On this episode
For our last episode of this season, we’re passing the mic to our listeners. We asked women from our global community how they’re planning to make the world less tilted in 2021, and in this episode, you’ll hear from two of them—Ifeoma Finnih and Jen Shyu.
Ifeoma works in investment banking and wants to demystify the industry, so more women find their way to careers in finance. Jen is an experimental musician and is building a powerful support network for underrepresented musicians, which is especially important during COVID-19.
They’re both paving the way for the next generation and they’re doing it with gusto. These conversations gave us a huge boost, and we hope they do the same for you.
More about our guests:
- Ifeoma Finnih is an investment banker and a Senior Vice President at FBNQuest Merchant Bank. She has over twelve years of banking experience primarily focused on financial advisory & structuring - closing deals worth billions of dollars across the Energy and Infrastructure sectors. With a passion for promoting work-life integration, Ifeoma is interested in all forms of counselling particularly marriage, the education/proper development of children and the economic advancement of women. She is engaged with a number of NGOs that address these issues. Follow @HerFinanceStory and @IfeomaFinnih on Instagram and Ifeoma Finnih on LinkedIn to stay updated on her leadership series for women in finance.
- Jen Shyu is a multilingual vocalist-composer-multi-instrumentalist-dancer. Born in Peoria, Illinois, to Taiwanese and East Timorese immigrants and the first female and vocalist bandleader on Pi Recordings, Jen has produced seven albums, performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is a Fulbright scholar speaking 10 languages. To get involved with Mutual Mentorships for Musicians, head to their website at mutualmentorshipformusicians.org. You can also follow Jen on Facebook at @JenShyuMusic, Instagram at @JenShyu and Twitter at @JenShyu—as well as support her work through her Patreon page.
Rachel Thomas (00:01):
Welcome to Tilted: A Lean In Podcast. Tilted brings you conversations at the intersection of gender and culture. We dig into topics we’re curious about, highlight people and stories that inspire us, and we hope inspire you too, and share expert advice to help you make the playing field a little less tilted. I’m your host, Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of Lean In.
Hey, everyone. You might remember that toward the end of last year, we put out a call for you to tell us how you’re planning to make the world less tilted in 2021. We got a lot of amazing responses from people all over the world, but two really stuck out to us.
Today, you’ll hear from Ifeoma Finnih and Jen Shyu. Ifeoma works in investment banking and wants to demystify the industry, so more women find their way to careers in finance. Jen is an experimental musician and is building a powerful support network for underrepresented musicians, which has turned out to be critically important during the COVID-19 crisis. I really loved chatting with these two ladies. They’re paving the way for the next generation and they’re doing it with gusto. Ifeoma, before we jump into what you’re doing, I’d love to learn a little bit more about you.
So, obviously you knew my name, Ifeoma Finnih. I am a mom. I'm married with three children. I'm in Lagos, Nigeria, right now. I'm an investment banker as well. I've been doing that for about the past 12 years, so [I’ve] just risen up the ranks. I'm now a senior vice president in my firm, working on energy and infrastructure projects across different sectors—oil and gas, telecoms, power, and all of that. [I’ve] done about $6 billion in transactions. It's interesting, I have a very exciting career and my family life is great as well.
It sounds like an amazing job. How old are your kids?
I have a 20-month-old who will be two in April.
And I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old.
Wow. So how are you coping with COVID-19 and trying to be a VP in a really demanding industry [with] three young kids?
Honestly, last year was really something. 2020 was just something else. What happened in the firm is because we don't really use software, platforms, and all of that, it's really just our computers. We have a shared drive, and it was pretty easy for us to just work from home, so that really helped. I think what was difficult was trying to coordinate with the schools as well, because obviously schools were used to just going in and everything. At least for the offices, we have the video calls and the conference calls, but for the schools, most of them were just trying to get into it, so it was horrible in some regard...
It happened in about March [or] April, but by September, I think it got better for the first term of the new session. My husband helped. There were some days he would stay with the kids and just allow me to completely focus on work in the office, and some days he would go and then I would be managing the kids in my room. So, it was just a lot of teamwork, a lot of help, coordination, routines, and all of that, and we survived.
