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In 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement’s rise, WME partner Cori Wellins attended a couple of the industry reckoning meetings held at CAA. They were a good start, she felt, but the action-oriented agent felt the need for more practical direction to help make the industry a welcome space for women. “I walked out of those meetings like, ‘That’s great, but I feel like I don’t have a task,’ ” says Wellins.
Over the next weeks, an idea formed: What if she did something to help a rising generation of female executives so that they wouldn’t have to go at it alone? So in early 2018, Wellins emailed 20 or so of her closest female industry friends to ask if they would be willing to set aside an hour a month to mentor an up-and-coming exec. “I think to a one we all said, ‘Yes, absolutely,'” says Warner Bros. TV chairman Channing Dungey. “Even though there’s been so much progress made in Hollywood, it still in many ways felt very much like a boys’ club.”
Soon Wellins’ inbox was flooded with suggestions for potential mentees, and Femtors was born. Because she felt there were already plenty of networking groups lending a hand to assistants and newbie execs, she decided to focus on execs in the middle of their careers. “I really felt like it was our obligation to step up and be there for those women,” says Wellins, who acknowledges that she could have used more support during that part of her own career. “None of these movements are going to make progress if people don’t actually take the time to walk the walk and do the work.”
Over the last three years, the group has grown to 100 members and includes some of the biggest executives, agents and producers in town. There are actually more young execs hoping to get into the group than Wellins can admit because there are not as many high-level women in Wellins’ generation. “I’m sure you’ve noticed, as you move up the ladder in our business, there’s fewer and fewer women,” says Imagine Television’s Samie Kim Falvey, a mentor in the group. “We’re really looking at career longevity and filling out the upper parts of the pyramid.”
Each year, Wellins pulls out a master Excel spreadsheet and plays matchmaker for the execs. During her time in the group, HBO drama executive Kara Buckley, an inaugural mentee, has been paired with 20th Television president Karey Burke, FX programming president Gina Balian and Apple executive Michelle Lee. “It’s nice to see someone who’s 10, 15 years ahead of you who seems to have figured it out, where they’re happy and they love their job but they have other things in their life that they make time for, too,” notes Buckley. Says Burke of the mentor-mentee conversations: “It’s a lot of career advice, unsurprisingly, but also life advice.”
In addition to their one-on-one meetings, the Femtors regularly convene for group events — or at least in a typical year. “What I’ve loved the most, which is so different from the other mentorship groups I’ve been a part of, is it gives you a chance to meet people — women whose names you’ve known for years but have never met — in a casual environment,” says Showtime president and mentor Jana Winograde. Those events have ranged from a Pink concert to gathering at a mentor’s house to hear a guest speaker. A popular one was when NBCUniversal’s Susan Rovner invited Chasing Hillary writer Amy Chozick to talk about the correlation between women in politics and entertainment. Another hit was an evening hosted by Burke and Anonymous Content’s Dawn Olmstead (business partners with their facial bar company Face Haus) all about female entrepreneurship. “After that, so many of the younger women were saying, ‘I just invested for the first time!’” says Burke.
Like everyone else in 2020, Femtors pivoted to Zoom get-togethers — and that sometimes meant getting creative. One night, Winograde and her mentee, Netflix’s Laura Delahaye, sent out gift bags with cocktails mixings and had a virtual game night. Another day, Falvey recruited her caterer friend Mary Giuliani to lead a Zoom cooking class. But last summer, as the Black Lives Matter movement began to take center stage, the group took a moment to reevaluate their virtual get-togethers. “It felt kind of silly and not appropriate to have small group meetings where you just drink wine and reconnect,” says Wellins. “It felt like we needed to do harder work.”
With many in the group expressing a desire to self-educate, donate and volunteer, they created spaces to foster those discussions and also take action. “We created a few resources for people to have conversations inside their companies about how to be better allies and how to really make it a sea change and not just a moment where we all put black squares on our timelines,” says Higher Ground executive and mentee Ada Chiaghana. She became involved in a Femtors book club led by fellow mentee, Little America producer Natalie Sandy, where they read and discussed books like How to Be an Antiracist and So You Want to Talk About Race? Others group stepped up to vet organizations they could donate to, whether Black Lives Matter-related or for other causes. (In June, they rallied support for Upward Bound House, which is working to eliminate homelessness in Los Angeles.)
Wellins hopes they’ll be about to return to in-person events again by late summer. But in the meantime, they’ll continue to connect on their big group email chain, which they use to congratulate mentees on major life events, whether it be a wedding, a baby or a promotion. (The mentors even chipped in to send flowers to the mentees on each of their birthdays.) Wellins also has grand plans to expand Femtors to other regions, like New York and Canada, and other industries, as well. Says the agent, “There’s a lot on the docket for plans I have and what I’d like to see happen with this.”
A version of this story first appeared in the May 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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