NEW YORK — In her Univision office, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan keeps a “tattered and yellowed picture” of five generations of women — from her great-grandmother on down — each of whom she considers a Wonder Woman in her own right, complete with superpowers ranging from independence and pride to determination and love.
“I’m still coming to terms with my superpowers but know that they track back to the four other women in the picture,” Herrera-Flanigan, Univision’s executive vice president of government and corporate affairs, said last Thursday (March 23) on being named to the 2017 class of Multichannel News Wonder Women. “I see their superpower every day in my 4-year-old Ellie — and I have never been prouder to tell her that she comes from a family of women warriors.”
Herrera-Flanigan’s remarks, part of a celebratory Wonder Women luncheon in New York, were utterly personal. Yet they touched on themes that recurred as each one of this year’s 12 honorees (selected by the magazine) discussed the challenges and opportunities facing female executives in the television industry; the personal and professional role models who propelled their successes; their responsibility to the next generation of leaders; and what it takes to be a Wonder Woman.
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TRAVELING THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
The way Colleen Langner, Cox Communications senior vice president of marketing operations, sees it, for instance, being a leader isn’t just about having the smarts “but the thought that comes from reflection.” And even that doesn’t suffice if you don’t have heart and courage, she said, as “every yellow brick road has its challenges and obstacles.”
Susanne McAvoy, Crown Media Family Networks’s executive vice president of marketing, creative and communications, said learning from mistakes — the ones that seem so grave at the time — was a crucial step in her professional development, and she encouraged women to use mishaps to advance their knowledge and self-assuredness rather than recoiling from them.
“Don’t be afraid to take risks, ask questions, voice your ideas, to say you need help,” she told the room of 800-plus attendees. “Celebrate your wins but don’t take them for granted. And most of all, enjoy the ride.”
Sandra Stern, president of Lionsgate Television Group, put it this way: “The first quality of a Wonder Woman, for me, is integrity and a passion for excellence. This means never settling for less than your best.”
None of which is necessarily easy.
Jamie Power, Modi Media’s managing partner, used her turn at the mic to discuss her lifelong shyness and how she forced herself not to succumb to it. “No matter what, I will always have that shy, little blonde girl reminding me to pour myself a glass of Sauvigon blanc, speak up and keep taking chances,” she said.
Working in cybersecurity has created its own set of challenges for Myrna Soto, Comcast’s senior vice president and global chief information security officer, who said, she was “taken aback” as a technologist to be included among this year’s Wonder Women. “I’ll be honest, we — those of us in the security arena — are usually behind Internal Audit on the party invite list,” she said.
One overarching theme was that Wonder Women also have each other’s backs.
Lisa Williams-Fauntroy, Discovery Communications’ senior vice president of business and legal affairs, said Wonder Women are born of a range of circumstances — opportunity, sacrifice and hard work among them.
But equally important: Wonder Women do not walk alone, she said.
“As women in the workplace, we often thrive by seeing other women in the building leading the way,” she said. “It is critical that each of us, particularly those of us in leadership roles, create opportunities for others. We have to open the paths for more Wonder Women down the road.”
PUSHING FOR PROGRESS
Yet it is also the responsibility of today’s leaders to push for women’s continued progress in the workplace, as, despite the gains, they are still underrepresented among top-tier execs.
“We have talked about tomorrow. Endlessly,” said Sandra Dewey, president of TNT and TBS Productions, and head of Studio T business affairs. “So I have demanded of myself to lead change. Now. To challenge. To ask the questions: Where are the women? Where are the candidates?
“You cannot convince me that in these great companies of ours they are not out there. They are. We are. We are just not chosen,” she added, calling colleagues to action.
“Please join me in recognizing that it’s time. Now. Push for change. Be fearless. Lead,” she said. “If you are a woman in this room, you are a leader. Go be a Wonder Woman.”
For more about the 2017 Wonder Women, Women to Watch and the luncheon, go to mcnwonderwomen.com.
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