I'm glad, and I'm glad you're getting all the support that you need at home. We're talking to you today—just to remind listeners—because we got a ton of stories and your story just really stood out as inspiring and interesting, so I'm super excited to talk to you and hear what you're doing. Could you tell us, and me, a little bit about your idea and what inspired it?
The idea is really to host women in the finance industry, different sectors of finance, because people just have a one-track view sometimes about finance in the back, but finance is so broad and so interesting. So, [the idea is] just to host women in the different fields, talking to them about the challenges they face, about their jobs, just providing insights to what we do, and the lessons they've learned. I've been working in the investment banking industry for about, what did I say, over 10 years now. And I do get the questions. I work in project finance. I put out some of my work sometimes, interviews and all of that, and people ask me questions: “Oh, what's it like? How do I transition? How do I start a career in this industry? It looks really interesting.” I get a ton of questions, [but]I can't answer everything. So I said, you know what? It would be good to maybe share with these ladies. This is just a way of answering those questions, share with the women, and share other women's lessons as well. [It’s] a way of maybe paying it forward, if you like. I have had mentors and sponsors, and learned a lot. I've faced challenges and problems in my career. It's finance—it's tough, it's hard work. With a baby or raising babies and working in investment banking, it's hard. But just sort of sharing how I was able to do it with these women, I think it will be really valuable and that's how I got the idea. I also read this book as well, Strategize to Win by Carla Harris. She was talking about starting out in your career and about talking to many people who are actually in the role. I was just like, “Well, people may not know this many people in investment banking. I may not know a private equity specialist or project finance specialist, if I'm just graduating.” So, why not bring these women who are in these roles to people who are trying to access or gain access or insights into these roles? That's really where it came from.
I love that. I'm curious; what are the common questions, or what's the most interesting or surprising question that you've been asked?
An interesting, surprising question some ask is how easy [it is]... because they see the VP or the SVP [title] and they say, “Oh, how many years did it take you? How easy is it to ascend or how quickly?” Because sometimes in the banking industry, you don't really move so quickly. So they're saying, “Oh, what did you need to do?” I also just get the normal questions about, “What do I need to study? Do I need to pass any exams? What do you face?” It's pretty male dominated. “What are the skills I need to advance in this industry?” Those are the typical questions. However, what I want to do is broaden that. I will be asking people to send in questions, but I'm going to touch on a wide range of things, obviously the glass ceilings and there's a concept I just read about, the glass cliff, about senior women leaders who are given positions when there's a crisis. So, things like that—just make it interesting, make it fun.
The thing is, I'm going to be talking to very senior people. Hopefully, I can speak to some M.D.s and all of that, but also my peers, so mid-career people who have done about 10 to 12 years as well, whom the younger people are looking at. I'm looking at the M.D.s and I'm like, “Oh my god, when am I going to get to this level?” But you forget that people who are just coming out are looking at you and they're like, “Oh my god, I wish I was you.” Some people forget that sometimes. So, I'm going to be interviewing a wide range of women across these sectors and asking them about their experiences.
I love that... In our research, we see that there's obviously a glass ceiling [and] there's obviously a glass cliff. Both of those are getting in the way of women becoming leaders and staying leaders. But where we see the biggest issue is actually what we call the broken rung, which is at that first promotion to manager. So, at that first step up into the management ranks, men are significantly more likely than women to get that first break. That's something that we talk a lot about in our work. I do want everybody to be aware that, unfortunately, the inequity starts really early.
Yes, I think I agree with that, because I did—and I know most women did—face challenges at that level, where maybe you're just starting out or you just had a baby or something, and you're out for how many months. Then you come back and [there’s] a peer who's a guy, who's probably done all this work and done all these projects, and you're worried because you're like, “Okay, well, in my appraisal, I'm not going to write, 'Oh, I did this project and this project.'” I wasn't there. I see how that could be a problem. I think that's the benefit of having Circles in the community and having people who have been through this—they share resources and they just share. So, there's some support you get from that. It did help me at that time.
