Where Were All the Women At the Matrix Awards?

What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When you go to awards shows as often as Watercooler does, listening to acceptance speeches can be a good time to scan the room to see who else is checking Blackberries on the sly. But the annual New York Women in Communications' Matrix Awards ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, was a class apart. Winners, some of the toughest broads in the media business, offered up a touching softer side. In fact, it was positively a lovefest.
Photo: AP
Host Ellen DeGeneres with actresses Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, who feel "love for each other" and Oxygen Networks CEO Geraldine Laybourne, who told us why we need ovaries.

Renetta McCann, CEO of Starcom Mediavest Group, who won in the advertising category, said she has had to get comfortable about being "uncomfortable." Leaders are often asked to do things that make others feel uncomfortable, but she learned to deal with it. Overcoming what others would shy away from -- discomfort -- and forging ahead, said Ms. McCann, has led her into new situations -- and often into rooms where she was the only woman or the only person of color. She thanked other women before her who were willing to overcome discomfort so "that I might be here today."

Women aren't all that rare in advertising, she noted, but there are few at the industry's top. "What you learn as a woman, I think, and some of this is also germane to ethnicity, is that you need to have much more clarity about your style of leadership," Ms. McCann said in a recently published interview. "I'm of the school that says that women lead and manage differently than men. ... But if you're a woman, you have to know what you've got and how you're going to use it, so you can adjust during the play and make the right calls. I think that also applies to being a person of color, of being a female person of color."

Similarly, NBC's new digital czar, Beth Comstock, talked about being the girl who had to have all the gold stars. "Little miss can't be wrong," as she put it, only to learn that the key to success was realizing you didn't need to know everything and that courage is taking a risk to find out if you might be wrong.

General Electric Co. Chairman-CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who presented Ms. Comstock with her award, affectionately joked about his employee during his introduction -- and perhaps gave a clue that Ms. Comstock's rise up the corporate ladder isn't over yet: "With Beth it's about personal growth. I look forward to seeing how far she can go," he said.

Also touching were the tender words between "Thelma and Louise" actresses Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. Ms. Davis, who plays the president in ABC's "Commander in Chief," won in the arts and entertainment category.

"Geena is the first president that really has liked me," joked Ms. Sarandon, an ardent left-leaning political activist. She told of their days on the set of the iconic female buddy movie surrounded by cigar-chomping guys. "She is strong and loyal and has a sense of purpose. What we feel is love for each other."

Ms. Davis talked about her work on an initiative called "See Jane," which aims to put more female characters in children's TV properties, and awareness campaigns surrounding Title IX, the federal law that mandates equality to girls on the sports field at schools. "Wouldn't you rather be the playing baseball than cheering the team?"

“Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell recalled how she was told her idea of writing a book about young women trying to make it in the city wouldn't fly because people didn't want to know about career girls and certainly weren't interested in women from New York, because "It is more exciting to be Mr. Big than trying to date him." When asked who her mentor was, she replied there was no single person. "It's better to have lots of girlfriends. What better way to change the world than to support other women?"

Jill Abramson, the New York Times managing editor, said she was told by former boss, Albert Hunt, that "I had balls like cast-iron cantaloupes. I'm sure he meant it as a compliment." Her friend, Times columnist Maureen Dowd, was there to cheer her on from the sold-out crowd made of the media's elite.

But despite the high-wattage winners, all eyes were on "Today" host Katie Couric, who was there to present an award to Glamour editor in chief Cindy Leive. When asked later about her imminent move to CBS, she waved off reporters and pleaded, "No, no, no. I don't want to talk about it." But even Ms. Leive joked about the news.

Ms. Couric introduced Ms. Leive with a long amusing poem, and in return, Ms. Leive shot back: "It is sublime. Will you some day anchor the news in rhyme?"

Oxygen Media chairman-CEO Geraldine Laybourne, who also MC-ed the event alongside Ms. DeGeneres, said her company was now profitable: "Now that takes ovaries."

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