Nancy Dubuc, Mara Brock Akil Talk Male-Dominated Hollywood

Girls Inc Luncheon - H 2014
Brandon Clark/ABImages

Girls Inc Luncheon - H 2014

"We should all be feminists," proclaimed Mara Brock Akil, the ballroom she stood over erupting in applause. "It's congruent with being human." It was just one piece of the advice the Being Mary Jane creator offered the six hundred-plus crowd of industry types that shuffled into The Beverly Hilton Wednesday afternoon for the 19th annual Girls Inc. luncheon.

Every year, the female-empowering organization recognizes four women in the entertainment industry for their exceptional leadership and inspiring lives. This year's Los Angeles fundraising event honored president and CEO of A+E Networks Nancy Dubuc, actor-director Eva Longoria, OWN president Sheri Salata and executive producer and creator of The Game and Girlfriends Brock Akil.

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Among the attendees were several young women participating in Girls Inc., four of which stepped up to the podium to share about the challenges they've had to overcome in their lives and the inspiration the many successful women in the room have been to them. Each of the speakers — all of whom had received partial scholarships toward their college tuition from the organization — were paired with one of the honorees, who each took turns offering their guidance on how women can reach their full potential today.

Beyond feminism, Brock Akil discussed what she believes is the key to building confidence as a young person. "Knowing your craft and being educated about what you want to do will build your confidence and vocabulary to be able to open your mouth and be heard," she told The Hollywood Reporter. A sure way to leave the showrunner unimpressed? Don't speak up. "If you’re there in my room and you’re quiet, there’s really no need for me to rehire you if you’re sitting on some of your best ideas and not putting yourself forward," she says of her own workplace standards, adding: "A closed mouth does not get fed."

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Salata, who worked with Oprah Winfrey on launching Starbucks' Oprah Chai (the sales of which benefit Girls Inc.) had some simple advice for the girls: "At the end of the day, what makes you successful is what makes you happy, so find out what makes you happy. Answer that question and then everything else flows in." Having spent too many of her younger years searching around for something that would make her feel significant, Salata strongly encouraged the young women to save time by following their hearts.

Dubuc, who has no formal involvement with Girls Inc. but an organic passion for women's education, credits her all-girls schooling for her success in college and later in her professional career. But in an industry long dominated by men, the network chief doesn't think our culture is moving forward at a fast enough pace. "When you look at the stats, there’s progress but there’s not progress at the top," she told THR. "To effect meaningful change, you have to look at who’s in the boardrooms, who has the financial control of businesses and who has the greenlighting power."

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Dubuc considers herself fortunate to have had a female boss, A+E Networks chairman Abbe Raven, and is convinced it's why she's been able to be so confident in her role. "I’ve been in this power-focused women’s group for a long time so I felt comfortable being ambitious and having a voice," she explained. But Dubuc considers herself the exception, not the rule. "What I see around the management team meetings and the conference tables I sit at is that there isn’t that same comfort level in other women who are rising the ranks," she said, adding sincerely: "And I don’t know how to fix that."

The one thing she does know for certain, however, is that's it's important not to be deterred by failure at a young age. "There’s more failures than gets in this business, and you can’t judge the success of your career over one instance," she said of her get-back-up philosophy. Her words of wisdom to young girls aspiring to vocational success? "It has to be over a lifetime."