So, Ifeoma, if I'm someone early in my career in finance, what do you want me to know?
I think I want them to, maybe the word is demystify it, the whole finance industry. The main goal is just to share this knowledge and information and demystify this field. A lot of people think, “Oh, banking, long hours. Maybe just looking for how I can grow my assets,” or something like that. But finance is so broad. I think one of the main aims is just to let them know that there are so many different areas in this field. There's so much and all of [it is] very interesting. What I tell people is to get a rounded view and then specialize. You see how it is in the investment banks, how people come [and] move around, which is good. It's excellent, just moving around the different areas of the bank, just to get a feel of what you would want to do, and then specialize or end up in advisory, equity, research, or... something like that.
But just share knowledge with them, tell them that it is not as complex... It's quite interesting, and it does have this development impact. Right now, I work in project finance. You can see the tangible impact of what you're doing. We raise money for projects across the different sectors. I see that if I raise money for this gas pipeline, for instance, you know that this gas pipeline is going to provide gas to this power plant, which is going to provide power to these populations. It's exciting, it's interesting, and you can see the impact that you're making on the community. So, just demystify it, make people interested in finance, bring people in, [and] bring more women in, because that's the big goal as well, and get them to these really top-level positions like I want to get to.
That all really resonates with me, and I love that you want to do that for women. You are clearly what we call an “Only,” a woman surrounded often by men at work. How has that experience been for you? Do you have any hacks or strategies that you’ve used?
Definitely be visible. Definitely speak up. In fact, the thing is, if you're already the only woman in the room, then you already sort of have the attention. So, don't be shy or not say anything. Definitely always speak out, speak up. That's something I've learned, just to share my thoughts, share my ideas. If I don't agree with something, I'll say, “You know what, I do not agree with this.” Or if I have a question, I don’t bring myself down [and say], “Oh, this may be stupid,” or something like that. No, definitely not. I just [say], “I have a question I want to ask you. Can you explain, can you clarify? I do not agree with what you're saying.” Those kinds of engagements.
That makes a lot of sense to me. Where are you in the process? Have you hosted your first event? Is the event coming together now? And by the way, I can't believe you're doing all this on top of having three young children and being in a senior role in an investment bank.
I've been just working on the planning. I have my plan up; I'm actually going to be recording [a trailer] next week... just introducing it and what I want to do. I'll post that across the platforms. I'll be speaking to my first guest hopefully before the end of January, and then hoping to speak to maybe one or two a month.
As you've been reaching out to other senior-level women to participate, what are they saying? Are they excited?
Of course. It's exciting for them. You talk to a lot of my peers, even [those] who are senior as well, and they say, “Oh, definitely.” You get a lot of people saying, “Oh, please mentor me,” or, “Can you have a conversation with me?” So they can come on and we can have a conversation on questions that they have been asked as well, things they want to share, as well as questions that I'll be asking. The response has been positive so far.
I think one thing is that COVID [has] made people more open to less traditional forms. Like, you're not going to be on TV or in person. We can do it over the phone. We can do it in the comfort of their homes. People are just more accessible. People who may not have been willing to come out somewhere before can do it now because it's easier and more convenient.
That really hits me because I agree so strongly. This is a moment in time when, if you're a senior-level woman, I hope you're accepting more invitations to get on a call with someone or get on a Zoom with someone, because it's easier. And if you're more junior or advancing in your career, I think this is an awesome time to be reaching out to more senior-level women and saying, “Hey, can we set up a Zoom call? Can we do a call?” We don't need to get into a coffee shop together. We can do something that's easier and quicker.So, I'm hoping that it is really accelerating networking, because as we both know, networking is really critical.
I cannot not talk about the fact that we connected with you around your idea and your plans to bring women together in 2021 to learn more about finance, but once we started to talk to you about that, [we] realized that you had actually started a Circle. So tell me, you started a Circle—how did it go? Who's in it?
