Stiletto Network: Inside the Women's Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Businessby Pamela Ryckman
More women are running major companies than ever before. While still far too few in number, these female heads of industry are the forerunners of a radical shift in power now underway. During the past few years, women’s groups have been coalescing in every major American city. Formidable ladies across professions
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More women are running major companies than ever before. While still far too few in number, these female heads of industry are the forerunners of a radical shift in power now underway. During the past few years, women’s groups have been coalescing in every major American city. Formidable ladies across professions are convening at unprecedented rates, forming salons, dinner groups, and networking circles—and collaborating to achieve clout and success. A new girls’ network is alive and set to hyperdrive.
Stiletto Network is about those groups: the “Power Bitches,” “Brazen Hussies” and “S.L.U.T.S.: Successful Ladies Under Tremendous Stress.” It’s about what happens when bright, extraordinary women—from captains of industry to aspiring entrepreneurs—come together to celebrate and unwind, debate and compare notes. But it’s also about what happens when they leave the table, when the talking stops and the action starts. It’s about how they mine their collective intelligence to realize their dreams or champion a cause, how they lift up their friends and push them forward, how they join forces to ensure each woman gets what she needs—be it information, an introduction, a partnership, or a landmark deal.
This is the first book to shed light on this groundbreaking movement. Sharing story after story of women banding together to help other women, Stiletto Network is both a call to action and an inside look at a better way of doing business.
“Have courage, give courage. Stiletto Networks push members to pursue their passions.” Joyce Lain Kennedy, nationally syndicated career columnist
"Stiletto Networks: these clubs are blazing the business world" LearnVest
"…Ryckman recognizes a new power trend in business: women banding together to bust through those barriers that continue to impede an individual woman’s progress.” The Daily Blog, 800-CEO-Read
"...roadmap of how [women] can form their own "Stiletto Networks" and help others as well as themselves succeed in business and indeed in life." Kay Koplovitz,The Huffington Post
“…filled with witty names and acronyms—and, most important, with real-life stories of women helping other women...Inspiring and insightful.” ALA Booklist
“…provides the essential tools and guidance, for enriching the careers of successful women that go beyond the boardroom, and form lifelong friendships as well." Blog Business World
"Women from every walk of life will be able to relate to this book…Stiletto Network is a movement that will have you hooked." Examiner.com
"A book for women working in any industry looking to build a professional support network, also for men curious about this latest phenomena." LJ Xpress Reviews
"Whether she's an aspiring teenager or fifty-something, Stiletto Network is a great book to gift a woman.” The Well-Heeled Society
"…alternative type of network that's not only effective but fun, where women come together to share ideas, exchange advice and even invest in new companies." Community Manager, Professional Women at LinkedIn
Verdict A book for women working in any industry looking to build a professional support network, also for men curious about this latest phenomena.Leigh Mihlrad, FDIC Lib., Washington, DC
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Read an Excerpt
INSIDE THE WOMEN'S POWER CIRCLES THAT ARE CHANGING THE FACE OF BUSINESS
By PAMELA RYCKMAN
AMACOMCopyright © 2013Pamela Ryckman
All rights reserved.
A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
Kim Moses never thought women would transform her life. She was already a force in blockbuster TV, producing and directing shows that won six Emmys and two Golden Globes. And she'd spent her early career in sports, after following her high school sweetheart—a football prodigy named Joe Montana—to Notre Dame. Now she had a loving husband and business partner, plus two teenage sons. Needless to say, Moses was accustomed to being the only woman in the room.
"Girl power" sounded lovely if chimerical, the province of utopian theorists. Women who'd spent enough time in the workforce knew better than to pine for some refuge of feminine support. It just wasn't part of Moses's reality—until she found herself at the center of The Vault.
The Vault isn't some secret society. It has no charter or clubhouse or rules. It's just a bunch of ladies gathering for dinner, at each other's homes, no less. But these gals happen to be tops in their fields, and in 2009, Moses had an urge to bring them together. As cofounder of Sander/Moses Productions and Slam, a digital media company, Moses knew that go-getting women existed in C-suites and conference rooms, on mastheads and boards of directors. Yet they were tucked away in offices or zipping around on planes, and after work they ran home to care for their families. They weren't being seen, or seeing much of each other. So Moses called her friend Willow Bay, a television correspondent and Huffington Post editor, to suggest they assemble some busy women for a meal.
