Natacha Hildebrand, Vice President and General Manager (US), AllBright|Los Angeles, CA
Natacha Hildebrand in conversation with Monika and Natasha Samtani, in her home in West Hollywood, CA | March 2018. In November 2018, Doyenne joined the AllBright family.
Take me through the journey of building Doyenne and talk about it’s goal.
Doyenne has been a journey, and it really started a long time ago to be honest, along with my business partner, Betsy Riley as well. We were in entertainment and we went from being in very male dominated fields to working with women that were not always so great to us. We really found ourselves looking for female mentors, and had a hard time finding them, whether they weren't the right woman, women I should say. And the older we got, the more I realized that we were really relying on our peers and other women around us, and that they were more advocates than they were mentors, and that we needed a group of strong advocates across different life experiences and industries and backgrounds to rely on to kind of go through life, if you will.
So with that we decided to start a dinner series in my living room. It was 14 strangers, all women, and a Doyenne, which means a woman at the top of her field. And it was magic that night. We had women that stayed until midnight and we had to kick them out, as much as we love them. And that is really kind of how the journey started. But from there we realized that women really need a community and that women need this to have vulnerable conversations, and most importantly to take up space, which is what we always say at Doyenne, is that we are taking up space and that women are taking up space because that is how culture moves forward.
We had the first ever Doyenne residency, which was the culmination of a lot of our dinners and programs that we've done over the past year plus now. A full day of programming, from starting our day with the likes of Lisa Licht, who's the CMO of Live Nation, and Kara Nortman, who's a partner at Upfront Ventures - talking about power dynamics, both as a woman in a male dominated industry, but also the power they have in their own jobs - to Simone De La Rue on wellness in a 50 hour work week, to wine tasting, to, of course a panel on the future of what's happening with Time's Up and #MeToo and everything else in between. Everybody from Jane Wurwand, the founder of Dermalogica, to Kara Nortman, a partner at Upfront Ventures, to men as well for our end of day panel. We had Rob Freelen from SVB. We had Mike Farah from Funny or Die. Justin Baldoni was an incredible actor and activist for the space, truly trying to be as inclusive as possible, to push culture as forward as possible. It was an incredible day. One hundred and fifty of the brightest, smartest, amazing women coming together for community conversation. And just a wonderful time.
I really love the name Doyenne. Let's dig deeper into the meaning of the name Doyenne and how you came up with it.
So Doyenne is, as I mentioned, a woman at the top of her field. It is a French word that used to be "D-O-Y-E-N" for men, but they added the "N-E" making it feminine, about 200 years ago. And it really became very powerful during the suffragette movement, especially here in the United States. And I believe it was in the 1910s to 1920s. And they appropriated it and they said, "we are all Doyennes and we are marching for equality and we want the right to vote." And then the word fell off into obscurity.
And as Betsy and I were talking about this dinner series… when we first ended up, you know, its initial inception, we were like, we need a word that is strong, but it's feminine, because as much as we are wanting to have gender parity and everything else, we believe in the power of our own femininity. So it needs to exude that, but it needs to exude everything that we are, because we are women at the top of our field and we are very much on our way, but we are women.
So we literally sat through dictionaries and word documents and a lot of rabbit holes on the Internet for many late nights and kept coming back to the word Doyenne. And the company actually started as Doyenne dinners - I'm a sucker for alliteration. It had a nice ring to it. I hope we're living up to the word and that we are bringing women together that are the top of their fields, are very much on their way to being at the top of their fields. We are feminine, we are strength, we are curiosity and we are ambition.
“I use an expression way too much, which is, "a rising tide lifts all boats." And the more spaces we create, the more the tide rises, the more boats float up. And so do we.”
Doyenne and women taking up space.What is that like for you to be a catalyst and help women take up space?
So taking up space is something we say often at Doyenne and I have to be honest, it's something that one of the first women that I called when Betsy and I started to do this was a woman by the name of Amy Richards, who's been Gloria Steinem's long time editor, she's an incredible author herself, she started something called Feminist Camp, she's the executive producer of Woman on Viceland as well. And it's something that she often talked about. How important it is for women to take up space and that spaces have existed for a long time and they've allowed for women to kind of come together - women's organizations, women's clubs, things like that. It's not a new concept. It's been around. It's where women found refuge. It's where women were able to have these different conversations, whether they started in something as superficial as knitting circles to something as lofty as what's been happening around the world very recently.
