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To begin this year’s Women’s Empowerment Series, we gathered a group of influential leaders to discuss all they’ve learned and experienced as they climbed the ladder in their careers. The women shared deeply personal experiences and hard-earned wisdom. Once again, the evening was filled with a lot of inspiration and wisdom – and a few good laughs.

 

Panelists

Natasha Brown
Co-Anchor, CBS 3 Eyewitness News

Assemblywoman Carol Murphy

Maiken Scott
Host, WHYY’s The Pulse

Sherrill Little, MD
Co-Director of Women’s Imaging, SJRA

Zakiya Ellis Smith
N.J. Secretary of Higher Education

Moderator
Marianne Aleardi
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, SJ Magazine

 

When things go wrong…

I got a call and the person said, “Why are you airing the same show?” And I’m like, “What do you mean we’re airing the same show?” Somehow the files did not get switched out, and we repeated last Friday’s show. For that to happen, it was basically a chain of four people not doing their job. But I’m at the top of that chain, so ultimately it was me. I was mad and I was stressed, but once you’re in that situation, you can’t undo it, so the best step is to just say this is how it won’t happen again.
Maiken Scott

Choosing their careers…

I’ve known since 8th grade this was what I wanted to do. I would read the news aloud, read magazines aloud and pretend I was an anchor. My first job really prepared me for what we do now, which is everything. I shot my own video. I would set up the camera, run around and get myself in front of the tripod, and interview people – so I did absolutely everything. Nothing prepared me more for what I’m doing now than starting at the very bottom and working my way up.
Natasha Brown

Even though the legislature is considered a part-time position – and believe me, we get paid like it’s a part-time position – I’ve made it a full-time job. I heard George Burns say this a long time ago: “In order to be successful, you have to be in love with your job, because it cannot be a job if you want to do this every day.” I truly believe that. This will be my last job, I hope, that I will ever have to worry about finding.
Carol Murphy

Who influenced them the most…

In my 20s, I was struggling – working two full-time jobs, one part-time job, and going to school. I had no home to go to, so I had to create my own home. I was paying my own bills. I had my electric turned off. I also suffered from anxiety, and I was very introverted. My best friend kind of abandoned me, because she didn’t like how I was handling what I was going through. It was very, very hard. To the point where one day I woke up and said, “Oh my God, I’m still alive.”

Those couple years alone after my friend got out of my life forced me to build myself up to something that maybe I would not be today if she hadn’t left. Now I know what I can handle and what I can’t. I don’t expect anything less or more from myself, other than when I don’t think I’m doing enough, I push myself to do a lot more.
Carol Murphy

My grandmother has a college degree and a master’s degree, and she has four kids. She went to college in the ’50s, before desegregation. When I was leaving my job at the White House, you get to have a departure photo with the president. I asked “This photo – it’s a family photo? Exactly how much family can you bring?” I wasn’t married and I lived by myself, and I don’t think they expected me to ask that. I brought my grandma, my grandpa, my mom, my dad, my sister, all for the departure photo. When my grandmother met President Obama, she was like, “Ok, you’ve done it. You’ve done something now.” So she’s definitely a driving force in my life.
Zakiya Ellis Smith

 

Sacrifices along the way…

I got my first job at a news station in Florence, South Carolina. I was three months out of college, and I accepted over the phone. I had never been out of the Virginia, D.C./Maryland area. I hadn’t met anyone at the station – I had sent a video of my work. When they called, I was like “Yes, sure, I’ll be in Florence. When do you need me there? And I’m sorry, where is it again? How far down 95 South?” It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but the best thing I’ve ever done. I would not be in Philadelphia, Market 4, if I hadn’t started in Market 114. I took the steps, and the steps are necessary.
Natasha Brown

