Tory Burch, Julianne Moore, and Mindy Kaling Talk Female Ambition

It’s no doubt that throughout the last two years of the pandemic, we have altered our relationship to ambition. Back in February, the New York Times dubbed this “The Age of Anti-Ambition,” describing a culture in which “the primary emotion that a job elicits right now is the determination to endure.” Several young, high-profile athletes publicly chose to take a step back from their careers to prioritize their mental health and well-being. Millions have been forced to and opted to leave their jobs; even our aesthetic choices are seen as balms for a society that’s been lit on fire and then left to burn out.

But a scene this gloomy (hopefully) can’t last forever. And on Tuesday, at the Tory Burch Foundation’s third Embrace Ambition summit, it was nowhere to be found. At this year’s summit, focused on confronting stereotypes and creating new norms, panelist after panelist offered up their passions and expertise in order to illustrate a different kind—boldly speaking, an ambitious kind—of future.

The foundation’s namesake, Tory Burch, kicked off the day-long summit, hosted at Jazz at Lincoln Center and also streamed online, speaking to a packed crowd, including several Tory Burch Foundation entrepreneurial fellows. The designer and philanthropist asked audience members to close their eyes and picture a world in which all women can embrace their ambition. “I see a world where women are free to make the choices that are right for them and not be penalized for those choices,” she said, presumably referring to the current fight for abortion rights across the country. “I see a world where more men are true allies in the work around women’s issues. I see a world where more policies take into account the needs of women and their families. And I see a world where women, who make up 50 percent of entrepreneurs, don’t get less than three percent of venture capital, they get 50…I see a world where no woman is asked, as I once was, are you ambitious? As if it’s a negative. And I see a world where women’s equality is a given, not a favor. And what do you see? If you like the world you see better than the one we’re living in, I just have one thing to say: Let’s embrace our ambition, and let’s build it together.”

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From there, the day’s programming featured leaders from across various sectors, including business, literature, prison reform, medicine, sports, gun violence prevention, reproductive justice, science, and music. During one powerful panel about gun control, actor Julianne Moore encouraged participants to speak up about gun safety in their communities and with their elected officials. When Burch asked Moore whether she’s received backlash for being such an outspoken advocate, Moore said, “I haven’t, and I think it’s really, really important to talk about that. I’ve received nothing but gratitude.” She continued, “It’s not dangerous [to speak about this]. A majority of people believe in common-sense gun laws, right? A majority of people want this. It’s important that we make ourselves known.”

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Dolores Huerta, the iconic labor organizer and president and founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, echoed a similar sentiment during a moving conversation between her and actor and activist Rosie Perez. “Right now, our democracy is in a crisis, and we are the only ones that can save it,” Huerta said, urging everyone to vote for people who will “fight for us.” Then, before leading everyone in a chant of her famous slogan, “sí se puede” or “yes we can,” she continued: “All of us have to be the messengers of peace. All of us have to become organizers… We can’t take democracy for granted. It’s a participatory sport. If we don’t engage, then we lose it.”

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Speakers also touched on how, on a granular level, we can make room for even more women in power. In a recorded video for the summit, Hollywood multi-hyphenate Mindy Kaling shared how her perspective has shifted after years of working in television. “When I first came into the business, all I wanted to do was keep the job and be able to write for TV,” she said. “My parents, as immigrants, were like, If you get a job, if you’re lucky enough to have this job, just keep your head down, become invisible, and just be of service.’ But the flip side of that, of course, is it’s like, ‘don’t bring up that you’re Indian, that you’re a woman, don’t be that person that’s political and always talking about that.’ I really took it to heart, this sort of erasure of self to be a good worker. So what I’ve struggled with since that advice is that advice helped me get onto The Office, it helped me succeed at The Office. But…when I was the only woman and the only person of color, you’re like, ‘Whew, I made it,’ and you’re put into this system that makes you feel like, ‘I don’t want there to be any more, because I’m going to be replaced or I’m going to be less special.’ It wasn’t until I felt that I had some real confidence and security in my job where I was able to see it more clear-eyed, which is that it wouldn’t be such a struggle to tell stories that I’m interested in if there was more of us.”

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The day’s sessions wrapped as Burch took the stage with tennis champion and activist Billie Jean King, who spoke about her fight for women and men to be paid equal prize money at the world’s major tennis tournaments. “It’s not just for the money, it’s the messaging,” King said. “It makes people become more ambitious, I hope.” The two also announced—before hitting a bucket of signed tennis balls into the audience—that Tory Burch would be the official outfitter of the Billie Jean King Cup, the world cup of women’s tennis. “We have a chance to have a global effect on these women, and a lot of young people are watching,” King said about the tournament. “It’s a way to change culture, to change people’s hearts and minds, to think about that equality does matter, that they can help make it happen.”

Watch all the sessions on the Tory Burch Foundation YouTube page and find resources to take action here.

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