On Wednesday, Stanford Women in Business (SWIB) hosted Tyra Banks as part of their Spring Executive Leadership Series. Banks has been a long-term advocate for expanding traditional conceptions of beauty and promoting entrepreneurship for women, and touched upon these themes during the event.
Banks is well known for hosting the reality TV show America’s Next Top Model. She is also a former international fashion model and was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. Since then, Banks has launched a cosmetics line, Tyra Beauty.
SWIB co-presidents Priyanka Jain, Katherine Evers, and Cyerra Holmes opened the event. The discussion was moderated by Kara Hollis. Kara Hollis is a third year JD/MBA candidate at Stanford University, where she serves as a View From The Top Student Leader, Co-President of the JD/MBA Club and an Arbuckle Fellow.
Banks began by focusing on the importance to have a network of people for support and mentorship, especially for women in the business world.
“I’m obsessed with mentorship,” Banks said, laughing.
“A lot of people say, ‘I love doing mentorship because I love giving back,’” she elaborated. “But I have to say that I do it for some selfish reasons as well because it feels so good to have lived and had experienced the bumps and the bruises of being the first [in the industry] and to see someone now succeed. It’s full circle.”
Banks also talked about the influence that powerful women can have, especially towards younger girls. She recounted one event where a young girl with a black eye approached her. The girl asked if Banks could teach her how to apply makeup to cover up instances where her boyfriend beat her.
Banks realized how important it is for women to have strong female mentors to look up to.
“I felt like I had responsibility to not just tell the truth about hair and makeup and all that, but to get even deeper with girls when it comes to self-esteem,” she said.
In terms of advocating for a cause, Banks told the audience that the most important part is choosing something that you genuinely care about.
“If you can find something that you’re passionate about that is somehow aligned with your profit-side, it makes your message so much easier,” she stated.
Banks and Hollis also discussed the role of gender and ethnicity in the fashion and business industries. According to Banks, diversity can pose a duality. One on hand, diversity can provide broader perspectives and experience to the industry, but on the other, there is a cost of looking different.
Especially early in her career in the primarily white female modeling industry, Banks faced adversity.
“Every single day I heard that I couldn’t do something,” she said.
Banks continued, explaining that her diversity was both a blessing and a curse.
“A curse because I couldn’t get as many covers and campaigns as some of my counterparts, but the blessing was that I was different.”
Hollis also asked Banks to comment on the role of the modeling industry in setting conventional standards of beauty.
Banks responded by arguing that skewed perceptions of beauty have now transcended the modeling industry, especially given the increase in technology.
“We can’t blame the modeling industry anymore. They do not have the power that tabloids have and that social media has.”
At the conclusion, Hollis asked Banks to give advice to women in the audience, especially in business. She first asked Banks to elaborate on what she wished she had known when she was the age of students in the audience.
“I had such tunnel vision,” Banks said. “I missed out on so much. Like Christmas and family and birthdays and friends’ graduations.”
Banks added that when she was her most successful, she was not necessarily the happiest or healthiest, though this was difficult to realize at the time. Banks recalled an instance at Harvard Business School, when her leadership professor told her to write down the points when she had been the most successful. He then asked Banks to describe how she felt at this time.
“Miserable. Lonely. Exhausted. Tired. If I would have just stopped and celebrated a little I think I would have been healthier,” Banks said. “I would have been happier.”
Still, she added that there’s no way to know if she would have experienced as much success if she had changed her mentality.
Finally, Hollis asked Banks to give advice to women who want to pursue business careers.
Banks explained that women still face many challenges and often have to work harder than their male counterparts to succeed.
“We have to be better,” she said. “We have to be better than that guy that’s right next to us.”
She emphasized that women have to be advocates for themselves and stand up for their beliefs.
“When you get yourself heard and seen and are that squeaky door, people pay attention.”