10 Ways To Say No And Manage Your Time

Women often think an easy yes is better than a difficult no but in the long term we just end up over committed, and disappointing everyone, especially ourselves. At the latest installment of our dinner discussion series, A Dinner For Ladies which was hosted by Marie Claire's Editor in Chief, Anne Fulenwider, our theme was "Stay Focused: Tried And Tested Ways To Say No". The rich conversation produced some great insights (see below). Thank you to chef Sarah Barberio for the delicious food and WelleCo for our generous gifts. 

How To Say No

Schedule non essential requests for meetings up to six months in the future and ask for questions in advance. It weeds out all but the most serious. 

Try grouping mentees into quarterly meetings. They’re likely have the same questions. 

Rather than focus on what you missed out on, hone in on what you gained instead.

Deputize yourself - ensure you have a  strong number two.

Outsource everything you possibly can!

Decide on the one thing you want to happen that day - schedule everything else around it.

If you have kids, decline early cocktails and schedule dinners after 7.30pm - that way you’re home for their bedtime. 

Every month, look back at your diary and review how you’re spending your time

Say no nicely. Never ghost. People always remember the nice no. 

Further reading: There Are No Grownups, The Confidence Code, Tribe of Mentors

 Anne Fulenwider, Dee Poku

Anne Fulenwider, Dee Poku

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Inspiring Women Who Overcome The Odds

Forbes Self Made Women

Today, Forbes published its annual list of America’s richest self-made women. It featured many of the usual subjects, some welcome reminders, a few surprises and a plethora of inspiring stories about some of the smartest and most tenacious women in the world.

Highlights include the self-made originator Oprah Winfrey, who transcended poverty and abuse to become the most powerful woman in media; Jin Sook Chang, the co-founder of Forever 21 who emigrated to California penniless, with little education and scant English; Carolyn Rafaelian who was inspired by her Armenian grandfather’s journey through Ellis Island to found Alex and Ani; Spanx’s Sara Blakely who went from selling fax machines door to door to starting her own company with $5000; Theresa Gouw Of Aspect Ventures who emigrated from Indonesia age three and was one of the few in her high school to go on to higher education and Sheila Johnson, a violin teacher who went on to co-found BET. 

Whenever I’m tempted to give up, reading their stories reminds me that anything is possible.

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How We Protect Roe v Wade

A Woman's Right to Choose

We all know someone who’s had an abortion. One in four women in America have one before the age of 45 and it cuts across every demographic. I fundamentally believe in a woman’s right to choose when or whether to have children and when the time is right. There’s no such thing as banning abortions, just banning safe abortions. The soon to be announced nominee for the Supreme Court could by a single vote overturn and gut Roe v. Wade. We cannot let that happen. Speak out, and ask your Senator to protect #RoevWade. We cannot go backwards.

Roe v Wade, OneinFour

Who Makes The Best Leaders?

Tarana Burke talks women and leadership

On a recent panel discussion, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke was asked why sometimes, even when women reach positions of positions of power, they still don’t necessarily push for or create a more diverse workforce. Her answer - it’s not just about any woman, we have to have the right women at the top. Women are also victims of years of patriarchy and we sometimes have to unlearn a lifetime of pre-conceived ideas.

I would add to this that it’s very tough for one woman alone to effect change. When there’s no safety net and she’s on the front line alone, the default is to protect her position by maintaining the status quo.

It takes a village to make a difference.

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Gen Z Will Change The World

Speaking at Cannes Lions

There’s a new generation coming up who are already fighting to defend their rights and redefine the workplace and who have no interest in brands who don’t share their values. I loved talking the power of millennial and Gen Z voices on a panel at the Girls Lounge, with designer Rebecca Minkoff, Berlin Cameron President Jennifer DaSilva and Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso

 Rebecca Minkoff, Dee Poku, Jennifer DaSilva, Sophia Amoruso

Rebecca Minkoff, Dee Poku, Jennifer DaSilva, Sophia Amoruso

 Girls Lounge

Girls Lounge

Diverse Governments Should Be The Norm Not The Exception

Gender equal governments are rare around the world let alone cabinets where women form the majority. Rwanda has led the way recently, with 64% of its lower house made up of women followed by Sweden and Bolivia with 54% and 53% respectively.  And Canada has also made strides under Justin Trudeau a with gender equal cabinet.

