New York, NY
Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.
It all started with... a dinner.
Dee Poku is the CEO and co-founder of Women Inspiration and Enterprise (WIE): a global women’s network focused on empowering and connecting female leaders. The WIE conference has attracted a range of impressive speakers, such as Melinda Gates, Tyra Banks, Arianna Huffington and Donna Karan. Dee is also the founder of marketing consultancy Right Angle (former clients included Bobbi Brown and Lionsgate) and as of three years ago, she is a mother. These are Dee’s insights on how she left a 10-year career as a Hollywood studio executive to create a career that’s based on her own script.
Bag (top image), Loeffler Randall; Sunglasses, Balenciaga; Jumpsuit, Nicole Miller; Necklace, Gorjana;
What was your motivation behind WIE?
Navigating corporate culture in my previous roles was not easy for me, and at the time, I didn’t understand the concept of a mentor. If I had the benefit of someone older and wiser above me, there were choices I would have made differently. I did pretty well on my own, then hit a wall. The impetus for creating the organization was a dinner that I was invited to, and every impressive woman you could think of was in that room. We were asked to make a pledge, and my friend and I pledged to create an event that supported women. That event was our first WIE conference. The calibre of women we attracted, both speakers and guests, made us realize how the world needed this. I thought, “I wish this was something that I’d had access to. How can we make this happen?”
How do you work towards a vision that’s bigger than you are?
Without sounding too airy-fairy, it’s important to listen to the universe. By that I mean there are situations and friendships that are guiding you towards the ultimate goal. I hit a point in my career where I knew it wasn’t working, but didn’t know which direction to move forward in. It was a matter of being open, using my skills and seizing that opportunity when it came along. You have to be able to see those opportunities and capitalize on them. WIE evolved from that first event. Some people have a clear-cut idea and work towards it, and some people’s ideas grow into themselves. And mine was the latter.
It’s incredibly important to have a sense of where you’d like to be, even if you don’t know what specific form that’s going to take. A goal, even if it’s broad, will give you something to work towards as opposed to drifting and losing valuable time. You can’t just wait for something to show up. That said, I also believe in being open to better or different ways to what you had in mind. It’s a balance of both.
In the early days of WIE, when you were trying to get sponsors and speakers, did you hear “No” a lot?
Oh yes. I continue to do so. Rejection was especially hard in those early days. But now I understand that there’s always someone else and there’s always a different approach. There are also reasons why that person said “no” that aren’t specific to you or what you’re trying to do, so it’s really important not to take things personally or let them derail you.
Dress, Milly; Bag, Lauren Merkin
Has your definition of success changed as you’ve matured?
It absolutely has. When I was younger, my definition of success was more materialistic. It was about nice things and travel and being in a powerful position. As I get older and wiser, success is more about having a happy child and being healthy, as well as having a business that’s thriving. It’s now about the personal as well as the professional. Having children was a major factor in that shift.
I don’t strive for balance anymore. I just try and get the important stuff done. I embrace all the positives and know that things will ebb and flow. There are times when you prioritize family and there are times when you prioritize work and you have to accept it. I’m someone who likes order, so that’s a bit of a struggle. If you try to find perfect balance with anything, you will drive yourself slightly crazy.
WIE promotes leadership. How do you dress like a leader?
You have to stay true to yourself. If you wear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re going to project that. If you’re not a pantsuit woman, don’t become one. You also need to understand the culture that you’re in and dress appropriately. Personally, a blazer and a pair of heels is how I feel armed.
Bag, Elizabeth and James; Jumpsuit, Nicole Miller; Necklace, Gorjana; Bracelet, Elizabeth and James
What’s some key advice for female entrepreneurs?
I recently did a talk with Norma Kamali, who said to never be afraid of the word “No.” As women, we often shy away from difficult situations or something we want because we’re afraid of the answer. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Another piece of advice that helped me was from Shelly Lazarus, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather and mother of four. When asked how she does it, she basically said, don’t sweat the small stuff. We spend so much time dealing with minutia — like email or a messy house. Set your priorities and know what’s important to you. As women, we’re such doers. We’re so thorough. It’s something we need to be conscious of, and ensure we keep the big picture in mind.
We talk a lot about mentors, but I think it’s even more important to have a champion or sponsor. People aren’t always aware of the difference. A mentor will give you guidance, but it’s that champion or sponsor who will help you get to where you want to be. You need that person who sees your potential and will pick up the phone and say, you should give this person that opportunity. Those are the people you should be looking for in your life.
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