At the risk of offending women’s magazine publishers, one doesn’t expect an awards show hosted by Glamour Magazine to be substantive or hard-hitting. Most people are more likely to envision awards given for make-up artistry and fashion photography rather than international diplomacy and environmental conservation. However, the Glamour Women of the Year Awards are just that: a celebration of meaningful, significant contributions made by women from diverse backgrounds, hosted by a glossy women’s mag.
I was lucky enough to attend this year’s ceremony at Carnegie Hall last week, and it was truly impressive. I was seated right in front of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky (Chelsea’s husband, FYI). When Chelsea went up to accept her award for her work at the Clinton Foundation, she told the audience that it was her first night out since giving birth to her daughter Charlotte. Not a bad first night out. I think my first night out after my first baby was at a local pizzeria–and believe me, no one was giving me any awards.
While some honorees were from the world of fashion (Sarah Burton, Creative Director for Alexander McQueen and Natalia Vodianova, supermodel and founder of the Naked Heart Foundation) and some from film and television (Lupita Nyong’o, Mindy Kaling and Robin Roberts), the women I found most impressive were those from less glamorous professions. They honored nine girls (none of them famous–yet), ranging in age from 11 to 18, for their work in advocating for girls' education. They also honored eleven female inventors and entrepreneurs. The youngest inventor was an 11-year-old cancer survivor who invented a backpack that administers cancer treatments intravenously.
Hilariously, the low point of the awards, and one of the highlights of the night, occurred in the same portion of the ceremony. I’m not sure who at Glamour decides on the awards presenters, but whoever selected Bruce Willis to present the award to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power is either totally incompetent or taking whatever Bruce Willis was on that night.
Bruce attempted to connect with the majority-female audience by pointing out he lived in a house full of women. He said, “I have a wife and three daughters.” Then he corrected himself. “Actually, I have five daughters.” Seriously? Who forgets how many daughters they have?
Luckily, Samantha Power was more impressive. It’s amazing how humble and down-to-earth she is, even though she has one of the more visible and difficult jobs serving our country at the U.N. And she isn’t your typical diplomat–she started her career as a war reporter and wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”
When Samantha accepted her award, she looked up at the 150 female students sitting in the balcony (courtesy of free tickets from Glamour) and urged them to follow their dreams. She said, “Everyone coming up here on stage tonight looks perfect, confident and put together. But you have no idea what’s going on inside them. Don't compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”
As I looked around the room at all the perfect-looking women wearing couture outfits and expensive shoes, it made me realize they’re all trying to make a difference in the best way they know how, just like the rest of us. And there’s plenty of room in this world for all of us to succeed, glamorously or otherwise.
Sonya Zilka is a writer, mother, activist and Human Resources executive based In San Francisco. She consults with organizations on workplace issues, encouraging more innovative ways of working that better integrate work into daily life.