Category Archives: Women in the Media

Staying Hungry with Becky Blanton

becky-blanton-ted-main

Becky Blanton Speaking at TED

Writing is hard. Among all the things I attempt to do well, with varying degrees of success, I find writing to be the most challenging. I really admire people who do it well, consistently and with passion.

Becky Blanton is one of those people. She was also a homeless person. Still is by definition of the Federal Government. Becky Blanton, through her writing and her lifestyle choices, raises some interesting questions about how we “see” people. Literally.

I discovered Blanton’s story at TED, a non-profit organization that brings together great minds from the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design and challenges them to deliver the “talk of their lives”. The results are funny, shocking, tragic, revealing, entertaining and always inspirational. Blanton’s talk is about the year she spent living out of her van with the Rottweiler and her cat. What began as a great American road trip adventure ended in frustration, homelessness and depression. As Blanton states in her talk, she was amazed at how quickly she went from being a talented, hard working journalist to an invisible woman.

Becky Blanton: The Year I Was Homeless

What I found especially compelling about Blanton’s experience was her assertion that society equates living in a permanent structure with having value as a person. Think about it. Someone living in  a rundown little house on the edge of town is, by American standards, “better off” than someone living in clean, well maintained vehicle. My boyfriend’s parents love to regale us with stories of a couple they know who decided to live in their RV and travel the country. Breakdowns in the desert and noxious plumbing problems play out like another painful installment of National Lampoon’s “Vacation”. But at least for them it’s a lifestyle choice.

Recent unemployment statistics and housing foreclosures, however, are no laughing matter. The number of homeless in New York has risen 45% since 2002. Apparently one of Mayor Bloomberg’s solutions is to charge the working homeless who live in public shelters rent. In one case, a single mother making $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro was charged $360 in rent for her space at the shelter. Here’s what sticks out for me…

1) How the hell do businesses get away with paying someone $8.40 an hour? Oh, well it is above the Federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (Meanwhile members of Congress has awarded themselves 31,600 in pay raises over the last nine years.) In fact, 44% of Congress are millionaires.

2) How is this woman supposed to get herself out of the shelter and into a home of her own? I have no idea how anyone survives in New York on less than 60,000 a year.

3) Bloomberg just spent 100 million of his own money in his mayoral campaign. So, basically a multi-billionaire has decided it makes good sense to charge a homeless woman rent for her shelter. Mighty white of you, Mr. Bloomberg.

In a country as wealthy and resourceful as ours, there shouldn’t be any “working homeless”. We can do better than this. We can change this. Change starts with fresh perspective and Becky Blanton has some great ideas on how to change yours…check out her blog and maybe even find a place to feed the homeless (some of who may be working) this Thanksgiving.

Rising Star Zoe Saldana

Ziegfeld Theater

Zoe Saldana

Provenance…Queens, New York with a stint in the Dominican Republic for boarding school. Saldana won a scholarship to Ritmos Espacio de Danza Academy, where she studied ballet, jazz, and modern and Latin dance. In fact, it was her dance skills that led to her first major film role in Center Stage, (2000) but her acting skills placed her opposite Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl.

Point of EntryLaw and Order/\”Merger\”/1999

Sur Les Pointes…Saldana’s star turn in J.J. Abrams successful reimagining of the classic \”Star Trek\” as Nyota Uhura.

Pointless…A lead role in the 2002 Britney Spears vehicle, \”Crossroads\”.

Power Play…Scoring a starring role in the most anticipated film event of the year, James Cameron’s sci-fi thriller \”Avatar\”.

PressA woman men love according to AskMen.com.

Photo Montage…Vanity Fair brings the native New Yorker back to her old stomping grounds for a Harlem Renaissance photo shoot.

Pictures…a Rotten Tomatoes filmography.

