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Power Women: Stacy Harris On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Pay it forward. It sounds trite, but I can’t think of a better way to be remembered than for helping others in the way you were helped- or wish you’d been helped. No one goes it totally alone. I was truly touched by one of my mentors, frustrated that there was no way I could repay the kindness. The response? Essentially, I was not assisted with the expectation of anything in return, but if I really wanted to express my thanks, in essence, I should pay it forward.

How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Media Critic Stacy Harris, of Stacy’s Music Row Report.

Stacy Harris is an internationally-known music historian, multimedia journalist, academician, pundit, pop culture analyst, media personality, actress, iconoclast, public speaker and tastemaker. A native Minnesotan and University of Maryland graduate, Stacy Harris, having completed her studies at Vanderbilt University a half-century ago, resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

When I was in elementary school, I was given what today might be called a creative writing assignment. I wrote a story about Betsy Ross meeting John F. Kennedy. Mine was a difficult childhood- at least I perceived it as such, having much more familiarity with those I thought had it better than the larger world of those who had it worse- so the affirmation I received completing this particular exercise was all the encouragement I needed to believe I might have a future as a writer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting story- or at least the most surprising- would be the diversified direction of my work. I am not only a writer but a multimedia journalist. I’m a published author who has also served as an editor, a columnist, scriptwriter, researcher, consultant and broadcaster.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

#1 I don’t procrastinate. Journalists are notorious for being procrastinators. I’ve never understood why. If I have a deadline to meet, a bill to pay, or whatever- it gets done immediately. Why would I want to devote precious time to stressing out over something I’d have to eventually get around to doing anyway; perhaps with penalties attached?

#2. If I tell you I’m going to do something I follow through. Most forms of journalism, surprisingly even many of the “glamor” jobs, don’t pay a lot, so, in the end, all we journalists really have is our integrity. Your employers, sources and readers must be able to trust you.

#3 I’ve carved a niche for myself. In reality I have no competitors among music journalists because I specialize in reporting exclusive information and also in providing informed opinion that I assert free of the usual control of publicists, advertisers etc. to whom my “competitors” are beholden.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

Having been instructed not to, I won’t “name names” here, as I have elsewhere (for the benefit of anyone who wants to check it out), but, years ago, when a particular employment opportunity presented itself and I interviewed for the position, I was told that my qualifications were perfect for the position “but, confidentially, we’d rather have a man.” This was at a time when it should have been perfectly clear these words would be music to a lawyer’s ears, but also at a time when I didn’t want to be the one marked as a troublemaker and/or pariah for dethroning this industry mogul (now deceased.)

I hasten to add, I did not agree to keep the exchange confidential as the request that I do so was not made prior to the disclosure.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

If she can’t put others at ease for the good of all who are interacting, then she should recognize that it is not her responsibility to do so.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

That’s easy. The more our numbers increase, the less the unease.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

I was told that I would not be paid, by a trade publication for which I wrote, commensurate with what a male colleague, of much less experience, was being paid for the simple reason that “You’re not (insert his name here).”

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The women of Music Row are always better dressed (at industry social events) than their male counterparts. That isn’t necessarily because we want to be. It’s meeting an expectation and a subtle reminder that any one of my colleagues and I could devise two lists: One of the 10 most powerful men in the country-music business and another of the 10 most powerful women. Our lists might be totally different, they might have some overlap, but there would be one constant: All of the names on both lists of the 10 most powerful men would individually and collectively represent more powerful people than any of the names, individually or collectively, on our lists of the 10 most powerful women.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

Work-Life balance is always a struggle related to prioritizing. It’s been a test of my mental and physical health.

Once I decided I didn’t want to put either at risk, the priorities became clear: With that in mind, to paraphrase an axiom, I do all that I’m able for everyone in all of the ways that I am able and will continue to so for as long as I am able. Then, by definition, the rest will fall into place.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

At one point in my broadcasting career I was told by a TV news director that if I wanted to work for him I’d have to move to a smaller market, make a name for myself there and then contact him again. When I explained that I was already working in a major market, that he may not have an opening or may have moved on when he’d otherwise deem me ready if I took his advice, he indicated that was a risk I’d have to take.

I decided to stay put and other radio and TV opportunities presented themselves. Not long afterward, the TV news director was promoted to general manager of the station where he served briefly until he decided on a career change: He became a parochial vicar!

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

On Music Row, a woman’s appearance is emphasized over any other “qualification.” As an aging woman, I act and look my age and regard the superficiality of doing otherwise as being the beholder’s problem.

How is this similar or different for men?

That it’s much different for men is reflected at Music Row work-related social events. The double standard is on full display as the women are dressed for success while many of the men are dressed in jeans, tee shirts and sneakers.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Know your worth and refuse to accept payment that is less than commensurate with what you bring to the table. I learned this in a surprising fashion: (https://writersweekly.com/success-stories/high-pay-from-unsolicited-assignment-by-stacy-harris )
  2. Understand the difference between being assertive and aggressive and assert yourself. These descriptions typically get lumped together as negatives. Being assertive is a must because little, if anything of value that allows a woman to thrive and succeed is given to her. For the most part, she must request or, if that fails, demand it.
  3. Learn the role networking plays in upward mobility. My networking successes have been hard won because I did not immediately recognize the necessity and importance of networking.
  4. Take advantage of internships, “30 under 30” awards and the like. Though I was the recipient of a federal grant when I began my first “real job” these other designations didn’t exist at the time I could have benefited from them. That is no longer the case. Go for ‘em!
  5. Pay it forward. It sounds trite, but I can’t think of a better way to be remembered than for helping others in the way you were helped- or wish you’d been helped. No one goes it totally alone. I was truly touched by one of my mentors, frustrated that there was no way I could repay the kindness. The response? Essentially, I was not assisted with the expectation of anything in return, but if I really wanted to express my thanks, in essence, I should pay it forward. (This was before the term was coined.)

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Taylor Swift. She’s proven herself wise beyond her years. We could compare notes on the Kennedys- and personal reminiscences. Taylor might be interested in my photos and the stories that go along with them. My interest in genealogy brought my unlikely lifelong interest in the Kennedy family (and meetings with several members of the clan) full circle in that I learned that one of the sons-in-law Robert Kennedy did not live long enough to meet is actually a distant relative of mine. (Anything Taylor would tell me about the Kennedys- or anything else she might say in response to my picking her brain- in a non-Swifty manner- about a myriad of subjects- would remain private.)

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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