5 Min ReadCulture 04 May 2020
When I was a child, I thought I might be a firefighter, a ballerina, an Olympic gymnast, or a figure skater, to name just a few of the "realistic" options. I certainly did not anticipate that after twenty-plus years as a marketer of pharmaceutical, consumer health, beauty, and wellness products, I would be in the vagina business, assuming a role, somewhat accidentally, as a Vagipreneur®.
I have always worked on women's businesses, from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes. When a venture capitalist shared a business plan for a product that was clinically proven to improve arousal, desire, and satisfaction for women of all ages and stages, it was a perfect storm. The product worked, and it had the clinical support to make differentiated claims. Add to that the fact that women didn't really have a language to speak about sexual satisfaction and very few outlets to do so. Most importantly, this product had the opportunity to meet a significant need — namely the 43% of women who at some point in their lives suffer from sexual concerns and difficulties.
While transitioning into entrepreneurship, the most natural part was a focus on solving problems — albeit for one company vs. multiple companies. My team and I had been running our own consulting boutique, servicing large companies for decades, however there were and still are some challenges. The most challenging piece at first was the fundraising, followed soon by the challenges of securing outlets of any and all kinds that would take our tasteful advertising.
As many of us learn to adapt to our new normal way of life, I was inspired to use my platform to help fellow entrepreneurs and business owners pivot their company. A few weeks ago, I launched a zoom series, "Quotes from Quarantine", in which I interview leaders in femtech, sextech, and women's health about how they are managing their personal and professional lives during this crisis. This community is amazing. They are focusing on even closer customer connection, the availability to answer any and all questions, frequent team meetings and interactions, as well as multiple options for self-care. What I have learned during this time is to stay on the balls of my feet! Think of the future, but don't get too far ahead of yourself, as we don't know when we will have more flexibility in how we work and sell. Continue to work on longer-term strategy as well as immediate solutions. Communicate early and often. Don't panic and lean on your "community" — whoever and wherever they are.
What I have learned during this time is to stay on the balls of my feet!
With Quotes from Quarantine, I find that I am using social media to entertain, inform, and be inspired by the people in this space. And there is a bit of cheerleading thrown in — sometimes I am leading the cheer and, often, others are.
My dream guest is always Oprah — not because she is particularly focused on women's health, but just because she is Oprah. One of the first articles I wrote that got some attention is titled, "How To Find Your Leadership Voice Because Oprah's Is Already Taken." I have always been amazed at her ability to balance context and content — being as comfortable talking to celebrities about extravagant birthday parties as she is building a school for girls in South Africa or shining a light on childhood trauma. She has single handedly created and salvaged industries.
One of my favorite pieces of advice that I think anyone can use is to know what your consumers' needs are and focus on what you can do to deliver those in a way that is authentic and consistent with your brand voice and goals. Importantly, focus on what you can do, what you can prepare for, how you can reduce your burn and ultimately be in a position to accelerate when circumstances change! I really do always try to live and behave from a core set of values, which provides a foundation for me to make decisions in good times and bad. Clearly, there are some layups. Have a strong work ethic. Don't lie, cheat, or steal. Focus on solving problems. Think of the broader context in which decisions are made and how they affect others. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be dependable and honest.
There are several things we can do to stay productive as we all #WFH, and I've tried a number of different strategies, and have received great advice from many people I respect. Here are a few that I find meaningful:
- Make and keep a schedule
- Set daily short-term goals, including exercise
- Don't spend time thinking about when life will return to "normal." It is impossible to figure out and wastes important time and mental energy
- Spend as much time as possible outside
- Make progress on the list of items that you always said you would get to "if you had the time"
- Lean on your personal and professional network for inspiration and encouragement
In that regard, the quote I live by stems from the 1975 classic film, Rollerball. The premise of the game is simple and insane: men on roller skates, wearing spiked gloves, race around an inclined track, sometimes towed by other burly men on speeding motorcycles, engaging in a brutal, gladiatorial, deadly version of roller derby. And before every match, the rules of engagement are declared: "No time outs; no substitutions." My dad used that as a mantra to motivate us. Loosely translated? There is no quitting — period. There is no one on the bench to take your place. People are counting on you. Your success and the success of those around you depend on your efforts. You have to be 100% in the game. You have to play hard, you have to play until you can't play anymore, and even more importantly, you have to play fair. This attitude can be applied to all aspects of life.
"No time outs; no substitutions."
It may sound cliché, but learning what makes us happy has tremendous effects on all aspects of our lives. I find laughter and exercise are the best tools for me (not necessarily at the same time). I celebrate the victories and try not to beat myself up when things don't go as planned. I am not always successful, but I never give up.
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5 Min Read
You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.