No matter what your career goals are, you’ve likely wished from time to time for a group of smart, talented, powerful mentors —people who could guide your decisions and perhaps even open doors for you.
Dee Poku was no different. A Hollywood studio executive who led marketing efforts for Paramount Pictures and Focus Features, she often faced times where the counsel of a mentor would be helpful. And it was exactly those experiences that led her to found an organization that’s making it possible for all women to have career mentors: the WIE Network .
“An annual women’s conference and online community aimed at empowering a new generation of women leaders,” as Poku describes it, WIE’s signature event is an annual symposium bringing together the likes of Arianna Huffington, Melinda Gates, Ted Turner, and Jill Biden to help younger women (and men!) get the tools, advice, and resources they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.
In other words, it’s the place for any ambitious careerist to be. Read on to see how Poku got started, her advice for anyone who wants to climb the ladder, and—oh yeah—your chance to attend this year’s conference!
How did WIE get started—what inspired you to create the conference?
When I worked in the corporate world, I came up against various obstacles and situations where I wished I had someone I could turn to for advice on how to navigate. And so that was sort of the initial inspiration for creating WIE, which is really a form of mass mentorship. It was initially a one-off event designed to connect trailblazing women with emerging leaders, but that initial event was so successful and so well-received that we realized there was sort of a there there, and here we are five years later.
Does this “mass mentorship” still happen at the event today?
It really happens organically. I would say, for example, I never had a mentor, but I had my peers. Whenever I had an issue or when I needed advice, my peers were who I turned to. The value of a good network cannot be stressed enough. And so, we’re really hoping that women use the conference to form really fantastic connections with each other as well as forming connections with the men and women on stage.
This year, though, we’re also talking about mentorship versus sponsorship. I think women tend to mentor, giving advice and talking others through steps in their careers, but what we really need is a more aggressive relationship, where people will actually make the connections. Male or female . If you look at high-profile examples like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, they also had very important male sort of sponsors who supported their careers.
Speaking of high-profile, who are some of the people you’re excited to see this year?
I’m excited about a variety of people. I’m interested to hear from Ken Parks, the managing director of Spotify—this year, we’re talking a lot about collaboration, and we’re talking with him in particular about the sharing economy and the relationship between companies and their customers and how they’re a lot more reliant on each other than they were before. And John Demsey, the Global Head of Estee Lauder, Inc., is a brilliant strategist.
Also, [actress and human rights activist] Trudie Styler, someone I’ve always admired; the actress Zosia Mamet from Girls , who is very funny and who has opened up about her struggles with bulimia and with being a woman in the spotlight; Meryl Poster, who is the head of television for the Weinstein Company; and Brad Burnham, the managing partner at Union Square Ventures. There’s so many more.
The conference theme this year is “it takes two.” What can we expect to hear about?
“It takes two” encompasses a few things—for example, the sharing economy and how companies like Uber and Airbnb have evolved. Also, though we’re a women’s conference, we’ll be exploring the dynamics in the workplace—how men navigate careers, how women do, and how we work together.
WIE is very much a place to learn—I think there are a lot of women’s conferences where a lot of issues are discussed, and that’s really important, but this is more actionable. It’s about, for example, how to become a great marketer, how to raise funds, how to scale a business, how to grow a community online. That’s a really important differentiator for us.
What’s something you’ve noticed about how women navigate their careers? What’s some advice you would offer women trying to get ahead?
The biggest piece of advice I can give to women is to work smart. Broadly speaking, women are very hard workers. We’re very meticulous, very conscientious, and those are all very important attributes. But when it comes to navigating your career and navigating office culture, you really also need to think strategically about your profile within the company.
So, this means not getting so caught up in the minutiae of getting everything perfect and really thinking about who’s around you, who’s noticing what you’re doing, who’s aware of the great work you’ve done. It’s just as important as doing the work. It’s something I was very, very guilty of—I was the one still in the office late at night, trying to make sure everything was done, while other people might have been out there at that dinner, at that event, forming those important connections. I think it’s really important not to be the martyr and to think very smartly about how you’re doing your job and how people are perceiving you.
Win Tickets to the WIE Symposium!
We’re giving away 3 pairs of tickets to the WIE Symposium in New York, September 19, 2014 (tickets valued at $600 each!).
The full-day event features incredible speakers including John Demsey, president of the Estee Lauder Companies, Jennifer Dulski, president and CEO of Change.org, Girls ’ Zosia Mamet, and so many more, as well as plenty of time for networking with panelists and fellow participants.
Just submit your email below, and you’ll be entered to win.
Winners (3) will be chosen at random and notified via email. All entries must be submitted by Friday, September 12, 2014 11:59 PM EST. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition. You must be over 18 to enter. By entering this contest, you agree to be notified by The Muse in the future.
Photo of woman walking courtesy of Shutterstock .
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