Meet The Woman Who's Helping To Redefine "Having It All"

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claudiaPhoto: Courtesy of Claudia Chan.
If Claudia Chan's name doesn't ring a bell, know that you're certainly familiar with her work toward bringing together some of the most powerful, badass female voices today. For a decade, she was behind the incredibly successful Shecky's Girls' Night Out. But, for the past several years, it's been less lady's night and more lady's empowerment on this entrepreneur's to-do list. And, in the SHE (or She Helps Empower) Summit's third year, the movement Chan's created is only blazing ahead — and the 60-plus speakers at this year's event are proof.

But, while it's easy to be distracted by names like U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, actress and activist Kelly Rutherford, or Levo League's Caroline Ghosn — who will all be in attendance this Thursday and Friday for the meeting of the minds — the driving force behind the Summit also has a lot to say. After all, Chan is responsible for wrangling these female (and male) leaders, finally providing one, uniting platform for them all to reach us and changing the conversation from "having it all" to truly finding self-fulfillment. Read on for an inside peek at what it takes to steer one of the most influential women's-empowerment movements. Hint: The slips and falls are all part of the ride.

Tell us about the start of the SHE Summit. What need was this gathering addressing that was not being addressed before?
"I grew up in NYC in an all-girls high school, an all-womens college — Smith — and then ran an all-women entertaining company for 10 years called Shecky's. I've been in the community and surrounded by women my whole life, and when I reached my early to mid-30s a few years ago I felt like I lacked purpose. I started getting involved in women's organizations, and I was shocked at some of the realities of the state of women. For instance, 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women as of 2011 — now it's 4.8%— and globally, 66% of women produced 50% of the world's work but only have 10% of the world's income and 1% of the world's property [according to the World Bank 2012 findings].

"I felt like there was no platform out there in a larger scale that could bring women together that could celebrate where we are today. Women can be very self-critical and tough on themselves, and it's important that we're coming together and having an empowering discussion and helping each other and being exposed to female role models who are breaking through barriers. There was no modern platform for celebrating, convening, and cultivating in a relevant way."

What's been your personal experience with seeking self-empowerment? What was a time in your life when you felt least empowered?
"I had confidence when I was young, but it was sort of like clueless confidence. I think we all come into the world with this raw being of who we are and what we want. For me, I was building my first company thinking that I was checking off the list: I make this salary, and I get to go on TV, I get to wear nice things, I get to go to nice places. Really, when I became empowered is when I hit that place where I knew I needed to change my career and the business I spent nine years building. I was growing, and I wanted to move into the empowerment space. [Leaving] was the hardest thing I'd ever gone through because I let go of what I spent so many years building — it was my identity. But, it was in that tough moment — that risky, uncomfortable, scary time — I developed my core values of who I want to be. For me, this didn't hit until my mid-30s."

Mid-30s is still young. Is there something to be said for having these kind of experiences before finding that purpose?
"Life is a roller coaster, and as much as you can try to control and predict what's going to happen, part of it you can control, and parts of it you can't. You're going to go through times where it's going to be really tough, and my advice to young women is to get ready. It's going to happen, and when it does you have to try to catch yourself and recognize these obstacles as opportunities. In these times of vulnerability, that's when we really get empowered because we have to find a solution and resolve it. It also exercises your resilience and perseverance muscles because you're going to bounce back from it."

Be sure to click over to page two for more from Claudia and a special R29 reader discount to attend the SHE Summit this Thursday and Friday in New York at the 92nd Street Y.
claudia-chanPhoto: Courtesy of Claudia Chan.


You've interviewed countless women, from business to political leaders and entrepreneurs of all kinds. What's the most common piece of advice you hear over and over?
"I hear a lot that failures are the stepping stones to success. I've heard you need to seek confidence from within."

What's been the most surprising piece?
"I would just quote Maya Angelou: 'If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.' When things seem impossible, flip the way you look at it."

What discussions do you believe we should be having next about women? What are some specific concerns you have for the current state of women leadership?
"Media's one of the most powerful industries — the television we watch, the magazines we read, the websites — and it's just really starting to think about empowerment and how they can be a force for change. And, that's the reason why I really respect Sheryl Sandberg. She didn't have to do what she did with Lean In. She was a young, attractive woman running one of the coolest global companies in the world, and that position was a microphone for her to speak up about something. And, it takes a risk and is really scary to stand up for something. We're seeing more people do it and more people taking risks. Of that 4.8% of women CEOs, we need them all speaking up so they can drive change."

Perhaps you're familiar with Amy Cuddy's TED Talk about power poses in which you use your physical posture to help empower yourself mentally. What do you do to get psyched?
"Well, I always wear my jade bracelet. I'm Chinese, and it's a tradition: Your mother gives it to you when you're young, and it protects you and brings good luck, so I always have it on. Also, I'm very spiritual. It's [a combination of] meditation, inhaling and exhaling, and reminding myself that god is my partner, and I'm just so blessed to have the opportunity to make change. Suddenly it's not just my 5-foot-2 — 5-foot-4 with heels — body. My presence is much bigger, and that feeling completely lightens me up and energizes me. I've also recently learned to eat breakfast regularly. Even into my 30s I'm cultivating habits."

What are you looking forward to most this year? What makes this SHE Summit, right here and now, the most exciting?
"It's like the revolution is here. We've just never been in a time like now — it's unprecedented. We have The Shriver Report editor, Olivia Morgan, speaking; Terri [McCullough] of No Ceilings, the Clinton initiative; UN Women representing their topics; and we have a whole panel around the Third Metric, well-being, and taking care of yourself. We're covering leadership, global women's economic empowerment, self-care, health and wellness, motherhood, and destroying the term 'having it all' and replacing it with vocabulary around fulfillment and integration. It's so exciting because this is the biggest the SHE Summit has ever been, with a huge diversity of topics and people all coming together for one purpose: to elevate women."

Want to join the SHE Summit and its 60-plus amazing speakers this week? Register online, and use the code REFINERY29 for 20% off your tickets.