20 Women Leaders in Media, Marketing and Advertising on the Ultimate Power Meal

Their dream dinner-party guests are a surprising, inspiring who’s who of female achievement

Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were popular picks for dinner-party guests. Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Sources: Getty Images

As part of this year’s Women Trailblazers issue, we asked our honorees to pick four iconoclastic women from throughout history who they would invite to a dinner party—and to imagine what the conversation would be like. Several names came up more than once, including Michelle Obama, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a certain Celtic queen. A number of pop stars received enthusiastic endorsements. And there were quite a few would-be guests who were or are just as outstanding but are less known. Two of them are legendary for either dressing like a man or claiming the privileges and rights of one when polite parlor conversation, pretty curls and rosy cheeks were the highest expectations for women. Have we come a long way, baby? It depends on who you ask and how you define “long way.” For now, let’s dive into these dream-team dinner parties, where the sky is the only limit, and even that is up for debate…

 

Fiona Carter
Chief Brand Officer, AT&T Communications

Queen Elizabeth, Angela Davis, Madonna and Audrey Gelman, founder of the Wing. “A queen, a feminist, an icon and an entrepreneur. I would invite them round to my house for roast chicken, English roast potatoes, a fine Sancerre and my son’s brilliant home-baked brownies. I’d Insta-story the heck out of the night, because history is still a story told by men. But it’s the intimate, unwritten histories—these famous women’s histories—that everybody should hear.”

 

Ali Hanan
CEO, founder Creative Equals (CMRS)

Rosa Parks. “The conversation would be a lesson in leadership.” Marie Curie. “Trailblazing scientist who founded the periodic table—how did she problem-solve to crack the code?” Dervla Murphy. “A female traveler and book author; she inspired me to travel to Ethiopia.” Michelle Obama. “What she discovered about the power of writing through her book, Becoming.”

 

Christelle Delarue
founder and CEO, Mad&Women

“Beyonce, of course! I believe the discussion would be focused on intersectional feminism and the importance of being a role model. [Seminal New Wave director] Agnes Varda, who left us [recently], about transmission and cinema. I’d also love to chat with [International Monetary Fund chairman] Christine Lagarde for a financial status [update] and a discussion about inclusion.” Delarue also picked Lady Diana, to whom she would want to discuss “women, freedom and [the] establishment.”

 

Bozoma Saint John
CMO, Endeavor

Harriet Tubman, Winnie Mandela, [19th-century Ghanaian warrior queen] Yaa Asantewaa and Oprah Winfrey. “The conversation would be about revolution and what it takes to keep the energy. We’d probably joke about how much stronger we are than the other sex.”

 

Gail Tifford
global chief brand officer, WW International

Gloria Steinem, [suffragist] Alice Paul, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Maya Angelou. “The conversation would be explosive. Inspiring. Life changing. And [there would be] lots of wine.”

 

Karen Costello
CCO, The Martin Agency

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “She is one incredible trailblazer for women. Early on, her advocacy was about action in its most potent form: laws and legislation. In my lifetime, there is no one who has moved things more forward for women than the Notorious RBG. I imagine the conversation would be very no-nonsense. She would tell me to quit thinking and dreaming and just start doing.”

Susan B. Anthony. “She was a fighter, undeterred by arrest, ridicule and obstacle after obstacle. From the time she was a teenager, she knew what she believed to be right and fought her whole life to make it better. Conviction. Steadfast conviction. I imagine the conversation would be full of fire and heart. She would tell me to act without fear—that if you believe in something, you have the obligation to fight for it.”

Frida Kahlo. “Her creativity and individuality were inspiring. She was able to be her unique self and own her creative power in a male-dominated art world. Her artistic mind was transformative and stereotype-busting. In our conversation, I would hear from her to follow where my creative heart led me and to stand my creative ground. It always seemed to me that she was more talented than Diego Rivera yet cast herself in a lesser role. I would love to talk to her in person about that.”

Maya Angelou. “Art as narrative and activism. She was prolific and inspiring. Her power and reach expanded through generations. Her poetry and writing are transcendent, and when I find myself attracted to a thought that is full of more wisdom than I sometimes feel I have, I recognize her thinking as my inkwell for inspiration and bravery.”