We had our last meeting actually at the end of December, and we said, “Let's just do it for six months.” It was fantastic. It was an amazing experience. And the thing is, I had been in a Circle the previous year and I just thought, “You know what, I'm going to lead a Circle this year.” That was last year, anyway.
We were women from... there were energy specialists, there was an accountant, [and] I'm in finance. There was a private equity lady as well, five of us. It was just awesome. Different backgrounds, different experiences, just coming together to support each other on our goals. What we did is that we set out, “This is what I want to achieve in the next six months”—kind of like an accountability group. We would meet every week and just discuss the goals, and then discuss different topics about career, family life, wellness, and all of that.
It was just so amazing. One of the ladies in our Circle had said she wanted to write a memoir, and she did it by the end of the year. Somebody else wanted to do a French exam. It was all sorts of goals, not just career goals, [but] just keeping track. Joking, laughing, and supporting each other... it was an amazing experience. And obviously we still have our group. It's just that we said, “You know what, we're just going to have this Circle for the period while everybody now sets up to do different things this year.” It was an amazing experience.
I'm glad. And I think a six-month model really works. I love the flexibility of the approach there. For people who are listening, I do now need to put in a plug for Circles. If you don't know what they are, Circles are generally groups of eight to 12 women, or really anyone who wants to get together and talk about their experiences and talk about bias and cheer each other on and hold each other accountable… They typically meet once a month, although I love hearing that you guys went a different route and met once a week, because I could see some real benefits in that.
I don't know if you know this, but this year we passed what felt like such an incredible milestone. When we started Lean In eight years ago, I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined it was possible, but this year we hit the milestone of 50,000 women in 185 countries as of this week.
I've started a Lean In Circle, which is amazing.
It's a big number, but what I love so much is for each of those numbers, there's a woman like you, who has a story about starting a Circle and what it meant to her and what a difference it made. So, thank you for sharing. If people want to get involved in what you're doing or support you, is there anything they can do to help?
I'm going to put an intro of the plan or what I'm planning to do next week on my social media platforms, just to introduce [it]... To help and support, [you can] just spread the word. If you know women who are in school, who are seeking to either start off or transition into finance, or are just interested in it, please let them know. Share the information with them. This is access to these industry specialists. And like I said before, people don't really have this access.
So if you know women, share the word, spread it around, and just let everyone come on and listen. I'm probably going to put up a registration link so you can get emails when the session is launching, so you can listen at the time when it's posted. This is my own way of paying it forward—just sharing that knowledge. I'm excited about it, and looking to see where it gets to in the future.
Well, my sense is that you will have no problem getting this rolling and making it something special. And I've been really inspired talking to you. Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you very much as well. Same here.
I'm sure, like me, you're all cheering on Ifeoma as she gets her mentorship program off the ground. We've shared her social handles in the description below. Be sure to reach out to her if you're a woman who's considering a career in finance, but don’t know how or where to get started.
Next up, I spoke to Jen Shyu, a successful composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, about how she's bringing her vision for a truly inclusive and supportive community of musicians to life, and challenging the status quo as she goes.
Jen, before we jump into what you're doing, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I'm a composer, vocalist, dancer, multi-instrumentalist, and, let's see, I've traveled the world. I’m very lucky to have done research on all the music that I'm obsessed with and that in turn inspires new works. I kind of see myself as an artistic ambassador, I guess. And I’m obsessed with languages; I speak about 10 right now.
Oh wow. I'm trying to learn Spanish in the morning; I've been doing Duolingo, so I'm incredibly impressed with anyone who can speak 10 languages—that is phenomenal.
Well, it's the ebb and flow. If you don't practice, it kind of goes out of shape. But just having that conversation with millions of people, being able to have human conversations—not about art, but just about life—with so many people has been an amazing part of my work.
I'm curious, what does that look like? What does a day look like in your life as you're navigating all these interests and all the ways that you're coming into music?
