Standing in line for pictures at the 41st Annual Gracies Gala in Beverly Hills at the end of May, Laura Zarrow casually chatted with award-winning journalist Carole Zimmer about the joy of conducting an interview.
As host of weekly talk show Women@Work on SiriusXM’s Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School, Laura is used to talking with remarkable women who have made ground-breaking contributions in their industries. She does it every week. But standing on the same side of the microphone as them is a different story.
“It seemed so normal and at the same time, so extraordinary. I was humbled and awestruck,” she said. “I have so much admiration for the women who were in that room — I couldn’t believe I was counted among them. It meant the world to me.”
Other honorees included some of the most well-known women in media and entertainment today, including Laura Ling, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Cynthia Nixon, Mindy Kaling, and Kathie Lee Gifford.
Laura accepted a Gracie Award for best national talk radio show on behalf of Women@Work because show producer Patty Hall, Program Director for Sirius XM, and engineers Dan Baker and Dion Simpkins unfortunately couldn’t make it to the ceremony.
“I didn’t win this award — the show won this,” Laura said. “It’s a truly collaborative effort, and it’s so exciting to see the impact that Wharton can have in the media community.”
Presented by the Alliance for Women in Media, the Gracie Awards recognize exceptional programming created by women, for women, and about women in all facets of media and entertainment.
Winning this award is a benchmark for Women@Work, which launched just two years ago.
“I couldn’t imagine a more meaningful affirmation that we’re headed in the right direction with the show than the recognition of the Alliance for Women in Media,” Laura said.
Stories That Needed to Be Told
Laura first discovered some of the stories behind Women@Work in 2012 while researching alumni needs and interests. In her role as Executive Director of Wharton Lifelong Learning, she realized Wharton alumnae were encountering unique issues and situations in their professional lives that their male counterparts weren’t.
“This was right before Lean In came out, and it was clear that I was tapping into something brewing under the surface that needed to come to light and needed to be discussed,” Laura said. “Women needed it to happen, and business needed it to happen.”
Soon after, Wharton and SiriusXM began to develop programming for Business Radio and approached Laura to lead that discussion — and Women@Work was born.
In particular, Vice Dean for Innovation Karl Ulrich, Innovation Project Director Brandon Lodriguss, and Sirius XM Vice President of Talk Programming Maurice Tunick were instrumental in getting the show off the ground.
“I am enormously proud to be part of an institution where it was the men in leadership roles who said we want to make sure that this programming is available,” Laura said. “They provided the tactical and emotional support for it.”
The show immediately resonated with listeners. Calls and emails poured in from women who felt as if the show was speaking directly to them. They heard themselves in the stories that guests shared, and many times they felt inspired and empowered to make a change.
“The idea that we could create programming that could speak to individual women and make them feel like they could change things in their lives — who could ask to make more of an impact?” Laura said. “That, to me, is why we work hard.”
But it wasn’t just women who wanted to take part in the conversation. After all, the question of how to help women advance in the workplace affects business and society as a whole, men and women alike.
The show draws in plenty of male listeners — fathers, brothers, spouses, employers, employees, colleagues, and allies. And it’s not strictly business, it’s personal too.
“When we get phone calls in from fathers, I’m so moved to see that the men in the audience are listening with such care and attention and such devotion to helping their girls be everything that they can be as women,” Laura said.
Continuing the Conversation
At its core, Women@Work is dedicated to discovering and discussing innovative ways for personal and system change to help women join, stay, succeed, and lead in the workplace.
Over the past two years, Laura has interviewed dozens of men and women who are the agents of that change. Their weekly conversations explore tactics and strategies to help listeners at all stages of their careers build a more inclusive, satisfying, and diverse workplace.
Winning the Gracie Award not only recognized Women@Work for doing just that, but it also gave Laura a front-row seat to see those principles in action in the media and entertainment industry.
“We talk a lot about the importance of diversity and inclusion and innovation in business, and looking around the room (at the Gracies Gala), the impact that increased diversity and inclusion has in media couldn’t be clearer,” Laura said. “You have all of these women telling stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told, and wouldn’t be told the way that they’re being told.”
It turns out one of those women, right at Laura’s table, happened to be another woman of Wharton. Tamara Rothenberg, WG’11, an executive at Netflix was there to celebrate their win in the television category for their Emmy-nominated original series Project MC2, a show designed to help advance girls in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and math in a way that’s relatable and engaging to them.
“It was both a wonderful surprise and didn’t surprise me at all because that’s the kind of power that’s in the Wharton alumni network,” Laura said. “It’s a passion for doing good and important work.”
That’s the real honor for Women@Work.
“To hear from a senior executive who’s asking how he can improve things for his staff, from women who are saying I can do something I couldn’t do before because of something I heard on your show, from parents who call in and say this matters for the next generation,” Laura said. “That’s more exciting than going to an awards ceremony – it’s truly the most thrilling part of all.”
– Colleen Mullarkey
Posted: August 26, 2016