ParlayEsquire interview (with expletives)

 

 

 

Michelle Obama on iVillage

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First Lady Michelle Obama makes an impassioned and practical appeal  to women on the iVillage website to support the Obama administration’s push for health care reform. She begins by recounting the story of her daughter, Sasha’s, brush with meningitis and follows up with a heart wrenching interview with a two time cancer survivor who can’t afford necessary screenings. This short but effective video also includes an interview with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius who explains that women pay more for health insurance than men do.

This is news to me and not good news, either.

Apparently, the insurance industry charges females more than males because we use more medical services. Insurance companies like Humana, Aetna, UnitedHealth and Anthem charge women up to 49% more for the exact same plan. In most of the articles I read insurance company representatives explained that women are more likely to seek preventative care and incur costs due to pregnancy.

From the NY Times article, “Thomas T. Noland Jr., a senior vice president of Humana, said: “Premiums for our individual health insurance plans reflect claims experience — the use of medical services — which varies by gender and age. Females use more medical services than males, and this difference is most pronounced in young adults.”

In addition, Mr. Noland said, “Bearing children increases other health risks later in life, such as urinary incontinence, which may require treatment with medication or surgery.”

So, women pay more because they are likely to bear children. Hhhmm…well, maybe we should just stop having children and bring down the cost of health care exponentially across the board.

Women are, in effect, penalized for seeking preventative care and for advancing the human race. As such, women are far less likely to have affordable health care coverage. In fact, a recent study by The Commonwealth Fund found that “overall, seven of 10 working-age women, or an estimated 64 million women, have no health insurance coverage or inadequate coverage, medical bill or debt problems, or problems accessing needed health care because of cost.”

So, should we support substantial health care reform or do away with this whole “having babies” thing altogether? Wonder what Thomas T. Noland Jr’s mom would say.

Elinor Who?

Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Elinor Ostrom is the first woman to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences which she shares with Oliver E. Williamson.

I listened to a brief interview with Mrs. Ostrom on NPR in which she stated that in high school she took algebra and geometry but was denied the opportunity to take trigonometry because of her sex.

Now, I might not see that as such a golden opportunity given that I failed algebra, twice. In all seriousness, however, imagine how many bright young women were steered away from potentially brilliant careers in economics and science.

Elinor Ostrom was not to be deterred. She graduated with a BA from UCLA and then used a position in the personnel office as a spring board to enter the graduate program in public administration “at a time when women didn’t go to graduate school”. She met her future husband, Vincent Ostrom, at UCLA and the two remain together today. In fact, before Elinor’s Nobel win the couple were best known for founding the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at the University of Indiana, where they both teach, in 1973. The Workshop brings together students and scholars from disciplines as varied as business, anthropology and political science to conduct research in a supportive cross-disciplinary environment. The goal, “to promote the interdisciplinary study of institutions, incentives, and behavior as they relate to policy-relevant applications.”

The philosophy behind the Workshop is that “from the beginning, the Workshop’s founders, Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, have believed that ideas and theories must be considered through the lens of experience—that the critical connection is between ideas and what gets done.

This practical approach to solving big, big problems lies at the core of Ostrom’s ground breaking work \”Governing the Commons\” for which she won the Nobel Prize. It’s all about finding ways to better manage our resources as a community for the betterment of mankind.

Ivanka Trump may offer valuable lessons for young, ambitious business women and she’s certainly a style maven. And to be fair, she also has plenty of time to contribute much more than that. Elinor Ostrom went against conventional wisdom and blazed a trail for women. She might just have given us a path to change the world. What the hell, read both books!

Governing the Commons, the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

The Trump Card, Playing to Win in Work and Life

Ivanka’s Trump Card

Ivanka Trump, 27 year old Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, Trump Organization

Ivanka Trump, 27 year old Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, Trump Organization

“Whatever it is you’re looking to do or make or sell, you build your business on the assumption that you can do it better, smarter, and more efficiently than the competition. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ivanka-trump/going-it-alone-an-excerpt_b_319579.html

Let me begin with the admission that I have not read Ivanka Trump\’s new book, “Trump Card” recently published by Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster. I chanced upon an excerpt from the book on the Huffington Post website soon after listening to an interview with Elinor Ostrom, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics on NPR.