I think—and I can definitely say the same for my co-founder, Sara Serpa, who's an amazing vocalist and composer herself—it has been a journey of...basically creating your own path. If you are a composer of your own work, an “artrepreneur,” as I like to call it, if you're creating your own audience as well and cultivating that, and not fitting into what is a known category of music, then the path is going to be more arduous. Of course, Sara and I have been navigating a world of men, especially the world of jazz and creative music. It is heavily male.
I'm very lucky at this point in my career that I can say, oh, you know, my day consists of compos[ing] and practic[ing]. I work with my Patreons, because I've got a Patreon page; I teach through that page. I write grants to raise money to create more crazy work that I feel pushes the boundaries and it really destroys stereotypes of especially Asian-American artists. [I try] to open the minds and expand the minds of people around the world. I'm very lucky to be able to say that at this point. But certainly when I first moved to New York, it was like, what am I doing? You know, I'm not a jazz singer—or am I a jazz singer? And you're just figuring everything out. It has taken... let's see, I moved to New York in 2003. It's 2020. So, it's taken this long to even be able to look back at [my] career and say, “Wow, this is what I've accomplished. And this is yet more I want to accomplish.”
Can you walk us through what you're doing and why you're doing it?
If we rewind, going back to March, kind of the beginning of our lockdown in New York, the first thing to go were all the gigs, all my gigs and all of Sara's gigs. I mean, everybody who was an artist, even the big names, everything was canceled. So what that means for... especially artists in our little niche of creative music, Black American music, jazz, whatever you want to call our community, our overlapping communities, [it was] such a blow. Because our careers are really kind of, as I described before, there's no clear path. You're on your own a little bit. So a gig is a big deal. A performance is a big deal, because that's a chance for not only cultivating your audience, but also, maybe I can get a critic to come see it and do a write-up in the New York Times or something. All these little things, there's no book for it, but you realize, “Oh, this is how I build a career; this is how I build a name.” So, when everything was canceled, and I was talking with friends, it's tough for us, but what about those who are younger than us, who are just emerging, who have no grants or who have never gotten a grant? What about those who have no teaching jobs or don't teach at all, or just don't have that credibility yet to have students and attract students?
That was on the forefront of my mind. Leading up to that, the context that I had mentioned before, just being in a male-dominated industry, Sara and I both of a similar generation, we were vocalists, we're [in our] 40s now, early 40s, and had mainly male mentors in this industry. Not many female mentors, not many women mentors... Especially the last three years, I was thinking about mentorship and, wow, what if we had a structure that could support not only those emerging artists, but also our elder women artists in the industry who are so often just pushed aside? It's such an odd thing. Male musicians who are elder, they're revered, whereas elder women musicians are ignored, for the most part, by critics [and] those who determine people's visibility.
I had a very important encounter in the summer of 2017. I had breakfast with one of my idols, Muhal Richard Abrams, who sadly later passed away that year. This was the last time I saw him. Muhal was a pianist, a composer, [an] incredible activist and leader, and co-founder of the AACM, which is the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. We had breakfast, and on our way to the elevator, I just decided to say, “Thank you so much for all these years of your mentorship and nurturing of all of us younger artists; it's been a blessing.” And then he stopped me and he said, “Hey, no, no, no, no, no. That word, mentor, I really don't like that word.” He's like, “Because that implies that there's someone higher than the other, and there's some hierarchy. And what I prefer is exchange.”
I was stunned because this is a man I've revered and kind of feared. I would go to his concerts and be a little shy, talk to him. And here he was saying, “Hey, we're equals.” That really stuck with me. By the time the pandemic happened, these ideas of mentorship... I had been toying with what kind of structure could work. Would it be [that] someone, maybe a musician, could be a mentor and had a mentee, and then that mentee was a mentor to another, and it maybe was this infinite ladder? How could that work? But then that was a bit tricky, I realized, as I was making a spreadsheet, because what do you base it on? Do you base it on age? Do you base it on prominence career-wise? And how do you measure? Of course, you can measure age, but just because you're older doesn't necessarily mean that you have X amount of fame. A lot of younger artists get a lot more hype than a lot of older artists. So, that didn't become anything.
