Hollywood women made history Thursday and Friday.
With 1,500 women from all across the media and entertainment industry, the Power Women Summit was the largest gathering ever of women in Hollywood aimed at moving forward on the goal of achieving gender equity in entertainment and media.
Let’s take a moment and grasp what that means. Women in Hollywood are not like any other group that may be gathering across the country for a purpose. The critical mass of women at this event were the nation’s storytellers. The creators of our popular culture. The shapers of “what’s cool” for our children. The journalists who decide what is news. The celebrities and social media influencers who model trends, behaviors, catch phrases and the next big thing.
What they say and do in their professional lives has a profound impact on the cultural conventions of our nation and, indeed, our world.
Seeing the sea of faces all turned in rapt attention to listen to Anita Hill talking about the need for people of conscience to do the long and hard “dirty work” of creating systemic change, I wanted to tell them that they were already a privileged group. That they were already the anointed, just by having achieved a spot in this incredibly competitive place. That they were some kind of elite, endowed with special powers and obligations for that reason.
Make no mistake: The women at the Power Women Summit showed up for 50/50 gender equity, the stated theme. They weren’t there for the manicures. (Just kidding, there weren’t any manicures.)
Their enthusiasm and gratitude and pure delight at connecting with their peers across the day on this issue was palpable. It seems obvious that this gathering answered a crying need, a year after the explosion of #MeToo, after the toppling of one media titan after another, after the litany of insults toward women by our president and just a few days before the midterm election. A need to connect, to be heard and to believe that concrete change is achievable.
We didn’t know how many people would actually show up. As organizers, we aimed for a critical mass of 1,000, and ended up with half that number again. The main stage auditorium was standing room only for most of the day. More than 25 #MeToo survivors attended, and many were recognized on stage. The dozen-plus breakout panels were a raucous run for seats to hear experts talk about pay equity, clearing the path for diversity, leveraging social media, including men in the drive for equity and many other topics.
When we opened the main auditorium doors for the afternoon session, I was amazed to watch a flood of women run – run- for seats to hear from Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc and legendary executive Sherry Lansing and Olympian Ibtihaj Mohammad. (Here’s a video of what the Summit looked like by our intrepid social media guru, Sree Sreenivasan. And here’s a link to the coverage of the speakers and panels. )
By the end of Day Two, I had a stream of young women saying they wished it would go on for another day.
The conference created an inspirational environment by citing quotations of remarkable women in history: Madeleine Albright, Harriet Tubman, Jane Goodall and others.
But here are some words from women at the Summit that are also worth memorializing.
* Poet Hollis Wong-Wear: “Let us embrace the danger of being wholly ourselves/ Let us cultivate the heat needed to blaze a new trail forward/ We need not a rearrangement, but an uprooting / Unapologetic intersections / And radical inclusion / Refusing to stop even when conditions improve for some/ Knowing we are not well until we are all well / Knowing we will be pushed past comfort and respectability / Past all that we’ve been told from birth is possible / Into the unconditional, the truly liberated, the truly equal, the truly free.”
* Anita Hill: “We must make unequivocally clear, even if the government isn’t prepared to protect women from sexual violence, we are. We will do it ourselves. We deserve to work in harassment-free workplaces, and we deserve to have an equal chance to display our very talents throughout these industries, and throughout workplaces all over. These are not privileges that should be limited to men — these are rights we all have.”
* Alana Haim: “I don’t want to ask for more, I never want to ask for more. I just want to ask for equal.”
* Jill Soloway: “What does it mean to have balance in all leadership, not only as directors and producers on board, but all areas? To us, 50/50 means balance and 2020 means clear vision.”
* Tarana Burke: “I have to get up every day to decide to survive. There are some days where I say, I can’t do it today… It’s not about being bold and brave — it’s about resilience. This is what we’re doing — we’re bouncing back, every day.”
I feel profoundly grateful to all those who helped create this landmark event. The women of Hollywood now have an annual gathering created especially dedicated to their success, and I hope they will continue to build on the historic foundation that was established last week.