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What I Learned at TheWrap’s BE Conference on Mentorship

Across the dozen or so keynotes and panels, there was a common thread: Everybody feels fear when facing challenges

I’ve come away from TheWrap’s second conference to mentor millennial women in entertainment and media hugely inspired, and more convinced than ever that we are in the midst of real change on behalf of women’s leadership.

We were 250 millennials and about 30 mentors digging deep into what holds women back from success and what keeps them from being their best, and hearing from some of those who have overcome obstacles to achieve incredible things. Looking back on the experience, here are the lessons I learned.

  1. Things worth doing are tough. The fear will be there. Do it anyway.

Across the dozen or so keynotes and panels, there was a common thread: Everybody feels fear when facing challenges. Even the former sheriff of Dallas County, Lupe Valdez, who is now the first female, Latina, gay person to run for Governor of Texas.

Valdez was the daughter of farm workers, and now at age 70, she said she decided to run for governor despite the odds stacked against her and the lack of historical precedent. Throughout her life in public service people were “mean, hateful and conniving” and she would go home and cry, she said. And then she’d get up the next day and do it again.

Or as New York City Public Advocate Letitia James put it in her one-on-one interview: “Don’t be paralyzed by fear. Put your high heels on, turn your red bottoms up, and just go seize it. I don’t want to quote rap right now, but I ‘started from the bottom, now I’m here.'”

If you ask me, James — someone who probably inspires fear in her political adversaries — is calling it like it is: “We have too many men in Congress who are pale, male and stale,” she said. “It’s time to change that.”

  1. #MeToo happened to Rachel Bloom.

I expected to have a fun, smart conversation with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star and co-creator Rachel Bloom about blazing a trail in comedy with the show that combines musical theater with her particularly dark strain of funny. Instead, Rachel came ready to call out two men she says sexually harassed her a decade ago. The men had been her mentors when she was at college at New York University, but instead wanted to sleep with her. Except Bloom put it more bluntly, a whole bunch of times. (That girl is an excellent curser.)

It took the #MeToo movement for her to realize that what she experienced at age 19 was in fact harassment. At the time it was Bloom, not the men, who paid the price; she was removed as the head of the Tisch sketch comedy group she was part of, while the men went on to become widely known in the comedy world today. (She chose not to name them. We can wonder… or we can Google her year at Tisch.)

Bloom said she finally called the other men in the troupe just last week, and confronted them about this. To their credit, she said, they immediately copped to the situation and apologized.

Bloom also did not name someone else in the industry who inappropriately touches her even now. Bloom said that when this happens at cocktail parties, she shrinks inside.

Point is: even a successful, ballsy broad like Rachel Bloom questions herself when she feels boundaries are overstepped, instead of calling out the man in question.

  1. Lean on other women. There is strength in sisterhood. And sometimes, a career.

We also had three incredible women from the Baroness von Sketch Show, who recounted that they were, individually, destitute and down to their last dime(s) before their comedy troupe came together five years ago.

Jennifer Whalen said she had a great career when she was in her 20s and early 30s as a comedy writer, and the guys thought she was cute. They didn’t think she was cute after she turned 40, and no longer wanted her in the writer’s room.

But when she met Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill and Aurora Browne, the Baronesses von Sketch were born.

Two brave survivors of Harvey Weinstein attacks, Jessica Barth and Sarah Ann Masse, were also present to share their truths, and to counsel other women about how to prevent the experiences they had in Hollywood.

We talked about confidence, and body image, and how to build an empire as an entrepreneur. We talked about marketing and Matt Lauer with Katie Couric. We talked about political activism. (Choice line from LA Women’s March organizer Emiliana Guereca, when critics called her march a “bitchfest”: “So,” she shot back, “Are you coming?”) We learned to reach for the stars with NASA astrophysicist Andrea Razzaghi, and to listen quietly to the beauty that makes up the gift of sound with Dolby chief scientist Poppy Crum.

Here’s what else I learned: the rising millennials are full of ambition and smarts. They are eager to learn and they want mentors.

Here’s some of the coverage, and I invite you to read it and get inspired too.

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