 

Tanya Lopez
evp, Original Movies and Acquisitions, Lifetime and LMN

“Oh, wow. Just four is hard. But I think it would be Edith Wilson, Betty Friedan, Audrey Hepburn and [infamous Harlem crime boss] Stephanie St. Clair. First, it would have this fantastic mix of intelligence, class and audaciousness.  Audrey and Stephanie would be the best dressed, while Edith and Betty would go at it with fervor about women in politics and feminism. What they would all have in common was public perception versus their world behind closed doors.”

 

Tawana Murphy Burnett
global director, Facebook

“No question Michelle Obama is first on that list. She has modeled for so many of us how to be a ‘first’ with a delicate balance of power and grace.” African-American entrepreneur and activist Madam C.J. Walker. “Her accomplishments in business are extraordinary for a woman of her generation.” Voting, women’s and civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. “Because you can’t really talk about advocacy without bringing up her name and her ability to effect change in the lives of so many.” Frida Kahlo. “To hear more of her perspective on identity, class and race. She has been an icon for feminism, chicanos/Latinas and the LGBT movement before any of those things were a thing.”

 

Kristen Cavallo
CEO, The Martin Agency

Mary Magdalene, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart and my grandmother, Hulda Pflugrath. “The conversation would be dynamic and more of “How do we?” than “Why aren’t we?”

 

Kelly Bush Novak
CEO and founder, ID

“I’d like to invite Kathryn Bigelow, the first and only woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Activist and artist Ellen Page, the voice of a generation. Serena Williams, the greatest athlete of all time and an entrepreneur and social justice advocate. And the ultimate trailblazer and advocate for change, Madonna, to discuss the future.  There’d be no shortage of brilliant ideas and conversation. That’s what happens organically when women collaborate over important ideas.”

 

Kim Perell
CEO, Amobee

Katharine Graham, Oprah Winfrey, Estee Lauder, Amelia Earhart. “These are all women who defied the odds, defined the meaning of leadership and served as inspiration, showing what achievements are possible and paving the way for future generations. The discussion would likely center around noting the commonalities and the differences, how much progress we have made, and how much still needs to be done.”

 

Maddy Kramer
ACD art director, Anomaly NY

RBG, Gloria Steinem, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. “I think I would ask them if they ever felt that their work was done, and what was their secret to keep going even if they felt tired. Then I would ask them if they ever stopped and looked at themselves and enjoyed how much they did. I feel like sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit.”

 

Lynne Biggar
chief marketing and communications officer, Visa

Junko Tabei. “The first woman to summit Mt. Everest and climb all Seven Summits. She was also an environmentalist and educator.”

Margaret Thatcher. “As the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office, she had a strong belief system, a highly effective leadership style and was a consummate statesperson.”

Eliza Hamilton. “She took real tragedy, the loss of her son and husband, and turned it into productivity by founding the first private orphanage in New York City. She was a passionate fundraiser and preserved the legacy of her family and her husband until her death at age 97.”

Cher. “I just think she rocks and has overcome incredible challenges, been knocked down and gotten back up, and has such a great attitude about life. And Mamma Mia 2 is NOTHING until she arrives in that helicopter!”

 

Maribel Vidal Gimenez
vp, chief strategic officer, McCann Worldgroup, Chile; president, Women Leadership Council, MWG LATAM

Marie Curie. “The first-ever female Nobel Prize winner, for her insights into the role and importance of women in science, still a major challenge today.”

Gabriela Mistral. “Chilean Nobel Laureate for Literature (1945), for her lifelong struggle against the prejudice relating to her sexual orientation, humble origins and outspoken feminism.”

Golda Meir. “Israeli prime minister from 1969 to 1974, for her view on how to create and sustain inclusive female/male collaborations, including in times of war.”

Malala Yousafzai. “2014 Nobel Peace Prize, for her human-rights advocacy in general, and her views on female education, in particular.”

Mary T. Barra. “Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors Company. First, because she is the head of one of McCann’s most longstanding clients, and second to learn about the vision on leadership from the first woman ever to lead a major global carmaker, in an industry dominated by men.”

Says Gimenez, “The central questions I would like to pose to my invitees would be: ‘What are the factors that, in your opinion, impede women to be seen as equals, what have you done to overcome these obstacles and what needs to be done so that every woman can achieve her personal objectives?’”