Moses and Bay had been to hundreds of formal networking events, and they grasped the importance of a filter. Large conferences didn't breed intimacy, but dinner at one another's houses just might. They wanted their group to be personal, not just business, and they hoped women would open up and forge friendships among equals. They contacted some women they knew and others they'd never met, targeting experts across a variety of industries, gals sure to possess an array of strategies and viewpoints. "I wanted to connect with women who had climbed and discovered and figured it out, instead of inheriting something. It's a different journey," Moses says. "I wanted to meet women who could tell their stories."
And Moses had a rags-to-riches tale of her own.
Life Was Not a Spectator Sport
Finding women she could relate to was especially important for Moses because she'd succeeded without ever having role models. She was raised in a poor coal-mining town in southwest Pennsylvania, a town with "good souls" but few options. There were three ways a woman could go: nurse, teacher, or wife. Men were athletes, or they ended up on welfare or in jail. Nobody went to college. "There was nothing to aspire to and no one to show you the way," she says. "My brothers and I were the few who went out into the world and didn't go back there."
Moses left home at age 19 to marry Montana and move to Indiana, where she worked in the Sports Information Office at Notre Dame while her husband began his rise toward the Hall of Fame. She loved live sports, but when the pair separated during Montana's senior year, Moses was abruptly shown the door. "We were a high-profile couple. They'd won the national championship, and Notre Dame made it clear they wanted me to move on. It was awkward for them," she says. "I was very hurt because I had worked hard and really felt I stood on my own. There were no women there and I had no one to turn to."
Moses followed a Notre Dame friend to Washington, D.C., where she labored in the trenches on Capitol Hill. There she saw at least a few women with power, women with ideas and opinions who, instead of just cheerleading from the sidelines, worked together with men toward common goals. She began putting herself through Georgetown, and she used her wits and gumption to score a spot with Al Gore supporting his efforts to halt climate change, but Moses saw that without a law degree, her Washington career would be limited. Plus, she wanted to follow her passion, and that meant sticking to sports.
Through family members and former colleagues at Notre Dame, Moses secured connections to ABC Sports and the NFL. She pursued projects when Congress went on hiatus several times a year, working on production teams at both college and professional levels, covering everything from bowling to basketball, not to mention nine Super Bowls and the 1984 Olympics.
It was the 1980s, the Reagan administration, and determined career girls were just starting to appear in the media, if as sexless, strident caricatures brandishing their noms de guerre. Sigourney Weaver sparred with Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, while in Baby Boom, Diane Keaton's "Tiger Lady" struggled to manage her ambition and an adopted daughter. All wore Reeboks over nude hose, shoulder pads over thick skin. Life, they were told, was not a spectator sport.
Even so, Moses worked with all men. Few arenas were more male-dominated than government and athletics, and often it felt like she'd left one locker room for another. "The Hill and then ABC and NBC Sports, it was a wild, rowdy group of guys. When you're in a man's world, it's really loud, noisy, and aggressive. I hadn't seen any women I wanted to be, whose job I wanted to have," she says. "Trying to find your voice is hard if you haven't seen someone else do it."
But Moses had drive and talent. She knew she could be successful, even in sports, if only someone would give her a chance. She started sending letters to sports producers in New York and Los Angeles. Finally, she received an offer from a Notre Dame graduate who worked for Don Ohlmeyer, a producer who'd expanded to mainstream entertainment and was now running his own shop. She ditched Georgetown and D.C. to join him.
Moses traveled frequently with Ohlmeyer Productions, and when she returned from one month-long trip to Florida for a Disney special, she found a new producer—Ian Sander—sitting across the hall. Sander was working with Ohlmeyer on a movie, and he and Moses became fast friends. They began dating three months later, once he'd left the firm, and about eight months into their romance, Moses brought him Stolen Babies.
Stolen Babies, a 1993 primetime drama on Lifetime television, starred Mary Tyler Moore, who won an Emmy for her performance. The film marked the beginning of a personal and professional collaboration for Sander and Moses that has lasted twenty years and garnered countless awards. The couple is now married, and together they own a production company known for its use of cutting-edge technology. In the mid-1990s, they produced Profiler, the first show to leverage the Internet to cultivate fans, and when it came time for their most recent hit, Ghost Whisperer—the CBS drama starring Jennifer Love Hewitt—they took everything they'd learned about digital platforms and started generating buzz well before the program aired. They organized events and fashioned an online crystal ball game, a graphic novel, video games, and a Web series from a ghost's point of view. Or, as Moses says, they created a 360-degree "total engagement experience" to nurture a base of devoted female followers.
