When women executives are given the opportunity, “change happens, things get done,” veteran journalist Lisa Ling told 1,200 industry leaders at the NEW Leadership Summit, in Washington D.C.
Speaking about gender inequality in the workplace, the executive producer and host of CNN’s "This Is Life" called the wage gap “a travesty,” but admitted she only recently gained the courage to stand up for herself in the workplace. She was “compelled to put my foot down,” when an executive told her the network was announcing her show was being renewed for the next season and four other shows, hosted by men, were being picked up for two seasons, even though her ratings were commensurate or better than those of her male peers.
“I said, ‘That’s very white and male of you.’ I called my agent and said if anyone asked me why my show isn’t picked up for an additional season, I’m saying, 'Because I’m not white and male enough.’
“I don’t think it was malicious that my show wasn’t announced it was being picked up for an additional season,” she said. “I think they didn’t ‘see’ me.”
Ling, who for 25 years has traveled around the world to shed light on the lives of those who are abused, oppressed or misunderstood, noted she has seen “remarkable things happen” under female leadership. There was positive change in Pakistan under the late Benazir Bhutto, she said, and in Rwanda, where women made up the majority of Parliament after 800,000 people, mostly men, were killed in 1994 during the Civil War. “Rwanda has made incredible progress and their economy is booming,” Ling said.
Asked how she copes with returning to her everyday life after reporting on subjects such as sex trafficking in America, the drug trade in Columbia or violence against women in Iran, Ling said, “It’s surreal when you are exposed to that level of struggle and come home and everyone is on their cell phones or on Facebook. The images of [the painful lives of others] continue to live with me. It’s one reason I try to engage people. I see my role as a vehicle for others to experience what is happening.”
Still, she said, reporting about other’s suffering has left scars. “I’ve struggled with faith. I’ve said if there is a God, how can he or she allow this stuff to happen? How can so many girls be sold as slaves? So many baby girls abandoned throughout China? American kids living without their mother or father, who are incarcerated?
“Several years ago, I married a man of strong faith,” she said. “One day he sent me a poem that read, ‘On a street corner I saw a cold, shivering girl in a thin dress, with no hope of a decent meal. I got angry and said to God, 'Why did you permit this? Why don't you do something about it?' God replied, 'I certainly did something about it. I made you.’"
She hopes others take to heart something Oprah once told her about the responsibility of knowledge and being an agent of the change you want to see: "Now that you know, you can't pretend you don't."
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