I was struck by how different these two successful women are in the circumstances of their upbringing and how that has effected their contributions, (or in Ivanka’s case might effect future contributions) to society.

I read a few more online articles on Ivanka Trump and by consensus she’s an accomplished, hard working and savvy businesswoman in her own right. I found an article on MSN.com touting her level headed handling of her celebrity and lack of a sense of entitlement. Psychotherapist and rich kid himself, Richard Clark had this to say about wealthy children, “The moment that a child begins to believe that they deserve their wealth is the moment where things will begin to go downhill. . . . The unhealthy, unproductive progeny of the wealthy are the ones who begin to believe their own press.”

By all accounts Ivanka hasn’t fallen into that trap. She’s the first to admit that she’s a child of great privilege, born with opportunities others were not. Still, she prefaces her book excerpt with the affirmation,

“We’ve all been dealt a winning hand and it is up to each of us to play it right and smart.’ This is the philosophy with which I operate in my day to day, and I hope that every reader walks away from my book with the feeling that life is a series of roads to success.”

While I applaud Ivanka’s desire to establish her own identity and means of success, (Paris Hilton was raised in similar circumstances and she’s a cautionary tabloid tale) we’re not all dealt such a winning hand. In a sense, I think, while the philosophy behind the book is well intentioned, it’s also incognizant. The fact is, there are many kids born with the same innate potential as Ms. Trump, intelligence, desire, talent, curiosity but for whatever reason are denied the tools with which to cultivate those innate gifts.

Malcolm Gladwell studies this conundrum at length in his recent book \”Outliers\” published by Little, Brown. Outliers is a term Gladwell uses to describe the uber successful members of our society. Bill Gates is the most obvious example but there are many others. He refutes the long held, cultural belief that successful people are just that much smarter, more talented, etc. On the contrary, he provides thoughtful and compelling evidence that success depends on a myriad of variables not the least of which is, who your parents are. Success is a product not only of the innate gifts with which one is born but also, and perhaps more so, of “history, community, opportunity and legacy”. All of which Ms. Trump has been gifted in spades.

So, is it really that special that Ivanka Trump is an author and successful executive (at her Father’s firm) with her own jewelry business? What can we really learn from her rise to success? Quite honestly, with all the advantages of being Ivanka Trump and a degree from Wharton School of Business shouldn’t she be expected to “do it better, smarter, and more efficiently than the competition”? If she couldn’t, who could?

Managing Expectations

Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada"

Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada"

I came across this op-ed article on NYTimes.com debating the efficacy and superiority of female vs. male managers and I thought it would make a nice follow up to my previous comment on CEO’s.

The opinion piece quotes various researchers (four women and one man) in response to a business column interview with Carol Smith, senior vice president and chief brand officer for the Elle Group in which she puts forth that women make better managers than men do. Her assertion has nothing to do with character or emotion she simply thinks women are more organized and less given to distraction. Carol also contends that men are better at letting things go, not over analyzing an issue to death and I agree with her. I think women are more focused and less inclined to waste time at work because men take being at the office and their climb up the corporate ladder for granted. Women can’t afford that luxury, especially if they aspire to the executive level and raising a family. Most women really have two full time jobs in that scenario. Carol also mentions that she comes into the office for about four hours every Sunday to check her email and alleviate the Monday crush of to-do’s. I wager most of her male colleagues are on the golf course on Sunday mornings. I probably would be as well, quite honestly.

Desperate Housewife Lynette at the office

Desperate Housewife Lynette at the office

A few things stand out to me in the debate on male vs. female management….