Their marketing blitz worked. Ghost Whisperer averaged 10 million viewers its first season, more than any other Friday night show in 2005, and ran for five years. But for Moses, the fact that her show was built around a strong woman was as important as its overall success. "We were poised to have staying power, and we were the number one most talked about show online," she says. "We built Ghost Whisperer into a powerful brand with a woman at the core. I learned I was able to drive ratings with a predominantly female audience and build a loyal fan base and a powerhouse brand, all around a female role model."
Realizing the strength of her female brand set Moses thinking. She'd left the sausage-fest of sports and politics, and still she was surrounded by guys. She recalled a time years before, when she'd found herself sitting across from a bigwig at CBS, interviewing for a job she knew she could nail. She'd expressed her love of producing, revealed her background and need to support herself, and then she was floored by this man's hidebound response. "He said, 'You will never, ever work for a network because you don't have a college education,'" Moses says, still smarting. "The idea that this guy could step on my dream made me go after it more aggressively."
Now she was a big-time producer for the most prestigious networks, and she knew her shows were making an impact. So, she wondered, how is it possible—when women are the dominant viewers of network TV—that there aren't more female decision makers in the field?
"Even in Hollywood I didn't have a true infrastructure of women who understood where I was. There are a lot of women in middle management, but mostly it's men making decisions and filtering the material," Moses says. "While some programming is a science, some is taste. It's intuitive. If you're at ESPN, you don't see so many women because women aren't the primary watchers of sports. At Univision, there aren't a lot of white people programming because it caters to Hispanics. But when I look at the women's networks, there are still very few women doing creative work."
If this were true in her industry, where women are major consumers, then what was it like in other professions?
Moses wanted the chance to meet smart, determined women like herself, but she knew it wouldn't be easy. The gals she sought were already operating on overdrive, constantly flinging themselves across continents in pursuit of fulfillment, a quest for some greater piece of the pie. So she and Willow Bay were stunned when they reached out and, without fail, every woman said yes, and they were elated when a core group of about a dozen—including the founders of Juicy Couture, the co-owner of the L.A. Sparks WNBA team, and one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world— began to gel. "They didn't know these other women," Moses says, "but they found the idea very empowering."
These ladies have met monthly for the past three years, and Moses is always there to greet them when they arrive. "They've had heavy days, long days, and there's such a look of excitement and anticipation," she continues. "Each time, new information comes out or something special opens up. It's never the same thing. Being with these women, reaching out to others, we all end up talking about our personal stories and life journeys. It's pure magic and we're moved out of our universe for a couple of hours."
The women call their cabal The Vault because they've come to truly know and trust each other. Everyone contributes and everyone is discreet, and they've learned that, like Moses, each one is self-made. "We talk about everything from employee issues to problems we're having with our husbands. It's not in the PTA–coffee klatch kind of way, but more sharing points of view on where the world is heading, what's happening to kids in our communities," Moses says. "It's having women at the table, talking and sharing and helping us figure out where to go next."
Moses and Bay invite special guests to ensure that each dinner has a distinctive slant and feels unique. Visitors, of course, aren't just any seat-fillers. They're women like Leslie Sanchez, the Republican political analyst; Judy Smith, a Washington, D.C.– based crisis manager (with clients like Monica Lewinsky) who inspired the ABC hit show Scandal; Nicole Feld, half of the first sister-team to produce Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; Dr. Helene Gayle, the president and CEO of CARE USA, the world's leading international humanitarian organization; and Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker who won a 2012 Oscar for her documentary, Saving Face. Not a slouch in this bunch.
"It's opened my world way beyond the industry I've worked in. I feel like I'd been asleep before I started this group," Moses expands. "Most of us are very insular, but we're living in a world that is dynamically connected and this is the most incredible time to come together. We all know we're going to learn something and help each other."
While there was never any express purpose, no desire to shake down other chicks for their contacts, Vault members have found that when you put a bunch of motivated ladies in the same room, exciting things happen. The women have counseled each other through job transitions, formed strategic collaborations, and facilitated book deals. In one instance, when filmmaker Chinoy mentioned her desire to create an animated series for Pakistani youth to convey the Taliban's negative influence, Moses introduced her to another gal in the Vault constellation, Darla Anderson. Anderson is the top female at Pixar, a company known for films like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and Cars, and she holds the Guinness World Record for the highest average movie gross of any producer. "You couldn't ask for a more valuable mentor than Darla for Sharmeen," Moses says. "All this happens just through these dinners. When we put people together and say, 'Can you help this woman?' everyone in our group says, 'Yes, absolutely.' It's amazing."