But Spain's new leader, Pedro Sanchez just made history by forming a majority female government - 11 women to 6 men to be precise. “All are highly qualified and bring a vocation for public service and reflect the best of Spain. (The new cabinet) is pro-gender equality, cross-generational, open to the world but anchored in the European Union,' Sanchez told reporters.

Think of the possibilities if all governments were truly diverse, and issues affecting women, from affordable childcare to parental leave to reproductive rights to flexible workdays weren’t relegated to the sidelines.

 Spanish cabinet

Spanish cabinet

Celebrate Immigrants

I’m proud to have had my child participate in this incredibly powerful campaign. An homage to the iconic I AM A MAN photograph from 1968, our hope is that this picture will serve as an important reminder that ALL children are human beings and deserving of our protection regardless of their immigration status. I AM A CHILD. #FamiliesBelongTogether

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My Idol Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Some people idolize rock stars, feel faint at the sight of famous actors and even fetishize politicians.  My crush is a little more low key but no less awe inducing in my humble opinion, and that's the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie.  Every speech or interview Adichie gives strikes a deep chord and every book speaks to me on a visceral level. Our journeys as west Africans living between three continents - Europe, America, Africa, or Afropolitans, have many similarities and inform our opinions on so much. She has the ability to express what I'm feeling in the most intellectual, articulate yet deceptively simple way. 

A in-depth New Yorker piece on Adichie kept me up way past my bedtime last night as I devoured every word and nodded and smiled in appreciation and agreement. As an African abroad, navigating race and identity on a daily basis is no small feat. A highly recommended read.

 Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker

Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker

Dietland Is Your New TV Addiction

“[Dietland] is Fight Club meets Margaret Atwood” (Bustle)

There's a smart, funny and rather surreal new show launching on AMC on June 4th called Dietland. Based on the book by Sarai Walker and produced by Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the show is led by an excellent cast that includes Joy Nash and Julianna Margulies. Dietland explores all the hot button issues women confront on a daily basis - fat shaming, sexual harassment, workplace inequality and thwarted career ambitions. I was glad to be included in a gathering of cast members, thought leaders and activists this morning, to discuss how women could better channel their anger and frustration at gender inequality issues, into action.

 Dietland poster

Dietland poster

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Dietland starTamara Tunie, Dee Poku

The Stories We Tell Our Children

Women, Publishing & Diversity

Last night I moderated an excellent panel with Jamia Wilson, executive director and publisher of the Feminist Press, and artist, writer, educator Elise Peterson, about race and representation in storytelling. Over 80% of characters in children’s books are white, and in 2016, black, latinx and Native American authors combined wrote just 6% of all new children’s books. So how do we ensure all our kids are exposed to diverse literature that broadens their worldview?

Well, there are systemic changes that need to happen within the publishing industry. But in the meantime, there are also active steps we can all take in our daily lives, such as supporting existing writers of color, donating diverse books to our schools and youth organizations, becoming writers ourselves and even creating simple homemade storybooks for our kids. Where there’s a lack, sometimes the best solution is to start by plugging the gap ourselves rather than waiting for the system to change. 

Jamia Wilson, Dee Poku, Elise Peterson

There Are No Shortcuts To Success

Do you remember how you got started in your career? I’ve never taken the easy path in life and have worked so hard for everything I have but there’s always that little demon in the corner of your brain telling you you haven’t done enough.

Giving a speech about first jobs as part of the TueNight series at The Wing, reminded me that I’ve actually come pretty far and should own it and be proud. I also loved hearing all the funny, poignant, honest and inspiring stories from public advocate Letitia James, Stacy London, Higher Heights’ Kimberly Peeler Allen, Mallory Kasdan and Robin Gelfenbien. It reminded me that social media is just smokescreen. There really are no short cuts to success. It takes hard work, persistence and perseverance. 

 

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TueNight at The Wing

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With fellow speaker Stacy London

Stepping Outside The Bubble At The TED Conference

I'm feeling unstoppable today, having spent the week hearing about the heights of human achievement and the depths of human loss at my first TED conference in Vancouver. Before going, I asked TED veterans advice on how best to navigate the 2500 person event. Don't overthink it, they said. Be open. Talk to anyone and everyone.  And they were right. There were brilliant biochemists in the coffee line and eminent economists at coat check, Ryan Coogler casually sitting on the steps and Steven Spielberg hidden in plain site. Impressive thinkers and doers at every turn.

