Mindy Kaling, Anne Sweeney, Bonnie Hammer Open Up About Obstacles to Success

Girls Inc. Luncheon Sweeney Hammer Kaling Fernandez - H 2013
Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

Girls Inc. Luncheon Sweeney Hammer Kaling Fernandez - H 2013

While many men could be spotted in the crowd, it was all about girls at the 18th annual Girls Inc. luncheon.

Five hundred people filed into the Beverly Hilton ballroom Wednesday afternoon for the fundraising event, where writer-actress Mindy Kaling, president of Disney/ABC Television Group Anne Sweeney, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer and journalist, entrepreneur and Latina activist Giselle Fernandez were honored. The lunch raked in a total of $141,000 for the nonprofit organization, whose mission it is to empower girls to be strong, smart and bold.

Both Kaling and Hammer used the platform to share personal stories of past struggles, with Kaling talking specifically about her experiences being a perennial "side character" -- in her case with musicals, a "descamisado" or poor member of the revolutionary masses in Evita, an immigrant clothed in rags in Rags and a bum who gets hit by a car in City of Angels. "I've never been pretty in any sort of conventional way or tall or white. … In any role I've ever had, I've had to cast myself as a part, and people will tell me no more often than people will tell me yes, but I figure I only need one yes," The Mindy Project creator and star said of being motivated to make room for herself. She added for the young girls in the audience: "Don't let people cast you as a side character in your relationships, in your job or in your life."

Hammer, who was nominated by Girls Inc. co-chair and NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, opened up about how "heartbroken" and "stunned" she was to learn about her daughter's experience being bullied in her early years for being of mixed-racial descent. Hammer revealed that she wasn't aware of the challenges her daughter had faced until she read a story that her daughter had written about her experiences in a book published by a Dartmouth professor. Having learned from her daughter's hurdles, Hammer emphasized that the key to success is having control over how you feel: "You can't change how people act," she said, "but what you can change is how you react."

From stage, Nina Tassler, another Girls Inc. co-chair as well as president of CBS Entertainment, announced that she is compiling a collection of essays written by mothers from every discipline sharing personal stories of how they are inspiring their daughters to craft their own feminist narratives. The book, which she will co-author with journalist Cynthia Littleton for Simon & Schuster, is titled What I Told My Daughter: Raising Feminist Daughters in a Postmodern Feminist World. Tassler noted that they will donate a percentage of the proceeds to Girls Inc.

For her part, Sweeney challenged the audience to remember those in less fortunate situations: "Some girls are given more challenges than others, and for those girls, the call to be strong, smart, bold and brave is even more important," she said, adding: "Supporting those brave and bold girls should always and forever be our priority." The remainder of the two-hour luncheon was filled out by four Girls Inc. National Scholars, who shared stories about standing up to bullies, being the first in their family to attend college and even meeting the first lady.