But in March of last year, I reached out to colleagues, including those in the collective, and Sara responded. We started right away brainstorming. Right around that time, I heard a podcast interview on “Skimm'd from the Couch” of Sheryl Sandberg. She talked about the Lean In Circles. Of course, I knew of Lean In before, but when I started looking into the Circles, I [thought], “Wow. There's all these pro-women groups all over the world.” When I was thinking about mentorship earlier, of course, I was thinking of the one-on-one. And the idea of a mutual mentor came up. I got a clear idea of how that could work. A pair of musicians could create a work together, and they could mentor each other. But then Sara, her idea was like, “Well, it'd be great if there were a group of these pairs.” And so we just formulated, let's start with 12 musicians. Let's really go for really diverse, in terms of our racial background, our musical background, our sexual identities, and let's focus on Black women. Let's have the most represented group in our first cohort.
So, we selected and came up with 12 amazing artists. We created our website, and we just started meeting. We thought of [the structure] as well at our first meeting: let's draw names and find the partners, the pairings. And the only rule [was] that you cannot have collaborated together before. A lot of organizations, collectives, and groups form out of what is missing. And what we saw missing was, well, why are our genres of music in our communities still quite divided? There's still gaps. The classical people, the improvised music people, and the hip hop. Maybe there's more now, but there's still not enough cross-fertilization there. So, this is one way to promote that. Then, once we paired everyone up in the first meeting, we got to work, and we decided that two meetings a month was great.
The obvious question [is], “What did you talk about in these meetings?” Well, first of all, they were confidential, and we made [sure] that everyone would agree that what [was discussed] in the meeting would just stay [there] and not go out or be public. The issues we talked about [were] real issues that were affecting our lives: power issues, issues we were having with certain other artists, sometimes those issues that come up at the beginning, when we would check in with each other. We'd each individually go around and talk about what had happened the last two weeks, what you're grappling with now. And, at the end, inspired by the Lean In Circles, [we’d have] some action items… We each went around and said, “I want to work more on meditating,” “ I want to work more on journaling,” “I want to work more on having more time outside,” [or] whatever it was. Or, “I want to actually resolve this conflict that I had with this colleague.” Those were the frames of our meetings, and in between was either talking about one person's particular conflict, giving support, or sometimes we had listening sessions, where we just presented our music to each other—five, maybe four, musicians for one meeting [would] present their music and then we'd talk about it and give feedback. That was incredible.
Every time, I would stop and say, “Wow, if I had had this opportunity in my 20s, when I first moved here, completely lost and only surrounded by men, what kind of impact [would] this have had?” By the end, one of our sessions was just an improvised jam session. This is after five months of getting to know each other very well. Meanwhile, each duo that was paired has been working toward creating their duo piece commission. That was the end goal, at the end of our six-month program. We had concerts in December for our first cohort. So, from June to December. We're going by seasons—it's a summer solstice. Summer solstice cohort of 2020. These concerts were events on Zoom, hosted by our editor-in-chief, Jordannah Elizabeth. We should mention, definitely Jordannah is going to be heading our branch that when we get funding we can start to develop, which is mutual mentorship for music writers.
Why is that important? Well, there was an article that just came out on NPR that Jordannah actually contributed to called, and you can Google it, “Equal At Last? Women In Jazz, By The Numbers.” They found that in the latest NPR jazz critics poll, there were only 10 out of 141 critics who are women. And two of them were Black women, two of the 10. Those numbers don't lie. And you see in the whole article, wow, these are the records that have no women on them… So, even though there has been progress, [there’s still] such a long way to go.
So… this is something that if we developed in tandem with our mentorship for musicians, we'll have [music] writers who will be able to see our work and understand our work, instead of just being from the male white gays—the vast majority of our critics today are white men. They're making or breaking our careers.
Thank you for that. It really made my day. I didn't know that Circles were part of your story. I also wrote down, because I just thought it was a really elegant way to describe it, that you said they were women or pro-women groups. I just really liked the way you called them pro-women groups. That's amazing.
