“When I started at Donna Karan, it was Mary Wang, VP of merchandising for ready-to-wear,” Bakst recalled. “[It] was my first job in the fashion industry. She was someone I could go to when [I didn’t] understand things going on around me or [even] the terminology.
“My [other mentor] was Blanche Napoleon. She was the first person I hired at Donna Karan. She taught me a lot about the footwear business.”
Today, in her role as group president of accessories and footwear for powerhouse brand Michael Kors, Bakst is a mentor for many of her employees. But it’s a group effort, she said.
“For women to rise, it’s not just up to women to make it possible. It takes both men and women,” Bakst said.
Here, she talks about working hard, loving what you do and finding the right partner.
On giving it your all: “This is an industry where experience is highly valued. [For] anyone entering, [it’s] important to be supported, have a boss who’s willing to get you on the learning curve as quickly as possible by giving you good experience and teaching you along the way. Be curious, and be prepared to work hard. It’s the kind of business that requires a lot of passion because we do work hard. There’s travel and lots of markets. It’s physically demanding and intellectually demanding, so it’s important to love what you do because it takes a lot of hard work.”
Being surrounded by strong women: “[Two Ten] WIFI has been great, and I have been on the FFANY board [for a long time]. Both have [had] strong, dynamic women such as Diane Sullivan, Liz Rodbell, Carol Baiocchi, Libby Edelman. There are some very capable, dynamic women who hold leadership roles, so when I’m on these boards, there’s a good representation.”
Helping women rise: [They] need mentors or sponsors — somebody to help [them] move forward. [They must] take on a new and challenging role. If there’s anything women can do, it’s to encourage [others] to reach for things, take on new assignments and wave their hand when an opportunity comes along.
Navigating work/life balance: “When I’m around women entering executive roles, most of the questions I get are around life balance. A lot of young people are thinking this way, not just women. One of your most important career choices will be your partner. How supportive [will he or she be] if you choose to have a family. How do you balance that and share that responsibility so that both can pursue careers?”