage to talk about making decisions based on what they felt was right, not what others told them to do.
Ty Haney, founder of Outdoor Voices, spoke about how difficult it was to trust her intuition that moving the brand’s base to Austin, Tex., from New York was the right decision for a brand that needed room to test new products. Audrey Gelman, cofounder of The Wing, said she’s never spent a dime on customer acquisition costs, recalling an early idea that women and members of the club “would act as our marketers.” Jen Rubio, cofounder of Away, recalled being uncomfortable with the idea that she was asking for money early on, and recalled that her mind-set changed when her cofounder Steph Korey explained: “We’re not asking for money, we’re giving people an opportunity to invest in this company and make even more money back.”
There were even some whoops and tears when Betty Reid Soskin, who’s 97 years old and the oldest ranger with the National Park Service, spoke of her work in the Civil Rights Movement, noting that her grandmother was born into slavery. One young woman came up to a microphone at the end of Soskin’s panel, with tears falling, asking how in her own work, with young immigrants and herself a DACA recipient, Soskind managed to keep a sense of herself.
“I had to almost come to a mental break to find the answers inside and when I stopped seeking completeness from the males in my life, I did get to that place and I think that your answers are going to come from you,” she said.
But for a day about action, there was little of it. The most popular part of the day, outside of the free coffee and veggie chips, seemed to be a corner off of the main conference room offering professional head shots for profile pictures, sponsored by L’Oréal.
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