I have a bunch of questions. One, how is the community doing with COVID-19, and that it's continued? Many of you are in New York and New York's under lockdown again. How is the community holding up?
It's really hard. I think everyone has a different situation. I have been very privileged to have support from recent grants to just keep me afloat, but a lot of us don't have that. It's tough—the Jazz Standard, one of our main clubs, just closed. Their furniture's all out on the street, and it's really sad. And the venues, the places where we got to present our work, are just struggling. But it has been interesting; the Jazz Gallery, which is one of the venues that first presented me, one of the first places I played, they've been able to pivot. They've been doing a lot of virtual events. Right away, they started doing happy hour hangs with artists, and they would give us a hundred bucks for each hang and we could just be with our fans or people who wanted to just hang out with us and have a drink with us. I taught a workshop, of course. But everyone's had to pivot. It's been really hard. I think for those without the financial support that they may have saved up, it's really, really difficult. What we wanted to do with our mentorship initiative was not just provide funding … we need so much more support than that. There's the emotional support, there's the group support that we witnessed in our first cohort, how important that was. Because as everything's falling apart, to have had this chance once every two weeks to just connect and vent and problem solve together, and then collaborate even though the people who weren't paired with each other, everyone was collaborating with each other and conversing—to see that again, those lines crossing, it was magical. I think that's what is a little different about our initiative.
How are the women, and the pro-women group in your first cohort, how are they doing?
It's funny, because early on, we were just figuring out how this would go. Your first round, the learning curve is the steepest. We actually had an opportunity to write on New Music USA's blog, which is called New Music Box. That journalist, of course, wanted to feature all of our artists and plug our initiative and also our concerts at the end of the six-month period. So, he asked each of us to write a little paragraph on how this has impacted your life, and we were just amazed at everyone's words. It's all online. But you can see how a lot of people in our group just had no hope at the beginning of the pandemic, and then this was like a flame that allowed them to create. It's like, “Wow, I'm getting not only financial support, but I'm actually called upon to create something with another musician.” Not in isolation, but with a new collaborator on top of that.
It was definitely, for everyone, something that gave them that spark and carried them through the six months. [Some] talked about the ability to check in and have that emotional support, while others focused on the creative aspect and the musical aspect of having that time together. We're continuing, so actually everyone, as part of our initiative, is going to write a 500-word essay and we're going to put together an M3 anthology of essays. And why [that’s] important is because there's still a void of us women artists talking about and writing about our own work. How great would it be if we just had each of our artists, as part of the commission, write an essay on any topic related to their music? I myself am going to write about fertility and how that has impacted my work. I think another one of us is going to talk about motherhood. These are stories that need to be told. If we don't talk about the difficulties or the challenges in trying to be a mother and be this incredible touring artist, if we don't talk about those things, then they won't be acknowledged, they won't be appreciated, and there won't be change that might need to happen in order to make that easier for mothers who are artists. So yeah, that is another part of the legacy that we want to have—not just the musical work, but also this writing, and to have that in stone as something we can leave behind.
Are you starting to put together your second cohort now?
Yes. We actually had an open call and we selected [them at the] end of December. We're going to see where the journey goes, but these artists are incredible. We focused, of course, on underrepresented artists and we've kept in mind those who maybe don't have these stellar teaching jobs at this university. We focused on those who don't live in New York City and have very little access. We have four international artists in our next cohort who don't have that access as we New Yorkers do, and we want to give them more opportunity through this initiative to connect with other artists. So, yeah, we're really focusing on all these things and really trying to reward those who have worked so hard and just haven't gotten the recognition they deserve.
If listeners want either to get involved and support what you're doing or they want to join a future cohort, where do they go?