 

Roxanna Sherwood
executive producer, Good Morning America

“It would be fascinating to sit around a table with Frances Perkins, Katharine Graham, Maya Angelou and Frida Kahlo. Each of these women inspire me with their bravery and the profound risks they took to effect change. I imagine them talking about finding strength in the face of great personal challenges.  The conversation would be raw, honest and compassionate.”

 

Pip Jamieson
founder, The Dots

James (Miranda) Steuart Barry. “An incredible woman who spent her career dressed as a man in the 1800s, to compete on a level playing field. James (aka Miranda) obtained a degree from the University of Edinburgh Medical School (women weren’t permitted to attend university at this time) and rose to become the second-highest medical office in the British Army. It was only discovered upon her death she was in fact a woman and not a man!”

Boudica. “The queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60 or 61.”

Dame Ethel Smyth. “A Suffragette who lived and died in my hometown of Woking. I was never particularly happy growing up in Woking, but I like to think one of the good things that happened was that Ethel passed on her gumption to me.”

Dame Vera Stephanie “Steve” Shirley. “Stephanie is an IT pioneer who founded her software company, Freelance Programmers (later Xansa), in 1962. At its peak in 2000, Xansa was valued at £1.2 billion and employed 6,000 people. She has gone on to give away at least £65 million of her personal wealth to philanthropic causes. Gosh, what’s not to love about that! I’m on a mission to take on LinkedIn, and build The Dots into a billion-dollar business, so Stephanie is my ultimate role model. If she can, I can!”

 

Sabrina Caluori
evp, Digital and Social Media, HBO

Nineteenth-century businesswoman and land owner Anne Lister, Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Unfortunately, I think there would be an [element] of sadness to this dinner conversation given the current state of our world.  However, these warriors would probably rejoice in sharing their stories and theorizing why we’re still having the same debate about equality, class, race and sex.”

 

Sarah Barnett
president, Entertainment Group, AMC Networks

“Love this game. Maya Angelou. [Crazy Ex-Girlfriend creator] Rachel Bloom. Bette Davis. My grandmothers (I’m counting them as a collective on one). The stories would be deep, dirty and hilarious.”

 

Laura Jordan Bambach
founder and CCO, Mr President; founder, SheSays

Avant-garde writer and feminist Kathy Acker, pioneering Dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Boudica and Kate Crawford of the AI Now Institute. “Not sure how the conversation would go, but I expect there’d be a decent amount of bad behavior and fighting spirit. And we’d come out of the end of it with a powerful project to work on together.”

 

Sharon Napier
CEO and founder, Partners + Napier

“I’d definitely invite my hometown girl Susan B. Anthony, who’s buried here in Rochester [N.Y.]. Talk about rocking the vote. She was integral to making a woman’s right to vote a reality. And making our voices heard.

To her right would be Rosa Parks. How far we’ve come since that day in 1955 when Rosa refused to give up her seat to a white man on that Montgomery, Ala., bus. How far we still need to go. I remember an interview during which Rosa said she didn’t stand up when she was told to not because she was physically tired after a long, hard day as a seamstress, but because she was simply tired of giving in. Talk about inspiring a movement and a nation.

Next to Rosa would be Pat Summitt, Basketball Hall of Famer, one of the toughest and most respected coaches in NCAA history, and an outstanding player in her own right. I share her love of the game going back to my own days playing varsity, starting as a freshman in high school and later at St. John Fisher College. I can relate to Pat’s commitment to winning, and deeply respect her ability to recruit, train and inspire championship teams.

My fourth guest, and I’d likely ask her to also cook a recipe from her Run Fast. Eat Slow cookbook, would be 2017 New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan. Her commitment to her sport is fierce. She’s also a font of inspiring quotes. One of my favorites: “Pain makes you stronger. Fear makes you braver. Failure makes you better.” She’s living proof. So am I.

The conversation overall would be lively. Provocative. Enlightening. As someone who was often told when I was on my way up that my hair was too big and my laugh too loud for me to succeed, I’d make sure we all had our hair down and that we definitely had the last laugh. A loud one.”


kristina.feliciano@adweek.com Kristina Feliciano is the features editor at Adweek.
{"taxonomy":"","sortby":"","label":"","shouldShow":""}