There is power in that because the more space we take up, the more ability we have to have these conversations that are so important to be had. Because oftentimes we feel like we're alone and we feel like we're the only one going through something, especially as women, because oftentimes, whether that's by design or by accident, men will quiet our voices, whether that's the board room or quite literally, or we feel like we're not good enough or we don't see how powerful we are through our own eyes. These spaces allow us to have those moments. They allow us to say, I've experienced this. This has happened to me. I am dealing with this. This is happening to me. How have you dealt with this? Coming to terms with, even wonderful things as well, that we can do in these safe spaces and in these circles. And the more space we take up, the louder our voices become and the more we can actually reach parity at the end of the day. Through Doyenne that's what we try to do. I use an expression way too much, which is, "a rising tide lifts all boats." And the more spaces we create, the more the tide rises, the more boats float up. And so do we.
Why is it so important, now more than ever, to have advocacy groups like yours?
Advocacy groups are more important now than ever, really because it is about women of all ages. As women, there are certain universal experiences we all go through, whether you are a woman living in Germany, in Australia, in Africa, Canada, pick a place, pick a generation, pick an industry, there are certain things I think we're all realizing now that we all go through. And that can be as simple as motherhood, as getting your period for the first time, as dealing with sexual harassment, as getting a promotion, or as negotiating for a raise. And advocacy is about giving and taking. Regardless if you're 17 or 75, everybody can give something and everybody can take something from you and you all have something to give. That is the root of advocacy, because those people are going to be talking about you, supporting you, thinking about you as you're moving forward through life.
We talk a lot about how the mentorship model is broken because that was very much one to one and you have to give time and dedicate time and it's something that's like, I am your mentor. But advocacy today is I'm going to give you five minutes because we're here together and we're talking about this and this is what my experience was and I hope you can take something from that. And advocacy allows you to take whatever you want from that moment. It's not a defined relationship. It's not something that you're dedicating your time to. It's something that anybody can, as I mentioned before, give and take from and really grow from and it doesn't have to be this very structured relationship. I think in the world that we live in today with social media, and the news cycle, and so many different things hitting us, advocacy is a lot more, frankly, palatable and easier to do and it feels good.
“Regardless if you're 17 or 75, everybody can give something and everybody can take something from you, and you all have something to give. That is the root of advocacy, because those people are going to be talking about you, supporting you, thinking about you as you're moving forward through life.”
You have clearly had a mission statement and a definition of what advocacy is, which is to create that space for women. What was the impetus for you? You mentioned that in your career you didn't have someone to talk to. Tell us a little bit about Natacha. What happened to you? Where did you feel that void?
I felt the void of a lot of female relationships very young, in terms of specifically a female mentor, particularly growing up in the entertainment industry. Entertainment is something that's really changing today, thank goodness, but you kind of grew up with this idea of scarcity. To be honest, that is actually in many industries, because you grew up in a very male dominated world. And there's not that many women at the top. I think sometimes you could feel that you are in competition against other women. I know at 25 I very much felt that way, and Betsy has an amazing story. Even when we met and how I immediately had like this veneer up and I was like, who is this girl? And Betsy is the human version of a hug. So she literally did not let me have that emotion and she is an incredible partner and was an incredible human then - we met at 22 years old - and it really showed me that we didn't have to be in competition with one another.
Fast forward through the years. This was really the aha moment for me. I was working in corporate consulting - specifically figuring out pop culture for Fortune 500 and 100 brands - and I was working with UBS, the bank, and we decided to work with Annie Leibovitz, the amazing photographer, and reprise her work with Susan Sontag, called Women, and Annie went around the world shooting women of different levels of impact, from Malala to Annie's mother to tons of women in between. And then Annie invited Gloria Steinem to come along and basically produce, curate, and assemble talking circles, which is something that she talks about often. And we did so with the constituents of the bank, oftentimes women and men that were both clients of the bank but also partners and employees with women in key organizations in different cities.
For example, perhaps one of the most or the strongest ones for me was in Mexico City. We had women that had been victims of domestic violence and that were working both in the courts and outside of the courts for women that were these victims, juxtaposed with these women that had so much. And you saw with these women that it didn't matter how many dollars were in the bank, what labels they were wearing, where they had come from, what was happening in their life - they were bonding and real relationships were being formed and real things were happening.
And it was this light bulb moment for me of, wait, we can all support each other. We can all be great to each other. There doesn't have to be competition. Women can be really good to one another and we can all be advocates for one another. We don't have to have these formalized relationships. And for me this was, oh my goodness, my world is shifting on its heels. And I remember coming back to Betsy and being like, we've always talked about this, we have to do this. We're in our thirties. We're at a point in our life now where we are able to pull people together and let's go, let's figure this out. Let's make this happen because women need this and it's possible.
