The Women Who Change the World: Gayle King, Tina Fey and More

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Sharon Hoge invites us along to the Annual Women in Communications Matrix Awards Luncheon.

Imagine Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, Seth Meyers and Tina Fey, Anna Quindlen and Ina Garten — plus Katie Couric, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Sheryl Crow, Maria Bartiromo, Mariska Hargitay and Bryan Williams all seated at the same table. It may sound like one of those hypothetical “dream list” dinner parties, but all those guests — and more — gathered for the 40th annual New York Women in Communications Inc. Matrix Awards luncheon at the Waldorf on Monday, April 19, honoring “Women Who Change the World” in advertising, media, publishing and public relations. It was a fantasy scenario that delivered a real-life program of insight and wit.

Our own Liz Smith and Lesley Stahl are past recipients and Lesley was back on the dais this year as a celebrity presenter to introduce her honoree friend, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, as a great intellectual who’s able to converse with equal skill about politics and baseball. No wonder, Doris revealed, when one of the things that drew her to narrative history was keeping score of Brooklyn Dodger games as a child so she could recount each inning in detail to her father when he came home from work. 

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Oprah introduced O Magazine editor Gayle King as the mother-sister-friend who years ago persuaded her to move from Baltimore to Chicago, insisting, “You CAN be Phil Donahue.” Calling Gayle “the nicest person I know,” Oprah described her MSF (mother-sister-friend) as someone like a mother who always wants the best for her friends. Both recounted how Gayle was initially hesitant about leaving her television career to head up Oprah’s magazine, but Gayle pointed out what she learned: “Never say never because you never know … Just keep hoping never to disappoint.”

From “’piece of cake” to “just desserts,” writer Anna Quindlen applied deft food metaphors in her introduction of food expert Ina Garten, who left a job writing nuclear position papers at the White House to open a little takeout shop in Easthampton that became the iconic “Barefoot Contessa.” Now also a cookbook author and Food Channel hostess, Garten credited her “sweet husband Jeffrey” with backing up her switch from White House to kitchen by assuring her, “Don’t worry. If you love doing it you’ll be great at it.”

Maria Bartiromo introduced Google Vice President Marissa Mayer, a self-styled “geek” who hopes to help reshape what it means to be a technological woman for other geeks everywhere. Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow acknowledged the inspiration of her newspaper editor grandmother, Janice, and pledged to continue the challenge of being an objective storyteller who finds ways to resonate with listeners. Presenting the winner of the public relations award, Katie Couric said that Bloomingdale’s Anne Keating is a philanthropist who puts the “personal relations” in PR.

Stepping up from his seat at the head table, lone male presenter Seth Meyers thanked his mother for instilling in him the virtues of good table manners: “You never know when you’re going to have to eat in front of a thousand women.” Citing the success of Tina Fey’s television series “30 Rock” and her new movie “Date Night,” Meyers congratulated his “Saturday Night Live” colleague on succeeding at “the exact careers Sarah Palin wishes she had.” He credited Tina as a very hard worker who’s always looking for the funniest joke.

Susan Chira thanked her husband for uprooting without question when The New York Times offered her the opportunity to be foreign correspondent in Japan. Now foreign editor of the paper, she feels her achievement is that “no one even noticed when I became the first woman in the job.” Referring to the 19 college-bound WICI foundation scholarship winners and introducing in the audience her own daughter who is now a blogger, Susan acknowledged the possibilities now for a “life fully lived and a career actively pursued.”

WICI President Denise Warren, stranded in London by the volcano, was unable to attend. And never mind that Oprah and Gayle both happened to show up wearing bright orange dresses or that Sheryl and Tina both had picked out the same Michael Kors giant cabbage rose print skirt.

It was emcee Brian Williams who raised the question of “the elephant in the room” — why was a man hosting the women’s award program? What’s the role of men these days? Lesley cited a research study in which most of the women attributed their success to “luck,” while men never mentioned it. And in dozens of recent interviews promoting the movie, Tina rued, she was asked over and over how she manages to “juggle” it all, while that question was never posed to her co-star Steve Carell.

Doris cited her son for sharing parenting tasks with his wife, and Anna calls for more of that — a revolution not in the boardroom but in the kitchen. “Things have changed for women in the workplace but not that much for men at home. Fathers who take care of their kids are still said to be ‘babysitting.’ It’s time for them to come to the table and bring equality to the domestic front.”

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Pausing on the red carpet, actress Mariska Hargitay remarked on the changes since her mother Jayne Mansfield was “placed in the box” of being a sex symbol: “These days we don’t have to fit into something other people think we are. We’ve leveled the playing field, life is inclusive. I’m a mom, sex detective, wife, fearless, gentle — we can now, with grace, be all of what we are.”

Click here for more photographs from the afternoon.

Editor’s Note: Sharon King Hoge specializes in consumer and travel journalism both in print and on radio and television. The former Consumer Reporter at WBZ-TV and producer/host of “The Sharon King Show” in Boston, she reported on ABC network news, hosted “The Cookbook Kitchen” on the Food Channel and participated in the launch of CNBC. A Contributing Editor at Condé Nast Traveler and Global Traveler magazines, her writing has appeared in Forbes FYI and Forbes Executive Woman, SELF, Ladies Home Journal, National Review. A former columnist for both AOL and the New York Daily News, she was Calendar Editor for the Martha Stewart Living website and is Editor at Large of the three regional Cottages and Gardens shelter magazines.

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