Holly Gordon is Executive Director of 10×10, a global campaign for girls’ education, and an Executive Producer of the upcoming feature film at the heart of 10×10. The 10 x 10 feature film, produced by the team behind legendary broadcaster, Peter Jennings, stands to improve the lives of billions of of people around the world by shining a light on the importance of educating girls in developing countries.
Married mom of two, Holly’s professional journey began with an entry-level job as assistant to the executive producer at World News Tonight. By the end of her 12-year tenure at ABC News, she was a producer for PrimeTime and 20/20. After a brief foray into the children’s food business and two years as Director of Content for the world-renowned Tribeca Film Festival, Holly landed at 10×10 where she has parlayed her formidable story telling skills into a global movement that’s driving powerful social change.
Recently, Holly took some time out from her insane schedule to chat with GoGirl about the lessons she’s learned along the way—and to deliver some hard-won advice to young working women.
You’ve tweeted so many things about women and finance lately, it’s like you’ve had GoGirl on your mind! One of your tweets referenced the importance of having work-life balance. What does that phrase mean to you?
It means, ideally, that you work within an organization where your responsibilities to your home life are respected and you are valued for your contribution to the organization, as opposed to things like face time. The childcare burden is really a significant one. In most families, women continue to be responsible for managing the family life, even when their jobs are incredibly demanding. It always feels like something’s got to give.
When you have kids, you begin to have to compromise the kind of job that you can take. It’s hard to find rewarding work that pays at the proper level. That’s enormous value lost to businesses. I would encourage highly-trained individuals to look online, because there are websites where you can find opportunities to work within your timeframe that will take advantage of your education.
That’s great advice. You also tweeted, “Women gain power when they are economically independent.” Can you expand on that?
For a very short period, I didn’t work, and I felt the balance of power shift, however imperceptibly, without my own income. I have a wonderful husband; he’s never told me that I can’t do anything. But immediately, when you’re not earning your money, you’re asking somebody else if you can spend theirs.
It’s an idea that my mother impressed upon me. She said, “Holly, you must always have an income. Because when you don’t have an income, you will always have to ask for permission. Whether it be buying a sweater, taking a taxi, or going out with your friends, if you did not earn that money, you will have to ask permission to spend it.”
While we’re on the subject of economic independence, what are your thoughts on financial literacy?
Financial literacy is freedom. Because if you don’t understand how to manage your money, if you don’t understand how much it costs for you to survive, then you can’t calibrate your life properly. Having control over your own finances is the key to being a responsible citizen of the modern world. It gives you self-determination. It gives you power, choices, and freedom.
Can you talk about the importance of networking for women?
Networking is vital, whether you’re a man or a woman. At the end of the day, it’s all about making something happen. It’s about finding your allies, your mentors, your advisors, finding those people that you can rely on to give you honest feedback or a leg up, or to remember you when something crosses their desk. You can’t give business to somebody you don’t know exists.
What are your network-building tips?
Be open. Be loyal. Loyalty is really important, and it’s not talked about enough. Don’t speak badly about people, ever. Follow up. Reach out. Introduce yourself. Be brave.
And be consistent. When someone’s in your network, make sure you tickle them every now and then. Tweet to them. Ping them. Send them a text message. Drop them a call here and there. We have so many new ways to stay connected. You just have to make time for it.
Okay, let’s get into mentoring. What makes a good mentor?
Being a good mentor is about being really direct and trying to help young people understand that good work is often not enough, that you also have to understand politics and community and where you fit within an organization. And that it’s good to be humble.
People don’t hear that enough.
No. Especially not the generation that’s coming up. Humility is really important. It’s the delicate balance between sharing your good ideas but also being respectful of the people around you who’ve been doing it much longer than you.
Let’s move on to 10×10. Your Twitter bio says you’re passionate about it. Why is it so important to be passionate about what you’re doing, as opposed to simply involved?
Passion makes you go much further than you ever would go without it. Having passion gives you the strength, the determination, the energy—it takes an enormous amount of energy to lead a project—to get out of bed every morning and put on your gloves and go fight the next round.
When you’re thinking about what work you want to be doing, think about whether you’d do it for free. If you can say yes to that, then you’re in the right line of work. If you’re not sure, then look at what you are doing for free. Think about the stuff you do when no one’s looking because you just love doing it. See if you can make a job out of that.
Any advice for women who are struggling to get financial backing?
It takes a really well-thought-out plan. I worked for eight months to a year on creating the infrastructure around 10×10 before we asked for funding the first time. I would talk to people about it and they would ask me questions. Anytime I couldn’t answer a question that was critical to getting their support, I said, “Okay, we’re not ready. Better go answer that question.”
Why is it important to develop strategic partnerships?
Collaboration creates better ideas. I think people are really wary about sharing ideas. I almost started a business once, and in every book I read, it said, “Be generous with your ideas, because no one’s going to steal your idea. Everyone’s going to be doing their own.” That’s really smart advice. Partnership and collaboration makes things achievable.
What business lessons did you learn during your tenure at ABC?
Getting an assignment and figuring out how to do it. Not being afraid to get on the phone and make phone calls. I think people rely on e-mails way too much today. Get on the phone, report your story, don’t take no for an answer. Take risks. I had to knock on perfect strangers’ doors and ask them to be on TV. There’s nothing like that for getting over your fears!
I have a point to make around my experience in television news: If you think that your industry is changing dramatically, if you’re looking ahead into the next four or five years and all signs point to innovation out-pacing the current structural model—if you smell the end—start to think about how to reinvent yourself. Don’t wait until you’re forced to reinvent yourself. The other point is, I loved ABC News. I still feel like the people there are my family. But: Don’t be afraid to leave.
Why did you leave?
It was partially work-life balance, honestly. I had just dropped my child off for preschool, we had just come home from a family vacation, I hadn’t unpacked, there was no food in the fridge. And I got paged at 10 a.m. and asked to go to West Virginia. I had worked hard at ABC to create a reputation of excellence, and I was afraid that if I said, “You know what? I have two kids; I can’t work at this pace anymore,” I would damage my reputation. I did not want to tarnish my reputation because of my work-life balance needs. So I decided to leave.
What other points on your career path stand out in your mind?
I actually left ABC to start a children’s food business with a friend. There were two financial lessons there. One was, make sure that you’re looking at everything going badly as your model, because chances are that things won’t go as well as you want them to go.
The other lesson was that, in the end, we decided not to start the business. It wasn’t just the numbers; it was the barriers to success that were out of our control. Sometimes not doing something is the best decision you can make. Deciding not to do something even though you’ve invested an enormous amount of time and energy into it is not failure. It’s success!