On stage, speakers such as Jaron Lanier (the use of our data), Tracee Ellis Ross (sexual harassment), Kate Raworth (rethinking our economy), Yasmin Green & Dylan Marron (combatting online hate), Frances Frei (company culture), Morgan Dixon/Vanessa Garrison (black women driving movements), Robin Steinberg (mass incarceration) and Chetna Sinha (authentic social entrepreneurship) amazed, informed and inspired.

And I made some good friends. Friends I want to change the world with. This was my first time at Ted but hopefully not my last. Thank you for the unforgettable experience.

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Why All Countries Should Follow The UK's Lead on Equal Pay

Last week, various film and television companies shared their pay figures, and the results were far from stellar. The most upsetting results came from Disney, who revealed a 22% pay gap between its male and female employees and a 40% gap in favor of men for bonuses. Yesterday, it was the turn of the music industry, which saw Warner Music UK as the stand out, with an average gender pay gap of 49%, and 82% for bonuses!

The reason all these shocking statistics are coming to light? Because of the UK government's mandate that all companies with over 250 employees disclose their pay data by April 4. This process began to unravel back in July 2017 when the BBC was asked to reveal the salaries of anyone earning over £150k. The results were damning, leading to protests by female employees and the resignation of one editor. Now that the requirement has been widened to include all large companies, we're seeing the true extent of the problem we already knew existed.

Companies with pay gaps are also being encouraged to outline a plan for how they might rectify the problem. But now these statistics are available to all, I hope it not only forces companies to continue to self-examine but that it provides employees the leverage with which to demand change.

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Misty Copeland Inspires Again

Naturally, human beings are sensitive to criticism. Our initial reaction when someone is less than complimentary is to get defensive and/or hide away, none of which helps us grow or deal with the issue.

This week, my favorite dancer and all round inspirational human being, Misty Copeland was a study in class, grace and self reflection as she dealt with an online troll who criticized a recent performance of Swan Lake. Rather than clap back, she acknowledged the criticism, posted about it publicly and used it as opportunity to not only reflect on her mission and strengths but also areas of potential growth. I've shared part of statement below.

"I’m happy this has been shared because I will forever be a work in progress and will never stop learning. I learn from seeing myself on film and rarely get to. So thank you. I will always reiterate that I am by no means the best in ballet. I understand my position and what I represent. I know that I’m in a very unique position and have been given a rare platform. All I’ve ever wanted is to bring ballet to more people and to help to diversify it."

"A ballerina's career is not, nor should be defined by how many fouettés she executes. I’m happy to have this dialogue because it’s something I believe in whole heartedly. The history of ballet and it’s origin of pure freedom and expression is what we need to hold onto. Not to come into the theatre as a critic armed with judgement."

So much to be inspired by.

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Women In Entertainment - 10 Things You Can Do To Drive Change

Last week, leading executives and creatives from across the music, television and film industries came together for a high level dinner to share solutions for how we truly move the needle for women in entertainment in 2018. Led by guest speakers Keri Putnam CEO of the Sundance Institute, director Alma Har’el and manager/activist Ty Stiklorius, we left the room armed with actionable ideas for how we continue to drive forward momentum. After a year of marching, speaking out and making our voices heard, we are more than ready to make good on that promise of action. Everyone can be a part of the solution. Here are ten things you can do to make a difference.

1. Take the pledge. Make a personal commitment to create a diverse workforce within your department and company, or on your productions. And set measurable goals.

2. Build data, source data and utilize data to help make the case for equal hiring practices and diverse content creation. We want to see our own stories.

3. Be mindful and intentional about expanding your professional network. How are you ensuring that you're connecting to and meeting with people across race, gender and socio-economic class?

4. Utilize existing models that drive inclusivity such as Dr Stacy Smith’s inclusion riders and Alma Har'el’s Free the Bid.

5. Call out bias and bad behavior when you see it. We have to bring these issues out into the open and hold companies to account.

