I was so lucky to get to attend in person the talk by Pat Mitchell, a Sun board member, given to women at Sun a few weeks back. Ms Mitchell, an energetic and intelligent speaker, captivated the "in studio" audience as she regaled us with tales of starting her own production company for women, starting her own talk show, Woman to Woman, and acting as an anchor on the Today show. Now, you have to wonder how a woman so involved in television came to be involved witht he Sun board of directors. Her career path is a staggered one, starting out just trying to do something she enjoyed - teaching! She then moved into writing articles for Look magazine and others, finding a new path for her to release her creative juices!
Ms. Mitchell talked quite extensively about how the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) actually helped her and other women to get jobs in the 1970s - and helped her get a myriad of experience. When the EEOC first went into effect, each TV station only had to have one woman in some job, but they liked to put their token hire in a position of prominent position so that everyone could see they were compliant. This is how she was able to hit the ground running and get real experience - though she did note that having such visible jobs that she didn't necessarily have all the training up front for did lead to extra scrutiny and occasional negative attention.
Ms. Mitchell found that women in media in the 1970s and early 1980s were expected to dress like men (we all remember those power-suits, right?), lower their voices to sound more like men, and to never discuss women's issues - but she decided to follow her own voice, which led her in very different directions! She soon discovered, though, that "talent"didn't get to make decisions on what stories were covered, who got hired or who got promoted. Feeling the frustration, she started her own production company to do things her way and to get all the experience associated with the business. Doing this led her to her first real executive position at Turner Broadcasting - a job she held for 10 years. Mitchell found Turner to be a fantastic mentor and only laments that her mentors were few & far between, and that she never had a woman mentor (as she seemed to always be breaking ground!).
When she found she no longer had a place after Turner merged with Time Warner (she notes that many women seemed to have lost their grounding), she nearly went back to teaching - only to get a call from PBS out of the blue. Mitchell loves her job at PBS, but found the pay was not quite the equal of a company like Turner. That is when she began taking jobs on corporate boards to make up the pay gap, and found she really enjoyed being able to contribute to companies she otherwise would've found unapproachable. She finds many boards appreciate her communication skills, knowledge of the entertainment business and her general business acumen.
Mitchell gave some fantastic advice for us all as well. She stated that women need to be comfortable with their own power - not only is it okay to have power, but you should use it and be able to redefine it, to have it work for you in a way that is not intimidating. Do all that and still be authentic.
She notes that you should also not be afraid of taking risks and that she's never seen anyone win anything through patience.
Related to that, Mitchell shared some of her grandmother's wisdom with us all: "Falling on your face is at least a forward movement."