Elaine Welteroth has a lot to say. The former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief, who had been vital in revolutionizing the magazine to be more socially conscious, is launching a book in June and she’s also a new judge of Bravo’s “Project Runway” reboot.
In Monday in New York, she joined activist and model Cameron Russell in a conversation all about the importance of finding your voice. In partnership with The Wing, a female co-working space collective, Keds hosted the empowering event in honor of International Women’s Day, which was moderated by The Wing’s head of diversity and inclusion, Yari Blanco.
Here, Welteroth and Russell shared words of wisdom to help empower female leaders.
Use Your Voice
After becoming the first African-American beauty director of Teen Vogue in 2012, Welteroth took on a new role. She said, “We all have to learn how to use our voices. We all have to learn how to talk about race and gender in a sensitive and intellectual way. There are so many people who are afraid of going there, but when you become a first you are forced to go there. [You are] forced to be a barrier breaker whether you’re ready or not. You bare this responsibility of speaking for an entire community and you have to learn how to do that.”
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Be an Ally
Welteroth said, “Growing up I learned from watching my brother’s experience through the world [and being bullied] to be an ally and advocate for people who are ‘othered’ and excluded. I became passionate for fighting for the underdog. She added, “No matter what I do, I go into it [thinking], ‘What does this mean for other people, how does it uplift somebody else, how can I be brave for someone else? [It’s about] how I can use my platform in a way that amplifies an underrepresented group who wouldn’t necessarily have the mic otherwise. That’s how I moved through my whole career. When I got my seat at the table, so to speak, I came in with that spirit.”
Find Your Zone of Genius
“When you have that moment to make a difference, you can do what everyone has done before you, or you can figure out how to do what no one can do but you,” said Welteroth. “I call that your zone of genius. I was able to hone in on my zone of genius, which was amplifying underrepresented voices from the inside, infiltrating systems, changing them from the inside, and then pulling other people in.”
Engage in the Gray Area
Welteroth said, “I want to engage in the gray. The way things are depicted in the media are so often black and white. I see so much room in between for conversation that is nuanced, complex and that’s what I care about — whether it’s popular or unpopular. I’m so gratified when I’m met with people who want to go there, too. I have a world of sisters out there and I haven’t even met them.” She explained, “There’s a lot of division right now and choosing sides. People are not meeting in the middle to talk. The internet has become that place to do that.”
Russell, who uses her platform as a model to fight for social justice and the environment, among other issues, said, “If I’m stressed out or nervous about someone deciding to work with me, my self-care is that I remind myself that most gatekeepers actually can’t really get you any[where]. And that took me long time to get there.”
Welteroth lights a candle before she starts anything that require focus. She said,”It’s having a practice you commit to that does something to awaken you. Just put your phone down. It’s as simple as that, and drink water. It’s all the things your mom told you.”
Set Your Terms & Stick to Them
When Russell is asked to participate in a panel, for example, she shares concrete language that says she won’t participate if she’s the only woman, and she won’t speak at events where there are zero people of color. She explained, “That language was transformational and opened a door of confidence. People take you seriously and most of the time, respect you. You get to see a ripple effect of bringing people with [you]. If you’re doing a feminist cover and the photographer is a white man I feel like we can do something about this. We use that opportunity of being at the table to change who is at the table.”
Believe In Yourself
Said Welteroth, “We need to give ourselves permission to live out more than one dream, one title, one bit of success. For anyone going through a life transition you’re not alone in it, and the hardest part of being what they call a visionary is no one is going to see it expect you.”
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