1) I’m disappointed that the issue of “emotion” in the workplace still arises as a distinctly feminine management trait and almost all of the researchers agreed that women are more emotional at work. I disagree. I’ve seen men yell, make completely inappropriate comments, even throw things in a full out tantrum. This comment came up in the response thread and I loved it…

“Why is it that, still, in 2009 we are saying “Women also bring emotion to the workplace…” Why is it that when male bosses yell, trade insults, cut others down behind their backs, or refuse to take the blame, for example, this is not seen as anger, jealousy, fear, or a whole host of other emotions that men are capable of?”

When men express these emotions it’s a healthy display of passion, office bravado or trash talkin’ whereas when women make the same mistakes they’re seen as overly emotional, irrational or unstable.

2) Both male and female subordinates constantly complain that their female bosses are passive aggressive. Well, of course they are. What do you expect from people who have been consistently conditioned not to be aggressive, confrontational or “unfeminine”. Watch a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons, especially the commercials. Little girls hold baby dolls and coo or groom pretty pink horses, boys blaze new trails with trucks, race cars and GI Joe. I’ve never seen a girl in a Tonka truck commercial. The very characteristics that define the powerful, hard charging, effective successful CEO are considered unattractive in a woman.

Now there's a busy day

Now there's a busy day

3) Very few discussions on equality and female leadership in corporate America deal with the elephant in the room. As long as women hold primary responsibility for reproductive and child care decisions (see any birth control for men in the marketplace?) they will never truly achieve equal footing in the workplace. If Republicans and the religious right really cared about family values there would be a well staffed, government funded daycare in every company and corporation in America.

Men don’t stop to consider if a potential job opportunity allows for paternity leave or flexible scheduling and so forth. They don’t even have to think about it. Their wives will take care of all that while they’re on the golf course or talking about their fantasy football scores before the big board meeting. Job equality will come about when there are substantial cultural changes and that might take a while. In the meantime, if I have a little girl I’m buying her a big, mean Tonka truck.

Nikki Finke Dishes It Out and Hollywood Loves It

Maybe I’m dating myself but do you remember the old EF Hutton commercial…”when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”? Well, when it comes to the Hollywood establishment, that applies ten fold to Nikki Finke. Author of the fast and furious blog Deadline Hollywood Daily, Nikki Finke has her fingers on the pulse of the L.A. based entertainment industry and she’s not afraid to apply pressure.

She’s been described as relentless and harsh and thuggish but she’ll be laughing all the way to the bank when the check comes in for the multi-million dollar sale of her blog to Mail.com Media Corp.

Finke

I started reading Finke’s blog upon the suggestion of a close friend of mine who works in casting. She mentioned it in that “guilty pleasure” tone, like it’s the kind of thing you read with a giggle and lots of bon-bons. Finke’s pull-no-punches style is a heady mix of investigative journalism (debatable) and Walter Winchell style gossip and I love it. I think the fact that Variety felt the need to attack her personally in a series of “fear the blogger” articles indicates that she probably gets more right than she does wrong.

She’s an ardent supporter of creatives and writers. Her blog served as an up to the minute portal for information during the WGA strike. Nikki Finke is not afraid to take the power elite to task in a company town. Accountability is as rare on Rodeo Drive as it is on Wall Street and that makes Nikki Finke and blogs like Deadline Hollywood Daily a necessary counterbalance to the old media establishment.  One recent post outs the salaries of the major media CEOs which are wildly out of sync with stock performance and shareholder equity. Searched Variety.com. Couldn’t find anything on it.

It’s true, she can be a little harsh at times. In one post she describes Nicole Kidman; “she has zero charisma onscreen: women don’t like her and men think she’s sexless”. Ouch. Except, I kind of agree. And that’s the great thing about Nikki Finke and blogs in general, they’re opinion portals. You should always take the information you recieve from them with a grain of salt. In fact, with the current state of journalism and media we should be taking all of our information or “news” with a grain of salt. Hello! FOX “News”? Not so much.