There has been a shift...Women are joining hands and they're saying exactly what you're saying. We need to do this together. What do women need to do to keep up that momentum at this point? Because now there's no looking back.
There definitely has been a shift over the past few months and we as women need to double down as we go forward. And what that means specifically is action. I think a lot of things have finally come up to the surface and finally, we're having those conversations that need to be had. And now we've had a lot of those conversations and now we need to move to the action moment. And I think Time's Up is doing a great example of that in terms of putting money where mouths are in terms of legal defense funds, but I also think there needs to be smaller minute actions that need to happen on a day to day level with women and with men. But women need to speak up for other women, whether that's in the boardroom, if somebody speaks over her, or has an idea but don't let somebody jump in and instead say, oh, I think Mary had a question there.
Change happens in small circles and in small moments, and women need to constantly be aware of that, and that more so than anything being done to them, paying attention and listening to what's happening around them to other women. Because oftentimes the women that are able to do something are women in power and those things don't always happen to them. So it's seeing who else, whether that's a woman above them or below them, how they can continually pull them up, but also speak up for them because that's another form of advocacy in a moment, in a boardroom, somebody in line in front of you at a gas station, wherever that might be, women constantly need to be supporting each other in the small moments.
That in and of itself is powerful. What is power to you?
Power to me is actually synonymous with feminism. And what I mean by that is that it is about choice. That power and feminism together is about your ability to choose how you want to use both of those things. So if you want to be a feminist and never take out the trash, that is your choice. If you want to be a feminist and jokingly go burn a bra, that is your choice. It is your choice of how you want to be a woman and be a feminist and use your power. Because in power there is choice and in choice there is power.
“It is your choice of how you want to be a woman and be a feminist and use your power. Because in power there is choice and in choice there is power.”
Describe a moment when you felt powerful.
I felt powerful at the Doyenne residency. Being able to bring women together in a home, in a setting where they're meeting other empowered women, where they are all going up to each other and saying, hi, I'm Natacha. I do this. What do you do? Who are you? I'm so excited to learn about you. That is power because it is sitting behind the scenes but knowing that you are making a difference and knowing that you are cultivating relationships and catalyzing conversations and bringing amazing things to the world by virtue of bringing people together.
Finish the sentence: Power to me is...
Power to me is the ability of choice. Power to me is being able to say I want this, and I can go after it, and there are no barriers in my way.
What was your goal when you were younger?
When I was young, I watched my mother a lot. My mother is a working mother. She has worked every day of her life. She has shown me the true meaning of hustle, to the point where my parents would come down on Sunday mornings and I would have, at four years old, a full board room setup in the living room with my stuffed animals and I would be on the phone saying, "No deal!" and hanging up at four years old. So I actually didn't know what I wanted to be, but I knew I wanted to be a boss, which was the first thing that I ever wanted to be. My Barbies were all in boardrooms and they were either getting married or in boardrooms, so that's very separate things. But actually, no they're not. They're actually very similar things and we can do it all, most of the time.
I really knew that I wanted to be in a position that I could make big decisions and run shit, frankly. And that kind of evolved over the years and it has driven me every minute of the day, of my life. The beautiful thing about getting older is that I thought I had to be the CMO of a company - if we're going to fast forward a few years. I thought that I had to be the CMO of a Fortune 100 company to feel powerful, to feel like I was accomplished. And especially with doing this Annie Leibovitz project a couple of years ago, I realized that you don't have to be sitting in a boardroom to be powerful. You don't have to be sitting in a boardroom to feel fulfilled and successful. I feel all those things every day in living rooms with 20 women or in halls talking about things. And it is that boardroom with all those stuffed animals, but it is so much more than that because it is so beautiful to have everybody together and to hear stories all day long and know that these stories are better when they are together.
Unknowingly, your mom at age four was already bringing up a badass.
My mother is my hero. She owns her own company. She has, along with my father, raised two amazing daughters, and has shown me what the true meaning of power, hustle, and grit is. And now she still has her own company and is killing it all around the world.
What would you say to somebody who's maybe in their early twenties who wants to be that boss girl?
I would tell a younger woman, stick with it. It's something that people told me all the time and I'd think, Ugh, eye roll. It's so true. Stick with it. Have the conviction and confidence in yourself because you need to be your biggest fan every single day as you move forward. And if you are, it exudes constantly.