Entrepreneur Arianna Huffington

The entrepreneur media mogul critiques the status of women in the U.S. and around the world.

Named twice to the Time 100 list of the world's most influential people, Arianna Huffington started her political life as the darling of the right. The self-described progressive populist does political commentary, pens a nationally syndicated column and has written numerous books. She is co-founder of the Pulitzer Prize-winning (for national reporting) news and opinion website, The Huffington Post, and president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group. She also launched HuffPost Live—a stream of daily video content—and serves on several boards that promote community solutions to social problems.


Tavis: March is, of course, Women’s History Month. In many places around the world, women and girls struggle for basic human rights like education and freedom from violence, while in this country, despite major advances, women are still grappling with how to balance work and family and whether or not equal opportunity results in equal representation.

Fifty years after Betty Friedan wrote her manifesto, “The Feminine Mystique,” gender parity and feminism are being as hotly debated today as they were decades ago.

Enter Arianna Huffington, chair, president, and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, no stranger to that debate. Arianna, good to see you on the West Coast.

Arianna Huffington: Great to see you and to be in the same room with you, Tavis.

Tavis: Yeah, the satellite feed is always nice, but it’s always better when you’re here.

Huffington: Yes, much better.

Tavis: So since I last saw you, this debate about women in the workplace has just completely caught fire. I want to start at what might be an unorthodox place, because I referenced it a moment ago in the introduction.

But does the fact that women and girls around the world fighting for basic human rights and access to education and to live without violence, without rape – the fact that they’re having those debates while we’re having these Sheryl Sandberg/Anne-Marie Slaughter kinds of debates, does that make American women peculiar or petty?

Huffington: No, I think we’re dealing with different challenges. Obviously, the challenges of women facing violence and rape and not being able to have a job or have their basic human rights protected is a huge primary battle that affects all women.

But the battle that we’re facing here is really the battle for me of re-defining what success is. It goes even beyond women. It affects men, it affects the workplace, it affects our world in general, because look at where we are, Tavis.

We have a healthcare system that is unsustainable, partly because 75 percent of all these costs are for chronic, preventable diseases. They’re all because of the way we live. There are so many of them based on the fact that lives have become so stressed that success has become equated with working around the clock, burning out, and basically paying the price of a heart attack in your fifties in order to get the corner office.

Basically, a lot of women are saying, “That’s not the world into which I want to succeed.” So women are not just saying “I want complete equality,” which is absolutely necessary. They’re also saying “I want to change this world,” and that’ the debate that I find the most interesting.

I think Sheryl Sandberg’s book is incredibly important, but what I’m saying is that as well as leaning in, women need to learn to lean back, unplug, recharge, renew ourselves, because otherwise this life is not sustainable, either at the individual or the collective level.

Tavis: It’s clear that there are a lot of women who want to be – my way of paraphrasing what you said – there are a lot of people who want to be Sheryl Sandberg. That is to say, there are a lot of women who have entered into this rat race, as it were, corporate America, and they want to escalate and elevate to the top, and God bless them if that’s what they want to do with their lives. I don’t have a problem with that, obviously.

Is Sheryl Sandberg the kind of woman to advance a conversation about the role of women in America?

Huffington: Well, the issues that Sheryl raises in her book are absolutely key for all women, whether they are struggling to find a job and put food on the table, or whether they are running a big, multinational corporation, because her point is that of course there are institutional barriers to success, but there are also personal, individual barriers to success.

The voices in our head that tell us we are not good enough, we can’t do that. These are the voices that Sheryl is addressing in her book, and she asks women to ask that question, which is what would I do if I was not afraid.

A lot of the time, Tavis, you know that – it’s our own fears that stop us from fulfilling our dreams, from achieving what we want, and it’s not that we are able to do without fear. Fear is part of human nature. But the question is can we just pursue our dreams even while we’re afraid?

That’s a very, very important question to ask, and she has these great statistics. For example, if you look at a job opening, men will apply for the job even if they only meet 60 percent of the requirements. Women will have to meet 100 percent of the requirements before they apply for the job. We need to change that. We need to find the confidence in ourselves to take risks, to be willing to fail.

That’s another problem – women don’t like to fail. As you know, everybody who has succeeded, including you, Tavis, has failed along the way, and we need to be willing to fail, get up one more time, try again, succeed, et cetera, et cetera.

So that’s a debate which is incredibly important, and Sheryl Sandberg has done a great job at addressing those issues.

Tavis: I guess the question is what came first, the chicken or the egg. Were women holding themselves back, were they at first not assertive enough, or did the system, the patriarchal system, beat them down, and then make them feel like they could not play on a level playing field?

