On Monday October 15, 2018 I had an opportunity to attend a fantastic panel discussion titled “She’s the Boss: Growing into Success”.
The panel was moderated by my very dear friend Narges Kakalia, a brilliant lawyer at Mintz, and had four accomplished ladies discussing their stories of success, work, life and everything in between. One of the panelist happened to be the moderator’s namesake and a world renowned astrophysicist Nergis Mavalwala. In a truly classic “only in New York” moment do you get to attend a panel with two Parsi ladies….both with the same names, who also happened to grow up in close proximity in Karachi Pakistan, and didnt know about it till a few days ago.
Bellow are some highlights of the overall panel, as shared in an email by the organizers Mintz.
Highlights from Mintz’s “She’s the Boss— An Event to Inspire Future Female Leaders” featuring a panel discussion about successes and failures, staying true to yourself amid others’ expectations, focusing on process instead of results, and the importance of finding a champion.
By Sheri Qualters
Monday, October 15, 2018, 6:30 pm | New York City
Yen Chu, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, Equinox Holdings
Annie J. Howell, Screenwriter & Director
Nergis Mavalvala, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Zuzanna Szadkowski, Actor
Narges Kakalia, Member, Mintz
For several decades, women in the United States have had the freedom to pursue any career they choose. Yet despite women’s educational achievements, they continue to lag behind men in leadership positions and pay. Research indicates that girls are steered away from certain activities and careers as early as age six, and cultural attitudes about women’s abilities have been resistant to change.
To help girls — and boys — from grade school and beyond gain insight into how women can build thriving careers, Mintz convened a panel of four women accomplished in the arts, science, and the law for “She’s the Boss — An Event to Inspire Future Female Leaders.” Mintz Member Narges Kakalia moderated and actively participated in a candid conversation that touched on many topics: the panelists’ successes and failures, how they stay true to themselves amid others’ expectations, the importance of focusing on process instead of results, and the value of finding a champion. Over 150 participants, including a number of mothers, fathers, and their children, enjoyed the panel discussion, reception, and photo opps.
While introducing herself, panelist Nergis Mavalvala, an astrophysicist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opened up about the often-rocky road to success. She recounted starting in a lab where she accidentally broke a very expensive laser. She then talked about marshalling the resources (and the nerve) to work through the debacle to find a way to replace the laser. She acknowledged that stumbling blocks and failures are all part of the process of improving and, ultimately, succeeding. “If you set yourself the goal that every waking moment all you will do is learning something new, you will always succeed,” said Mavalvala, who is now Associate Head of MIT’s Department of Physics.
Screenwriter and Director Annie J. Howell also touched on early career struggles. After several years of trying to find backers for a feature film, she switched gears and teamed up with a colleague to make a film without a wealthy financier. The film ultimately premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival, an important venue for independent movies.
Noting that she would have loved to have learned in her younger years that careers have peaks and valleys, Kakalia asked the panelists about how they have experienced failure.
Yen Chu, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of global luxury lifestyle and fitness company Equinox Holdings, said she has the type A personality frequently associated with attorneys, but she’s learned two vital lessons: she’s going to fail every day and get back up again, and she’s not always going to be the smartest person in the room.
“You don’t have to know it all. It’s not going to help you much anyway. It’s about doing and applying what you’ve learned,” Chen said.
Focusing on doing excellent work and seizing all opportunities, instead of focusing on how others will view you, emerged as one of the themes of the evening. Actor Zuzanna Szadkowski’s best-known role as Dorota Kishlovsky on Gossip Girl, began that way. When she auditioned for the role, she knew it was a small, non-speaking one. She nevertheless gave her all to it. Soon enough, her performance had impressed the writers so much that they significantly developed her character, and it became an integral and permanent part of the show.
Szadkowski traces her success as Dorota back to an audition most others would have ignored in pursuit of something bigger and better. “It grew organically because I embraced the opportunity. If I didn’t, I would still be waiting for the big old fancy [role] I never got,” Szadkowski said.
In the question and answer session, Isabella Venturini, 13, described the Dream Gap Project started by Barbie maker Mattel Inc. to combat the self-limiting beliefs that many girls develop around the age of five. She then asked the panelists what they would say to a girl who was experiencing a dream gap.
Several panelists talked about the importance of finding at least one “rooter” who wholeheartedly believes in their success. Kakalia said although her late mother hadn’t graduated from high school herself, she believed her daughter could do anything, and that provided Kakalia with significant motivation to strive and succeed.
After the panel, Venturini said she liked hearing from “actual, strong women” who have had
amazing experiences that “inspire students like me to dream big and fight and persist for what you believe in and what you want your end goal to be.”
Leena Khandwala, an immigration attorney with the Legal Aid Society who attended the event with her 12-year-old daughter Nawal Irfani, said the event reinforced the conversations they’ve been having about focusing on learning — not just getting good grades. She said it’s valuable for Nawal to hear about the quandaries and failures powerful women face and how you overcome them.
Feedback from the event included comments like, “the young people in the room were pretty amazing. Gives me hope for the future.” One mother said her daughter learned that “it’s important to dive into new opportunities even if they might seem easy, to try to learn something new.” Another attendee called the panel “totally inspiring” and said that she could have listened for hours.
Kakalia said she spoke with participants after the event, all of whom had different takeaways from the discussion. This reinforced the idea that a systemic problem can be addressed in many different ways.
“There are so many angles from which to shatter that persistent glass ceiling,” she said.
We recently hosted our “She’s The Boss” event aimed at inspiring the next generation of female leaders. The evening was filled with thought-provoking conversation, insightful Q&A, and the opportunity to introduce our children to a wonderful network of people. This video recaps the event.