Forbes Women’s Summit Highlights
The Forbes Women’s Summit, held every June in New York City, allowed reflection on the last 18 months, deemed a “watershed moment,” with a multitude of women’s issues coming to the forefront of the collective society’s consciousness. Women of today need to focus more than ever on the values of commitment, honesty, and focused intent. The Summit’s topics showcased women innovators, thinkers, and problem solvers while fostering productive discussion and demonstrating what it means to seize the opportunity, navigate challenges, and drive change through solution-focused approach.
The event organizer, Moira Forbes, Executive Vice President of Forbes Media,
opened with the Summit’s theme, “More than Me,” by presenting a video of a powerful initiative in the development of girls’ schools in Liberia. John F. Kennedy’s memorable quote, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” resonated deeply within this video considering the herculean efforts volunteers and organizations have to put forward in order to make this mission a success in Liberia.
Navigating through the severe lack of resources, poor infrastructure, and underdeveloped economy are the epitomes of “moonshots” described by one of the speakers, a powerful transgender woman, Martine Rothblatt, an inventor and a medical entrepreneur, who is in the business of turning “moonshots into earthshots.” Martine co-founded Sirius Satellite Radio in 1990 then launched the biotech company, United Therapeutics, in 1996 in an effort to save her daughter’s life. United Therapeutics found an innovative way of keeping lungs transplantable during a critical period between dying and a transplant procedure by using a very simple suction technique that any parent is familiar with when kids get sick. She is currently working on new kidney transplant techniques with the goal of turning transplant organ scarcity into organ surplus. Martine’s personal story saved the lives of many. Her earthshot opportunities turned into accomplishing several moonshot goals.
Arianna Huffington, Founder and Chief Officer of Thrive Global, dispelled the notion that women have to reach the point of burnout on their path of success, which was further supported by Lori Wright’s speech. Lori, general manager of Microsoft teams and Skype marketing, shared a deeply personal story of her realization that tradeoffs are inherent at any job. She noted that identifying moments where one must get an A and where it is ok to get a C is not a pursuit of a mediocre path, but rather self-awareness to understand where to put in full energy and where to focus on simply doing a solid task to completion.
Maria Bartiromo, Global Markets Editor of Fox Business Network, brought out the powerful story of Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector, activist, and author. Hyeonseo shared her harrowing story of escaping from North Korea and then later returning to help her family out of the country. She provided interesting insights into a country that is unknown to many of us. Her story of perserverance was inspiring.
More inspiration was found in a conversation around encouraging women to pursue STEM degrees. Vanessa Hearst, co-founder of Girl Develop It, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Girl Found is a nonprofit organization that empowers women to learn software development by providing low-cost, judgment-free learning opportunities and a supportive community.
A compelling struggle in life was told by Victoria Arlen, Television Personality at ESPN. When she was just 11 years old, Arlen developed two rare conditions known as transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. This combination was an extremely rare scenario, and Victoria quickly lost the ability to speak, eat, walk, and move. She slipped into a vegetative state in which recovery was unlikely. Arlen spent nearly four years "locked" inside her own body, completely aware of what was going on, just unable to move or communicate. Doctors believed there was little hope of survival, and recovery was unlikely. However, she recovered and went on to earn four Paralympics medals, compete on Dancing with the Stars, and became an ESPN reporter at age 23. She stated, “Any extraordinary life comes with major challenges, and you must keep climbing.”
The event was wrapped up with a keynote conversation with Indra Nooyi, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo and Priyanka Chopra, an actress, producer and activist. They shared their journey of breaking barriers in their respective fields and the influence of their Indian culture.
Through humor and sound business advice, Indra imparted words of wisdom in how she rose to the top of the corporate ladder. She spoke of hard work, the fallacy that women can have it all, and gave realistic insights and inspiration. Finally, she masterfully closed with the idea of the “power of sisterhood” which resonated with all the women in attendance.
Women should have a renewed focus on enhancing each other’s progress in order for the movement toward full equality and the eradication of injustice to continue in all venues of life.
Written by Dr. Maja Zelihic, Assistant Professor and Program Chair of the Master of Organizational Management (pictured above, far right) and Brenda Forde, Assistant Professor and Program Chair of the Master of Business Administration (pictured above, second from right) at the Forbes School of Business & Technology™ at Ashford University. Also pictured, from left: Karen Ivy (Associate Dean of Forbes School of Business & Technology), Morgan Johnson (Associate Vice President of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning), and Laura Palmer-Noone (Ashford University Provost).