We have a website called mutualmentorshipformusicians.org. It's all written out. And [for] our open call, we'll search for... folks in April for our [third] cohort. Our current cohort we'll nominate, but we also have an open call and we select a portion of those open call artists into our next cohort to make it as accessible and fair as possible. We're looking for not just financial help—that of course will go directly to the artist and the commissions that each artist creates—but also technical help, audio engineers, video-savvy people, anyone great with press and social media. All these aspects would help us greatly. So, not just the financial, but all these different expertise categories.
I hope that this new paradigm will really elevate the focus and the conversation around our work, the work of women of color, the work of trans artists. I just think it's been so narrow up until now, and even now still. As I watched our performances, those six pieces we created that we showed over the two nights—and you can see that on our website under the events tab—it was incredible. There were pieces about grandmothers that would just move you to tears. My partner, Sumi Tonooka, and I wrote about Mother, but also my father, who passed away in 2019. So emotional and powerful, and these topics, they're kind of absent from a lot of our male colleagues in their music. It's great, to have this thematic material and also [material] about our backgrounds. Val and Romarna both had roots in the Caribbean and they focused on that. To have these stories—it's just really important to have our voices heard. And they're so incredible. The voices are so incredible and fascinating. For these voices to be ignored by a small group of people, that's something we want to change.
I think it's like a microcosm of what the world needs, the change that needs to happen in the world. So, we start small with what we can handle, but we hope that it can reverberate worldwide.
I'm excited to hear about Jen's second cohort of mutual mentors. I'm going to be checking in to see how they're doing. If you want to learn more about her program and how to get involved, we dropped her website and social handles in the description below. But before we wrap, don't think we forgot about all your efforts to make the world a little less tilted. Here's a quick montage of some of the amazing things you shared with us.
Hillary Kenny (40:27):
This is Hillary Kenny calling from Maryland. I'm making 2021 less tilted by creating resources for working parents managing online school. I've done a global speech for International Project Management Day, created a website with free resources, and I'm writing a book to be published in 2021. The goal is to help parents during this difficult time and streamline work at home.
Nikki Lursher (40:49):
Hi, this is Nikki Lursher from Cocoa, Florida. I will co-create our next comic book training tool to empower individuals to speak up for themselves and others to help eradicate workplace harassment once and for all.
Tiffany Bolog (41:02):
Hi, my name is Tiffany Bolog and I just recently joined the most inspiring organization that's dedicated to achieving gender parity in the next 10 years by really redefining the way our country approaches women's higher education. We're creating pathways so that women can have agency and a voice not only in what they learn, but how they learn it and how they're able to use that to break glass ceilings. I just wanted to share with you all about the great work WomenX is doing.
My name is Nadia from Sarawak, Malaysia. My plan to make the world less tilted in 2021 is to reach out to a lot more women out there to empower, educate, and enable them through our workshops, engagements, and other programs in Lean In Sarawak. We hope to give equal platforms and equal opportunities to all and bring about the change that the world needs.
Theresa Carpenter (42:00):
Hi, my name is Theresa Carpenter. I'm from Norfolk, Virginia. For 2021, I plan to continue to do things that scare me. One of the things that I'd love to take on is improv comedy. I'm very afraid to get up in front of groups and speak. Also, I want to not rely so much on my paid work for my fulfillment. Thank you for asking.
So listeners, this is our last episode of season two of Tilted. We're so thankful to you for listening and supporting this project. We're going to take a little time off, but we'll be back in April with season three of Tilted. We are already exploring ways to shake up next season, and we'd love to hear your ideas for making the podcast better and topics you'd like us to cover. Please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I cannot end this episode and this season without plugging our Circles program. We have Circles in 185 countries and our community regularly hosts virtual Circle events open to anyone who wants to join. If you want to get involved, head to leanin.org/circles.
Thank you again so much for listening. That email address is email@example.com. You can subscribe to Tilted on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Our executive producer is Sandy Smolins and special thanks to Allie Bore, Chelsea Paul, Kate Urban, Madison Long, and Nicole Roman from the Lean In team, and Caitlin Thompson, Ireland Meacham, Jacob Kramer Duffield, and Matt Noble at Audiation. I'm your host, Rachel Thomas, and season two of Tilted is officially a wrap.