By Michal Clements
The Trustees’ Council of Penn Women (TCPW) held the Los Angeles summer women’s career networking event in Santa Monica on Wednesday June 7, 2017. Approximately seventy-five Penn alumnae and guests gathered among the fruit trees and jacarandas in the gardens of our hostess, Meredith Stiehm. The alumnae met with TCPW members during the opening speed-networking portion of the program, and to learn from the all-star entertainment panel as the centerpiece of the evening.
Elizabeth Kopple (Wharton Club of So Cal board) and Rebecca Zavaleta (Penn Club of LA board) welcomed guests to the event. Guests were directed to high top tables where TCPW Members led the lightning rounds of speed networking. Members present and leading the tables were TCPW Chair, Hildegard Toth, Meesh Pierce, Julie Platt, Melissa Weiler, Leanne Heubner, Denise Winner, Abby Feinman, and Donna Nadel.
The entertainment industry panel was expertly moderated by Fiedling Edlow (C’95). Panelists included Jennifer Gwartz (C’90), Meredith Stiehm (C’90) Alison Hoffman, Allison Schroeder and Veena Sud. The discussion was lively, and there were a number of key takeaways that applied across industries, as well as some that were entertainment specific. Some highlights include:
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
- Explore non-linear paths
- Be kind to yourself. Remember nothing is wasted, and you are exactly where you need to be
- There are no wrong jobs and no wrong experiences
- Avoid thinking and writing about “how I ruined my career”
- Have a lot more fun!
What’s an appropriate way to approach a mentor?
- Research the mentor in advance, and if you make the ask, be really prepared
- Invite them to an event. Instead of saying, “What can you do for me?” show them what you can do for them. Example: One Penn alumni sent an email for two years with a critique of the show
- Let them know if you win an award, such as the Stanford playwriting award
- Time your approach right. For example, avoid the middle of pilot season
How should you go about smart and effective networking?
- Keep it casual and really light
- Take them out for coffee
- If it doesn’t work, move on, not all networking will
- Never walk up to someone and say why they should NOT hire you or why others are not hiring you, e.g., people find me abrasive. Don’t belittle yourself
How can you get the first job in entertainment?
- Take a job as a PA (Production Assistant), which means you start at a really low level and get coffee and lunch
- Be nice to the people around you
- Whatever job you have, do a really good job of it
- Be appreciative
- You will likely have to get a second job or live at home, etc. to make ends meet with this first job
How can you get an agency that works for you?
- Seek a smaller agency with someone that’s starting out. Suggestion is to find your peer as an agent. For example, one panelist had a “big name” agency, but realized that their “reps are not working for you” which was a painful realization
- Make sure the agency has the right expertise, e.g., one panelist was given bad advice from a literary agent in New York because they weren’t knowledgeable on LA TV market
How did you deal with sexism in the industry?
- Make your skin really, really tough
- Look to your allies and make them aware. They can’t help if they don’t know
- For example, if I (a woman) say something and nobody hears it, then a man says it and everyone notices, you have to call people on this. It happens all the time. Make your allies aware
- Report actual sexual harassment. Don’t tolerate things like the “Fuck, Marry, Kill” game which asks, “Which of these three things should happen to a female colleague?”
How can you get by financially when at a low starting salary?
- Live at home, share space and drive dad’s car or a used car. Live in the valley.
- Supplement your income in one of several ways, e.g., by tutoring, being a script reader or an Uber or Lyft driver
What’s the next career milestone for the panelists?
- Being the President of the United States
- Running a network
- Going back to the Academy Awards
- Writing a novel
- Continue having fun and working with others I enjoy
As a follow up from the event, alumni and student attendees were encouraged to consider forming writer’s groups, and to continue their involvement with Penn through alumni interviewing, Penn Serves LA community service, Penn Club LA and the Wharton Club of So Cal.