Women Reaching Great Heights

AUP Parent Deborah Roberts Speaks in Paris

On Monday April 16, 2018, the American University of Paris welcomed Emmy award-winning host, news veteran and AUP parent Deborah Roberts. She delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking talk titled: “Women: Reaching Great Heights Without Being Superwoman.”

Roberts began by sharing stories about her childhood and early beginnings in Perry, Georgia, joking that she had come all the way from “Perry to Paris.” “Though I live a comfortable life in New York City, this is maybe not the life that some would have imagined for me growing up in segregated Georgia,” Roberts told the packed Henze Grands Salons in the Combes Student Life Center. “Both my parents labored under the indignity of the Jim Crow South, but they both also managed to see light in the cracks of that dark system: both of them held on to a dream for their children.”

During her talk, Roberts repeatedly emphasized the importance of women supporting one another and she began by describing two female role models who had a profound influence on her life. The first was her mother. “I draw on the example set by a strong mom, a steel magnolia, if you will, who believed that women could and should shape their destiny. She encouraged all of us, but particularly her daughters, that we should find a dream and go for it. My mom never allowed us to feel the sting of discrimination.” She also spoke about her sixth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Harvey. “She changed my life with just a few words: ‘Deborah, you’re a smart girl: you’re gonna go real far.’ Imagine what those words meant to a little black girl emerging from the segregated South.”

Against the backdrop of her own remarkable personal trajectory, she outlined the issues women face today, highlighting statistics showing that women in the US are graduating college at higher rates than their male counterparts, but are still overrepresented in the lowest-earning tranche of workers and underrepresented in the highest-earning tranche. She asked: “How is it in 2018 we’re still struggling with pay inequality?”

For every Sheryl Sandberg out there, there are countless other women who are just trying to get a foot in the door and we need to hold that door open to them.

Deborah Roberts

The challenges women face were put in the context of the current historical phenomenon of the #MeToo movement and the shift in conversation it has engendered. “Now it’s time for the hard part: deciding how we’re going to coexist and how we’re going to rebuild. Where are we going to go from here?” She added that she hoped men would be allies in this fight: “We need men as allies if we’re going to see this new world order.”

Roberts described how women are often overlooked for leadership roles, causing them to leave companies and lose seniority. “To help women stay in the game, we need to help each other and create environments for women to feel successful or take risks and go for positions outside their comfort zones,” she said. “For every Sheryl Sandberg out there, there are countless other women who are just trying to get a foot in the door and we need to hold that door open to them.” She emphasized the importance of women looking after their health and stress levels, highlighting the crucial role of good sleep, diet and exercise habits. She described, too, the importance of building women's confidence. “Millennial men come into jobs with gusto and swagger and confidence, expecting promotions, and they're likely to seek them out, but women tend to hold back. We've been socialized that way. We have got to change that. Fear holds a lot of us back and I'm here today to say: don't let fear stand in the way of your dreams.”

Once more, Roberts emphasized the importance of women helping other women, citing mentors who have helped her along the way, including journalists Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, and how she has ‘paid it forward’ with interns and junior colleagues.  “We’ve got to encourage each other. As women, we have to hold tightly to this notion that we've got to support each other.” She cited practical tips on boosting other women, suggesting women amplify each other in order to counteract ‘mansplaining.’  “When your friend offers a brilliant thought or idea, reiterate, give her credit and brag on it; brag on a fellow female who's doing a good job. She may not want to toot her own horn, but you help her toot it.”

After the talk, alumnae and current AUP students eagerly asked Roberts for her advice and thoughts on a number of issues facing women, including: How to network with new people when you lack confidence? (Roberts: “Go prepared. Fake it 'til you make it. If you can fake it long enough, eventually you'll start to relax.”); How can you learn from failure? (“Sometimes failure can help make us stronger if you just believe you can do it.”); and how to ask for flexibility in the workplace (“Men and women have got to join in this together.”).

“Focus on what you're doing that is great and don't highlight what you're doing that is not so great,” she told the crowd. “There is no reason for us to remain stuck. Change is absolutely possible, but we've got to demand it.”

Roberts reports for ABC News’ 20/20, Good Morning America, World News Tonight and Nightline and has been a co-host on The View. She has received numerous awards for her coverage of world events and consistently produces extraordinary narratives – such as an intimate profile of first lady Michelle Obama. With her husband Al Roker, who spoke at AUP in December 2017, Roberts also wrote Been There, Done That: Family Wisdom for Modern Times.

Watch Deborah Roberts Speaking at AUP

Part One

Part Two