And though The Vault was never meant to be self-serving, Moses has benefited personally in spectacular ways. Vault ladies keep Moses's thinking current and serve as sources for her annual "Point of View" document, a 200-page analysis of the economy and culture used to buttress content she's creating for TV and digital media the following year. Moses also partnered with her friend and fellow Vault member Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, who is president of international distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures, on an outreach program for the international opening of Clint Eastwood's 2010 movie Hereafter.
"I had just done Ghost Whisperer, which was about mediums, so I knew her audience. I thought I could help," Moses says. "Because we had our shows airing in 169 countries, we digitally reached out to our fan base. We engaged with people we thought would be interested in this fare—in this case, mediums and talking to the dead. We drove those eyeballs and got them to the movie theaters." The collaboration was so effective that Kwan-Rubinek hired Sander/Moses to create an app for Happy Feet 2. It was the most downloaded app in the history of Warner Bros.
"These things happen organically in an informal way, but they also happen formally at the table. We're constantly thinking about what we can do for each other. By the end of every dinner, we all have something we can do to further somebody else," says Moses, high from the sale of new shows to ABC and CBS. "I've always had a problem asking for help, but this isn't like making a cold call. You may be the one asking for help today, but tomorrow you're the one who's giving help. Today I bet I fielded four calls from women who were sent to me by somebody else. Times have changed and women are in a position to help each other and make a difference. There's momentum now, and we're stitched together tighter."
North to the Future
The Vault has been a revelation for Moses, upending a prevailing view of high-powered women in the workplace. "Tiger ladies" aren't meant to have generous spirits. They're supposed to claw each other's eyes out, stab each other in the back. How else could they have climbed corporate ladders and not just survived, but thrived?
The Vault was always different, perhaps—Moses thought— exceptional. It had to be the result of a rare and secret chemistry. Moses believed she'd found a singular recipe, a pocket of warmth in a kitchen in a house in a tough town called L.A. She never imagined this formula could be replicated or that groups like hers were coalescing in other cities. She never believed women could be uniting across industries, offering support and sounding boards, fueling each other's journeys and providing safe landings in places as far-flung as Anchorage, Alaska.
But women were coming together in Anchorage too, as Liane Pelletier can attest. She found them once she mustered the courage to venture, as the Alaska state motto says, "North to the Future," to become a CEO.
Pelletier hadn't known she wanted to be a chief executive until she said it aloud, onstage and in public. Because she was one of few women leaders at Sprint, the telecom giant based in Overland Park, Kansas, she routinely won a featured speaking slot at the company's annual "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work" event. So, on a spring day in 2000, Pelletier ascended to the dais without papers or props to tell Sprint employees and their children why she loved her profession.
Pelletier led the corporate strategy and business development group and—together with her 100-person team, many of whom had PhDs—she kept her finger on the pulse of the telecom industry, tracking trends, competitors, and emerging regulations to position her firm for success. "We were the brainiac department. I had this incredibly smart group of folks who could eat numbers and provide context," she says now, passion evident in her voice. "It was an awesome job."
Excerpted from STILETTO NETWORK by PAMELA RYCKMAN. Copyright © 2013 by Pamela Ryckman. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
PAMELA RYCKMAN has written for The New York Times, Financial Times, Fortune.com/CNNMoney, International Herald Tribune, The New York Observer, and The New York Sun, among other publications. Prior to becoming a journalist, she performed strategy work for Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.
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STILETTO NETWORK, an exciting new work by first-time author, Pamela Ryckman is outstanding. She writes in an up-beat and motivational tone. STILETTO NETWORK is not a publication you'll want to put down. It stands alone among business books which have been bought, read and shelved as dust collectors. It should interest both sexes as the playing fields have leveled in all sectors of business to where men and women must work together as teams to succeed. Ms. Ryckman reveals how and why (STILETTO) networks formed over the years. It's a wonderful primer and might well become a favorite reference tool.
Haven't read it but this looks incredibly stupid. The fact that you have to associate powerful women with stilettos means I won't be buying. Sorry buddy, count on the next most gullible consumer to buy your pre-packaged BS. Most of my co-workers have made their ways into the world of business without depending on cliches about crippling footwear.