Huffington: Yeah.

Tavis: I’m just trying to figure out is it structural, is it institutional, or is it inside of women’s heads. I’m not sure that I buy that it’s just inside their heads.

Huffington: Oh, no, absolutely not. Nobody’s saying, I’m not saying, Sheryl Sandberg is not saying, nobody’s saying this is just inside women’s heads. Obviously there have been historical, huge institutional barriers, and they still exist. We still have certain words which when applied to men mean something positive and when applied to women mean something negative.

Even the word “ambitious,” if I say “Tavis is ambitious,” people say, “Yeah, that’s the kind of guy I want my daughter to marry,” right? If I say, “Arianna is ambitious,” it means something completely different. She’s driven; you don’t want to stand in her way. It’s just a very, very different connotation.

So I think that the institutional barriers are very real. They persist today. We see them in corporate America, we see them in the fact that women still are not paid equally with men. But the voices inside our head are also real, so it’s not either-or. I think we need to address both at once.

Tavis: Yeah. So what’s been your read, then – and there’s some people who have taken a more nuanced view of this and made the point that they’re not necessarily on opposite sides of this debate, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg. But since their names have been at the forefront of this back-and-forth, and I noticed in “The New York Times” this past Sunday, as you did, that Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote the review of Sheryl Sandberg’s book –

Huffington: Right.

Tavis: – which I thought was fascinating. But this whole conversation, which I find, for my own reasons, somewhat silly just based on the question, but where do you come down on this notion of whether or not women can have it all?

Huffington: (Laughs) I think women can have it all, if they are ruthless at prioritization and if they’re absolutely determined to put their own human capital first. Women are very bad at taking care of themselves, and I really believe that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others; otherwise you’re operating from lack.

You need to be able to nurture yourself in order to be a good mother, good at your job, good at servicing your community. I really believe women can do it all, but they can’t do it all at the expense of their health, their sleep, and their sense of well-being.

That’s why, Tavis, I think the biggest debate that interests me right now is can we redefine success beyond the first two metrics of money and power, because they’re very inadequate definitions of success. You know a lot of rich, powerful people were incredibly miserable, were not healthy in many fundamental ways, body and soul, right?

That’s not success. So I think women have an opportunity now to lead society in redefining success. Mika Brzezinski and I are putting on a conference, I want you to come and speak, on June 6th, redefining success. We’re calling it the “third metric.”

What’s the third metric beyond money and power? I think it’s a combination of wellbeing and wisdom. Because the problem also with defining success just in terms of money and power means that people feel that they have to work around the clock, burn out, and the result is people making terrible decisions. Just look around you.

We have leaders in politics, in media, in business, with high IQs, great Ivy League degrees, making terrible decisions. We see what’s happening in Washington.

We see what happened in the financial world that led to the crisis of 2008. That’s not because people were stupid, it’s because they were not wise. They had not tapped into their own better judgment about what had to be done.

If you read Steve Jobs’ biography that Walter Isaacson wrote, if you read about Bill Gates’ life, you see that they were all very aware of the need to renew themselves. Jobs told Walter Isaacson that the best ideas he had that led to the iconic Apple products came when he was engaged in Zen meditation, not when he was plowing through another sleep-deprived not.

Tavis: You know what concerns me – this might come out a bit impolitic, but let me just speak my own truth from my own upbringing. I’ve known you for a long time, and before this HuffPost thing really took off, while you were busy, because I know your daughters, you spent the time that it took to get them to where they are, at Yale and out of Yale and et cetera, et cetera.

But I wonder whether or not what’s being – my impolitic comment – I wonder whether what’s being sacrificed are the babies, the children. There’s an old African proverb that says when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.

So when these women are fighting over whatever these issues are, about whether we can have it all, and Sheryl says this and Arianna says this and Anne-Marie says this and whatever, when we have these conversations, I wonder whether or not it’s the grass that suffers. I recognize that not every woman has a child.

Huffington: Right.

Tavis: But whenever I hear these debates, as a man, I think about my mother, and my mother and I have had these conversations about some of these issues, and I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I did not have the access to my mother that I’m so grateful for having had.

Now everybody can’t play the role my mother plays, like everybody can’t be Arianna Huffington. But I wonder if the children of these women who are part of this debate are getting lost in the conversation because no matter where you come down on this, if you’re spending less time at home, spending less time with your children, if you don’t have that Marissa Meyer nursery next to your office, I wonder in the end what happens to these children.

If women care about anything, they care about their babies. So what happens to the children in this conversation as the women are trying to figure this out?

Huffington: Well first of all, let me just say that I had a mother similar to your mother, who was completely devoted to her two daughters, and I cannot imagine what my life would have been without not just her presence but her unconditional loving.

At the same time, I feel that right now, women like the women I know, like I know Sheryl very well, I know Anne-Marie less well, but I know that their children are a top priority. There’s no question about that. And they’ve both been able to engage the fathers, because the fathers are incredibly important and involved.

Again, we need to go beyond the idea that only the mothers are responsible for bringing up the children. Also, I have a feeling – I know it’s true with me – that when they take the baby out, they put the guilt in.

Working mothers are perpetually guilty. I was always feeling I’m not measuring up to my mother. I’m not as good a mother because I’m not always at home. But it’s just a matter of how do you prioritize, and even now, when my daughters are 21 and 23, everybody who works with me knows that if my phone rings and it’s one of my daughters, I’ll take that call, even if I’m in the middle of a board meeting or whatever it is.

So they always have the sense that they are number one. That’s what children need to know. They need to know that no matter what happens, no matter how busy you are, they are the most important part in your life.

Tavis: Yeah. How much of this conversation is convoluted by the fact that so often it’s men who are driving these conversations? One of the things I’m very spirited by and feel very good about is that this time around, this conversation at least seems to be being led by and had by women.

That has not always been the case, as you well know. It’s a bunch of males who look like me – well, not like me, but talking head men who get a chance to ask the questions, to raise the issues. How much of that reality has complicated this conversation heretofore?

Huffington: It has complicated the conversation, but as you said, there’s something different going on now. I think there’s something in the zeitgeist, to use that untranslatable German word –

Tavis: (Laughter) It’s a great word, though. I love “zeitgeist.”

Huffington: – that makes women and men want to engage in the conversation of how do we reinvent the workplace. What’s happened right now is with new technologies, because we can work from anywhere, it seems somehow as though we’re expected to work everywhere.

Tavis: Not at Yahoo. Not at Yahoo.

Huffington: Not at Yahoo, but the problem is bigger than that. The problem is when do we actually disconnect? I think we’re all paying a heavy price because we’re so hyperconnected, and we need to learn to disconnect and reconnect with ourselves.

When Sheryl gave her speech about leaning in in December 2010 at the TED Women conference, I followed her speech with a speech entitled “Sleep Your Way to the Top, Literally.” (Laughter)

Because I believe one of our problems is that we are perpetually sleep-deprived, and as a result we are not making the best decisions and making the best choices. We need to reevaluate all that, and the best news is that corporate America is getting the message.

Twenty-five percent of companies at the moment have introduced some element of de-stressing – meditation, yoga – in the workplace. I’m not just talking about Google and Silicon Valley startups. I’m talking about General Mills and Aetna and Target.

This year at DAVOS at the world economic forum, where often you see new trends emerging, there are all these sessions about mindfulness and about bringing the qualities of leadership to the forefront, and that involves knowing how to renew yourself.

Tavis: But how are these companies doing with regard to issues like leave, paid leave, for women and men when babies are born?

Huffington: Well, these are a lot of the questions that they are addressing, and they’re much more liberal about paid leave. They also realize that that’s the way to retain the best talent. After all, retention is going to be one of the biggest battles we’re facing as people are becoming less attached to a particular company or a particular employer.

So when they know that you really care for someone as a human being, not just as a machine producing stuff, you’re going to be able to retain employees at a much higher rate.

Tavis: So patriarchy is real, as we both know. Male privilege is real. Yet sometimes, even with that being the case, we miss the mark when it comes to certain issues.

I was fascinated to read a variety of pieces about the decision by Ms. Meyer at Yahoo that all the employees had to report back to the company headquarters, to the campus.

I think Maureen Dowd and some other women’s pieces who I read who cautioned her and took one approach to what that meant for women in the workplace, and there are other persons who took the exact opposite point of view, which was this is a business decision. This is not one of those “women’s issues.” It is a business decision.

She wants all hands on deck, et cetera, et cetera. How did you read that decisions? Because it got played out in this conversation about the role of women in the workplace.

Huffington: I think the issue that I was really trampled on, in a way, is the question of when do we stop being available for work. Because the problem right now is that there are people who are expected to be available, large majorities of people, around the clock.

There are people in the financial sector, especially, who are expected to be on email at 11:00 and 12:00 at night. That’s what has to stop. I know that after (unintelligible) I’ve told everybody that if I send emails out after hours, or if I send emails out over the weekend, it’s because I’m getting something off my to-do list.

But you are not expected to answer. I think managers need to get that message out. If it’s urgent, absolutely, we’ll find you. But otherwise, you need to live your own life. You need to have time to recharge yourself and return to work able to actually be effective and productive and not exhausted and completely drained. These are decisions that we all have to make and address together.

Tavis: To your point, and I know that part of this answer has already been given, but let me just ask it more directly and more expressly, how has being the CEO of this major, burgeoning social media empire, how has that changed your views to the extent it has about women in the workplace?

Huffington: One of the first things I did when we moved into our offices at AOL after AOL bought The Huffington Post was to create two nap rooms where people who work at The Huffington Post can take a nap if they are tired in the middle of the afternoon.

That, for me, was both a real and a symbolic message. The symbolic message was we care for you. You matter. If you are tired, go have a nap and come back recharged.

We have healthy snacks everywhere. Everybody knows that if they have a problem they can talk to their colleagues, they can talk to their managers. I think communicating that message, creating a culture of caring and nurturing, is something that is incredibly important.

I don’t know whether the fact that I’m a woman may be more likely to happen, but I think empathy, nurturing, collaboration are qualities that our world needs more and more, and women need to lead that way.

We don’t want women to lead the same way that men have led through the centuries. It hasn’t exactly worked. (Laughter)

Tavis: I think we have healthy snacks around here, but taking a nap on a TV show –

Huffington: And a nap room?

Tavis: – doesn’t quite work, though. We’ve got to get on the air. You can’t take a nap when it’s time to go live on the air.

Huffington: Okay (unintelligible) nap, not when the – of course not. Of course not.

Tavis: The snacks (unintelligible). The nap room – yeah.

Huffington: Come on, guys, I’m going to organize you to demand nap rooms, okay? (Laughter) Stay with me.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah.

Huffington: We’ll make Tavis take a nap too.

Tavis: I need one. What’s your sense of whether or not these conversations, some parts of these conversations now about women in the workplace and just women’s issues more broadly, that this is retrograde. Is this territory that we’ve covered before?

Because it feels to me like some of these issues on choice and other issues, it’s like we had these debates, like, years ago. So is it just me, or have we, like, are we back to where we were on some of these debates?

Huffington: I think there is one thing that is new and one thing we’re not talking enough about.

Tavis: Right.

Huffington: Let me talk first of all – the thing we’re not talking enough about is that for millions of women in this country, there are no choices. As you know, there are 25 million people in this country who are unemployed or underemployed.

So I think we need to all the time remember that, because in a sense, what I’m saying is that one of the reasons why we’ve made so many bad decisions and continue to make them is because we have leaders who are disconnected from their own wisdom. I really believe that profoundly.

So if we can look at leadership differently, if we can look at leadership in a way that’s more mindful, that has more heart and soul in it, we’ll be able to make better decisions for the millions of women who are left out of this debate because they need to go to the food bank to bring food for their children.

Or if their husband doesn’t have a job, they need to take any job at all in order to feed the family. So I think these are incredibly important considerations, and they do indicate a failure of leadership. Because we’re the richest nation on Earth, so the fact that this is going on here is something which would have been avoidable if we had better leadership.

Tavis: Let me offer this as the exit question, and I ask this with caution, because the whole notion of what electing Barack Obama would mean for Black people was a question that was overrated five years ago, and that’s another conversation for another time.

But if Hillary Clinton were to run the next time around, and if she were to win the next time around, how do you think that one major but signature statement would impact the psyches, your earlier point, of women in our society?

Huffington: Well, I wrote a column when Hillary Clinton resigned, because when she fainted and had a concussion, my heart went out to her. Because five years ago, and you remember, that I fainted and hit my head on my desk.

I fainted from exhaustion. I broke my cheekbone; I got five stitches on my right eye. So whenever a woman especially drives herself into that kind of exhaustion and I feel, again, that we are allowing ourselves to pursue the male model of success.

When Hillary Clinton was asked again and again what are you going to do when you resign, she said, “I want to be untired.” That is her word. “I want to sleep in.” So I hope that before she decides whether to run or not she can actually be a role model for how to do success differently. Then I think that would be a huge message to women everywhere.

Tavis: It’s okay to you that success for men and women looks different?

Huffington: No. What I’m saying is that women have to lead the way to redefining success for women and for men. Men need the redefinition as much as women. I don’t see men redefining it. I think women are much more likely to redefine it. We’re still the outsiders in (unintelligible).

Tavis: Plus, you’re a lot smarter than we are.

Huffington: No, we are really still more aware of the need to close that gap between how we lead our personal lives and how we perform at work.

Tavis: I wasn’t even being snarky when I said that, either. I meant that, starting with my mama. Anyway, Arianna, I love you. Good to have you on the program.

Huffington: I love you, Tavis, thank you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for tuning in. As always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.

“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: March 14, 2013 at 7:12 pm