Role Models

imgresIf you are 15 and live in a suburban area with two parents who are fairly conservative lawyers the chance that you follow in their footsteps are probably high.  After all, these are the role models you grew up with.  It is hard to see other opportunities unless you are exposed to them.

If you are forging new paths or have become a leader in your industry then I believe it is important to talk about how you got to where you are to the people coming up the path behind you.  Whether you want to be a role model or not, you are.

Years ago I did something that proved my point about the importance of exposing the youth to opportunities that they did not even realize existed.  Certainly with social media many can see the business stars of today but it can seem unobtainable without seeing it first hand.

At our kids high school they would have an assembly every week.  It was a place where teachers and students would bring in someone or an activity to rally the community.  To see something unique and different.  I took on four of those assemblies 3 years ago.

I brought in young founders to be interviewed by me and to answer questions from the crowd.  David Karp of Tumblr, Phin Barnes now a VC with First Round but one of the early players in And1 sneakers, Gabriel Stulman who has built a restaurant empire in NYC and a panel of women, Amanda Hesser of Food52, Corie Hardee of Union Station, Amanda Steinberg of Worth and Caren Maio of Nestio.

The questions from the high schoolers were impressive.  After Gabe came in people would come up to my son and say “hey we should open a restaurant”.  Exposure is obviously key.

About a year after I did that I happened to be interviewed for the Brian Williams TV show with Ayah Bdeir.  The producer of the show shared something with me when I got there.  His son was a senior in high school at the time.  He told me that particular morning his son asked him what he was working on that day, a random occurrence.  He said he was taping a show on women entrepreneurs.  He son asked him if he was interviewing Joanne Wilson.  I looked at the producer and said “your kid goes to LREI doesn’t he”?  The answer was yes.

A year had passed but the impact was made.  This is one of the many reasons I back women and ethnic founders.  When those people become leaders they become role models.  The hope is that in the future there will be a more balanced world in our companies, in politics and in everything where we will see a myriad of faces from every walk of life so the next generation only knows opportunities for all no matter where you come from.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jenna Abdou

    Magnificent, Joanne. One of my favorite posts. Thank you!

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks Jenna.

  2. Laura Yecies

    Our synagogue where my children grew up had a long time beloved female cantor (the only cantor they knew). After she retired we happened to hire another female cantor. When my then 5 year old son who loved to sing saw her at her first service he whispered to me “mommy are only girls allowed to be cantors?” You could see the wheels turning that he was worried that the field might be closed to him. While an ironic situation it was a reminder to me that diverse role models are critical!

    1. Gotham Gal

      that’s a great story

  3. Mario Cantin

    Woah, that’s good. In fact if no one fills the vacuum for them with creative ideas, someone else is likely to negatively influence them with the wrong ideologies. Brilliant and inspiring, thanks for sharing, you’ve elevated my thinking this morning.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks mario.

  4. pointsnfigures

    I have met very few conservative lawyers!

    1. Mario Cantin

      I’ve met my share of them. They tend to work for banks or large corporations. They’re not of the litigation type — those I came across anyhow.

  5. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Great post 🙂 This is why “If you can see it, you can be it” is just about my favorite saying. Representation is everything.

    1. Gotham Gal

      me too!

  6. LE

    If you are 15 and live in a suburban area with two parents who are fairly conservative lawyers the chance that you follow in their footsteps are probably high. After all, these are the role models you grew up with.Very true. And this has to do with as much what your parents do themselves but also what they talk about and moreover what they seem to think is important. That ends up rubbing off on you. It also works in reverse. I remember my mom commenting when I was maybe 6 years old about the mail man “that’s all he ever wanted in life”. Or about people who work at banks my dad “they are all vice presidents”. And how my mom lit up when talking about someone who attended a good college or was a Doctor. [1][1] I think a large part of people’s reverence for doctors comes because of their early exposure as children of their parents respect for, and reliance on, the doctor which the kids observe at appointments at a young age. That has a brainwashing effect.

  7. AMT Editorial Staff

    Such a great point. I just sent this to the head of my kids’ upper school…My kids are only 5 & 9…but I know the principal from yoga!

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  9. Hope Lawrence

    I love this post and the idea of the assemblies. I grew up in rural VA and while I didn’t realize it then, we were pretty poor. I didn’t see or know much about the world around me. Somehow I had the idea to sign up to be a nanny the summer after I graduated from high school. My first job was for a man in Westhampton as a cook/maid/travel organizer. Talk about a new world! I met and spent time with his stockbroker, who I believe was the first woman to have a seat on the exchange. Truly a life changing experience. {My first real job after college was as a broker and I dreamed of working in NYC…which I did eventually.} I worked with another girl who cried the first week as she was just overwhelmed by it all (she too was a poor kid growing up in the middle of nowhere.) Kids need to know that there is more out there than what is around them. I will do my best to be a better mentor and share my experiences!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. Amazing what a difference that one job made

      1. Hope Lawrence

        It did. The 2nd summer we went to Monte Carlo for a month and then LA for 2 months. I remember his secretary calling me at college mid-April, wanting to know if I had a passport (I didn’t). Made studying for finals tough that semester…I was so excited!

        1. Gotham Gal


  10. Erin

    I like the idea of having parents organize the assemblies. I like that a lot, actually. It makes so much sense that they’d bring a unique and fresh angle to each assembly.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Kids and teachers did them but I inserted myself into the process. ?