When you’re starting out in your career, those sacrifices don’t seem like sacrifices. You want to get the best out of everything and be the best you can. I always saw the bigger picture. When you’re 21, 22, and you’re out on your own, you’re not thinking of it as sacrifice, you’re thinking of it as a work ethic. You’re trying to show an employer that you will do what you need to do to get where you want to get.
Carol Murphy

I haven’t sacrificed anything that I felt was important to me. I don’t think I gave up anything that I truly wanted. And I would do it all again.
Sherrill Little

 

On the MeToo movement…

Men need to be aware that women who get this far, they didn’t get this far because they’re women, they got this far because they are best for the job and they happen to be women. To put a woman in a position just because she’s a woman is not satisfying.
Carol Murphy

I really don’t know if talking about sexism and yelling about it all day long makes it any better for women right now. I don’t know.
Maiken Scott

I think it’s important to name it. Before, people just had to suffer. Now, people are acknowledging that we’re working harder than everybody else, and we’re killing it. They recognize we’re doing more.
Zakiya Smith Ellis

We’re in a position where we can help young women figure out how to deal with these crazy things that happen, because they’re going to happen, no matter what we do to try to help. But we can also run interference for them. We need to help each other.
Sherrill Little

 

Working with men…

I have had several female bosses who were incredibly difficult and who almost seemed to want to show me, “Oh, you don’t even know how hard I had it.” And I’ve had some male bosses who were amazing. It’s not like a room full of men means this is a hostile environment. It can mean that, but it can also mean they are great people. It’s not always neatly divided along gender lines that this person is going to be great because she is a woman. I haven’t always had that experience.
Maiken Scott

There’s a hierarchy in the newsroom, and usually it’s male-dominated. What it comes down to is once you’ve gained their respect, once they know you can do the job, that’s the biggest thing. You’ve done the big stories, and they say, “Oh, she’s pretty good. She didn’t mess that up, she didn’t screw up that last shot.” Once you gain the respect, and there’s no denying that you’re good at what you do, then you’re going to get the big story, because who else would?
Natasha Brown

Sexism…

In government, you take the photo, and you look at the photo and you’re like, “Oh, I’m the only woman.” I go to meetings and most of the time when I sit around the table, it’s a bunch of white men and me. It’s something you have to be very, very intentional about combating. Because whoever gets invited to the meeting matters. That’s where the decisions are made.
Zakiya Ellis Smith

All through medical school and residency, they’re trying to embarrass you in front of everybody. I was always the only girl, so they would ask me the hard questions in front of everybody to see if I was going to fall on my face or embarrass myself. You just have to try a little harder. I would prepare more. If I knew I was starting a particular rotation the next day, I’d cram in a bunch of stuff so that I’d know the basics when they started grilling me in front of everybody.
Sherrill Little

As a woman, you just accept the challenge. It’s how you walk through life. I have always thought, “I pity the foolish person who underestimates me.” If I walked into a room, especially when I was younger, and people judged me because I was a young female, I would think, “Oh, yes, you just wait.” There is a certain beauty in being underestimated, because then you can blow people away. And they’re like, “Wow, who are you.”
Maiken Scott

As a female in this business, I knew I had to be better. This is definitely a male-dominated industry still. You go into the game knowing you have to be better. You have to be the best. Don’t give me the fluffy story. Yes, I like a good fashion show every now and again to do a little feature story, but I want to do politics. I can do crime. I can do whatever.
Natasha Brown

I’m in politics and government, and as much as we hate it, it’s still the good ol’ white boys club – old men who sit around the table and think they have a right to stand above you. But we need to make clear that no matter what our answers are, we have a right to have them.
Carol Murphy

 

Hiring women…

A lot of people will say, “Well, let’s just put a woman in there because then we satisfy that quota.” And if you happen to be a woman of color, that satisfies another quota. Well, you know what, if a woman isn’t qualified to do the job, that appointment doesn’t do anything but satisfy someone’s idea of what might make things better. As women, we all have to educate men on the fact that we can be an equal partner – and we just happen to be women.
Carol Murphy

 

October 2019
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