6. Mentor and sponsor women. Don’t just give advice and guidance, pick up the phone, make introductions, go to bat for people.

7. Use the notion of ‘shining’ to amplify other women’s ideas.

8. We need more women financially investing in other women. How do we make the case to a wider network of high net worth women that investing in diverse content makes good business sense?

9. Use your privilege. If you’re in a position of power or influence, use it to support those with less.

10. If you can't make the system work for you, build your own systems. Lets use entrepreneurship as a tool by which to lead by example. 

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Audrey Buchanan, Ty Stiklorius, Dee Poku, Laura Rister, Tory Tunnell

 Tasya van Ree, Antoinette Clarke, Dee Poku, Tricia Clarke Stone

Tasya van Ree, Antoinette Clarke, Dee Poku, Tricia Clarke Stone

Less Empowerment, More Power For Women

em.pow.er                                                                                           

make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights

The week of March 8th is always my busiest of the year. Why? Because it's the week of International Women's Day. The one period when all the world's attention is focused on women, our rights, our achievements and our economic development. The emphasis during this time is usually on how we adjust existing systems to ensure women are given equal opportunities. So I prepared myself for the obligatory round of panels and receptions filled with the same rhetoric, knowing that progress would proceed at its usual glacial pace. 

But this year felt different. Women are done with being 'empowered'. We want real power. We're already strong and confident.  We already have a voice and we plan to use it. And there's no better way of sticking two fingers up at the patriarchy than by starting our own businesses and driving our own movements. Gratifyingly, many of the conversations this year were about women breaking the rules and building their own systems, especially via entrepreneurship. Women who build businesses do a huge amount to change the world for us all, and have an incredible amount to teach the world about how both companies and economies should be run. 

 At Theory's Be Heard event. L to R. Dee Poku, Amanda Hesser, Susan Lyne, Shan-Lyn Ma

At Theory's Be Heard event. L to R. Dee Poku, Amanda Hesser, Susan Lyne, Shan-Lyn Ma

 At Berlin Cameron's Girl Brands Do It Better. L to R. Dee Poku, Meg He, Polly Rodriguez, Kristy Wallace, Jennifer DaSilva, Lindsay Stein

At Berlin Cameron's Girl Brands Do It Better. L to R. Dee Poku, Meg He, Polly Rodriguez, Kristy Wallace, Jennifer DaSilva, Lindsay Stein

Black Women Are The Future Of Tech

Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America. We are severely underfunded, underestimated and under resourced yet we still generate $52.6 billion in revenue. That’s why it was so good to be at the Black Women Talk Tech conference, which was filled with smart, creative ambitious tech entrepreneurs, eager to connect with fellow founders and support and uplift one another.

Speakers included Jean Brownhill from Sweeten, Tonya Lewis Lee and Rich Dennis founder of Sundial Brands, who recently acquired Essence Magazine.  Dennis' advice to the audience: "Surround yourself with people who support what you're doing. There are more people for you than against you. Find your people."

I found my people.

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Back row: Kobi Wu Passmore, Tanya von Court, Asmau Ahmed, Danielle Kayembe, Viola Lewellyn

Front row: Candice Matthews, Dee Poku, Bea Arthur

The Warrior Women Of Wakanda Are The Heroines We Need

There are many things to love about the movie Black Panther but one reason this film is so revolutionary is it's female characters. Lupita Nyong'o plays a humanitarian spy, Letitia Wright is a technical wizard and Danai Gurira kicks butt as a ferocious warrior. These powerful, talented black women aren't just there in of service of the men, to play the girlfriend or serve as the moral conscience of the male lead. Their roles are highly independent as well as being integral to the plot. The characters they play are strong and capable, and respected for their skill and intellect. They’re proud and opinionated black women revered for their wit, prowess and sportsmanship.

Compare this to recent statistics. Women make up just a third of speaking roles in movies and 76% of all female characters are white. We are rarely central to the plot and non white characters are often written as racial stereotypes. A Geena Davis study found that 80% of movie characters with STEM jobs were male.

Movies such as Women Woman, Girls Trip, Hidden Figures and now Black Panther are disproving outdated theories of what audiences want to see. The myth of the fanboy is over. Male directors take note.

 Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o  

Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o  

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Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright