Celebrating the Women of Rockefeller Center on International Women’s Day
In different office buildings and in different industries, some of New York City’s most inspirational women converge at Rockefeller Center. Perhaps the most well-known among them are NBC’s Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie, who enter the doors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza to co-anchor the beloved Today show each weekday. Throughout Rockefeller Center, Lydia Fenet, Elizabeth Elting, and Munira Hirji are also part of the all-star roster of female leaders. The list could go on, for sure, beginning as far back as Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who inspired the culture of art that is present throughout the Center today.
Each of these five women is successful and influential in her own right. Some have been named among New York City’s most powerful and recognized with awards too numerous to mention. So for International Women’s Day, we asked these women to explain what the day means to them.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect, recognize, and celebrate women in all walks of life,” says Munira Hirji, global head of commercial management at insurance company Beazley, located at 45 Rockefeller Plaza.
Author and speaker Lydia Fenet serves as global managing director, strategic partnerships, and lead benefit auctioneer at Christie’s auction house, just around the corner from NBC at 20 Rockefeller Plaza. “It’s a moment for us all to recognize what women are bringing to the world, whether it be through contributions to business, contributions to society as a mom,” Fenet says.
After building TransPerfect, a multimillion-dollar global language and business solutions company, Elizabeth Elting created the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, based at Rockefeller Center. She points out: “Women have always been a vital part of history. But our contributions have been minimized, ignored, derided as ‘not real work.’ International Women’s Day, like Black History Month, is about taking a moment to highlight these contributions.”
A Hat-Tip to Role Models
When Kotb joined Guthrie at the anchor desk in 2018, the dynamic duo made history as the first all-female anchor team in television. Kotb is a fan of the adage: “You’re the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose wisely.” And she’s a fervent fan and friend of women, including her co-anchor.
“I look up to people for different reasons,” says Kotb, who shared her thoughts while on her way to conduct a TODAY show interview. “I look up to Savannah because I think she’s an incredible interviewer, and also, she has a heart of gold. I look up to Jenna [NBC’s Jenna Bush Hager] because Jenna puts her heart on the table every day, and says, ‘This is me.’ I look up to Maria Shriver because she lives her life with such grace. I’m lucky to have this circle. I don’t know if I do a lot of things well, but I know I choose good friends.”
Guthrie has equal admiration and respect for her coworkers and co-anchor. “I’m really lucky at work, I’m surrounded by women I admire,” she says. “Hoda is top of the list. She’s somebody who embodies a modern, professional woman who is at the top of her game, who never misses a beat but is generous and kind and loving and supportive. She’s made all her goals come to fruition but she’s done it on her own timing and her terms. We love each other.”
Several of the women cited strong familial role models, too. “My great aunt was the first female lawyer in Egypt, and my [maternal] grandmother was among the first female doctors,” Kotb says, “so when I think of women advancing, I think, ‘Wow, how lucky am I to have that blood in my veins?’”
Elting notes the influence of her mother and father. “They’re both extraordinary people who raised me with the understanding both that I could do and be anything a man could and that my being a woman meant I’d have to push harder and longer to succeed,” she says.
Wisdom Flows in Both Directions
For these women, inspiration doesn’t come only from those before them—they are inspired by young women and girls of all ages. Beazley’s Hirji gleans encouragement and enthusiasm from her daughters. “They are fearless, bold, forward-thinking, and unapologetically optimistic no matter the circumstances,” she says. “Unlike me, they always knew they wanted to work for themselves and be entrepreneurs. They are my best teachers!”
As part of a Girls with Impact International Women’s Day event, Kotb interviewed three teenage CEOs and walked away with equal parts hope and admiration. “I’m talking to this 15-year-old who is the CEO of a company that she developed herself, it just blew my mind,” Kotb says enthusiastically. “These young girls know that their voice matters. This young girl said to me, ‘I sat in the back of my class barely saying a word for so long and then suddenly, I decided it was time for me to stand up.’ It reminds me that everywhere women are standing up.”
The Importance of Paying It Forward
All five women feel an intimate responsibility to inspire, support, and uplift other women. Since 2018, Elting has dedicated her life and fortune to women’s achievement and success through her foundation, which most recently created the Halo Fund, a comprehensive Covid-19 response initiative to provide relief to critically in-need areas. She says that “working alongside go-getters with that entrepreneurial spirit and drive to make the world a better place is incredibly energizing, and knowing the roles they’ll play in shaping the future makes it all the more rewarding.”
Beazley’s Hirji urges: “Senior women can be mentors and sponsors and use their influence and voice to create supportive and ‘safe’ environments, where women can be bold with their careers. All women can reach out and be a support to each other whether formally or informally to share ideas, challenges, and successes. I have found that sharing personal stories is a powerful way to inspire, support, and encourage.”
Transparency is important, too, says Fenet, who is also the author of “The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You.” “Women need to be very transparent about their experiences at work,” she says. “I think that’s the greatest gift we can give other women: to be constantly looking out for one another and pushing the narrative that women should be in leadership positions. Women have the ability to really narrate the story about success for other women.”
Both Elting and Kotb say that while competition can be good in some instances, it can be detrimental when women are interested only in furthering their own careers. “You don’t get to your position and then pull the rope up [behind you],” NBC’s Kotb says. “It doesn’t work like that. If you’re out for yourself, it’ll be revealed.”
Be a woman who welcomes other women, Kotb and the other women urge. “It’s a huge table and there’s room for all of us, so just scootch over and make a little room because there’s a space for all of us,” she says.
NBC’s Guthrie says it is important to encourage other women “who are alongside you, as well as the ones who are younger and coming up.” The soon-to-be guest host of Jeopardy! says it can be as simple as leading and setting a good example. “Our culture has gotten to a point where there are more and more women in prominent positions [and] seeing those possibilities is what opens up the imaginations of our young girls and young leaders,” Guthrie says.
The Work That Remains
When it comes to equity, however, some of these women note that much work remains to be done, particularly around gender parity. “I feel hopeful about the future,” Kotb says, “but also recognize that there’s still a lot to do.”
Elting, in particular, is concerned about the catastrophic effects the Covid-19 pandemic has had on women. (Some have even described this as a “shecession.”) “Women are facing a historical crisis,” she says. “We’ve been forced out of the workforce in record numbers, reversing decades of gains in the workforce, especially in upper-level management where hiring decisions are made. So to me, what International Women’s Day is and must be [is] a call-to-action.”
We asked these women to share some words or phrases they live by. Here’s what they said.
Elting: Integrity is a big one for me; it’s everything. But one of my all-time favorite quotes is, “Work today like most people won’t so you can live and give tomorrow like most people can’t.” It’s a statement of ambition and drive, but also of community. It’s a reminder that we can’t just enrich ourselves and leave everyone in the dust, because our success is also community success.
Kotb: I just interviewed Charlie Mackesy, who wrote The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. There’s a quote that I love: “‘Sometimes I think you believe in me more than I do,’ said the boy. ‘You’ll catch up,’ said the horse.”
Hirji: Authenticity, compassion, courage, and joy.
Guthrie: “You’re never as good or as bad as you think you are.” I always have loved that perspective. When I really, really screwed up or flubbed on air, I remember I’m not as bad as I think I am, and if I’m ever tempted to think I did something that was really good, I remind myself of that as well.
Fenet: I love the phrase, “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” If you sit back and let everything come at you over the course of a day or a week or your life, then you’re not living. You have to own your life. You have to own your power. “Own your power” are the words I live by.