Part of the series “Women, Leadership and Vision”
What is the largest minority in the world? The answer might surprise you. It is people living with disabilities. In honor of National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month in March, I had the honor of connecting with Loreen Arbus, a tireless disability rights activist, philanthropist, television producer, and author, who is passionate about supporting those with disabilities and others who experience being marginalized in society.
Loreen is currently the President of The Loreen Arbus Foundation, The Goldenson-Arbus Foundation and Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc. She holds the trailblazing distinction of being the first woman to head programming for a U.S. network, a feat accomplished twice (both at Showtime and Cable Health Network/Lifetime). In addition to helping establish these two cornerstones of cable television, she launched Loreen Arbus Productions, Inc., an independent television production company with an emphasis on non-fiction programming. She currently serves on over a dozen non-profit boards including: Women Moving Millions, Paley Center For Media, Women’s Media Center, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation, Harvard Kennedy School of Government Women’s Leadership Board, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School Advisory Committee for Neurobiology, Salome Chamber Orchestra, Town Hall LA, and Visionary Women.
Loreen shares with me her vision for helping those who’ve been marginalized, including those with disabilities, women, children, and minorities:
Kathy Caprino: You have a lifelong personal connection to cerebral palsy. How did it impact who you are today?
Loreen Arbus: My older sister was born with cerebral palsy and had numerous other disabilities. Nonetheless, she was joyful — and so loved by her lifelong caretaker. But other people shunned her — and, by association, me. This hurt deeply. But it mobilized my life plan and passion — to serve, protect and advocate for the marginalized — for both people and animals. To bring an end to intolerance that generates an “us vs. them” environment, to create a society defined by inclusiveness.
Caprino: March 25 was National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day and March was National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. As a Disability Rights Activist, what is your chief objective?
Arbus: Every day should be about inclusion. It’s not enough to spotlight one person with disability on occasion: Inclusion must be a way of life, a way of thinking – in terms of employment, our bonds with people, and social networks. Websites should be accessible to both the hearing and sight impaired. Stages should have ramps. Stores should have wide aisles to accommodate wheelchairs. I just love what Will Smith recently said: “Diversity is the superpower of America.” I would add: Inclusion is every American’s constitutional right.
Caprino: You recently established a two-year “Commitment to Action” with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), with a key initiative called Lights! Cameras! Access! 2.0. which will address the under-representation of people with disabilities in media. What will this new alliance do?
Arbus: Launched in 2015, it’s designed to be a comprehensive initiative which addresses disability-inclusive diversity in advertising, entertainment, interactive and broadcast. With Tari Hartman-Squire, President of EIN SOF Communications, Inc, and the office of New York Mayor de Blasio, I produced a two-day “Think Tank,” and we have in the works an L.A. “Think Tank” and both a New York and L.A. Summit, aiming to improve disability portrayals on large, small and personal screens, increase employment of civilians and veterans with disabilities in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and increase accessible entertainment for audiences with a variety of disabilities.
Caprino: You currently serve on over a dozen non-profit boards. Much of your work focuses on empowering women and girls. As the first woman to head up programming for a U.S. television network, can you tell us the important thing you have learned about succeeding as a woman in the corporate world?
Arbus: Here are three critical lessons I’ve learned:
• Don’t stand on ceremony.
Offer to do whatever needs doing. But don’t apologize for doing what you do. Step up – and reach up.
Build powerful support networks of colleagues and resources you trust and respect.
• Give back.
Because it makes you feel wonderful, and, quite honestly, more good will come to you.
Caprino: At the Women’s Media Awards this past November, Women’s Media Center cofounder Gloria Steinem announced the creation of The Loreen Arbus Journalism Program. What will this program do?
Arbus: I am delighted that this program at Women’s Media Center will support the research and writing of commissioned articles in WMC Features, the WMC Women Under Siege Project, and the WMC Speech Project, focusing on different aspects of crucial issues affecting women with disabilities, and thereby raising the media presence, voice, advocacy and experiences of differently abled women.
The key domestic legislative, political, legal and media issues that the disability community is currently facing will be mapped and then viewed through a gender lens. It’s very much part of my goal to show the world as it really is, and to provide accuracy and visibility in every way for the disability community.
Caprino: Loreen, what final insider secrets and advice can you share, as a trailblazing woman, leader, and activist making a difference in the world?
Arbus: Here are five “secrets” I’ve learned on my journey:
1. Get insider info to support your growth.
Because I had a great support system above me (all male) and reporting to me (women and men), I had no significant issues with regard to doing my job. What was hardest as a woman on the rise, however, was not knowing what to ask for in terms of salary and raises — and I lacked the confidence to ask. What helped was doing “secret” salary intel with work friends, to make a deeper case for what I wanted.
2. Know when the time is right, and never give up.
The most important lesson I learned as an independent producer was knowing when to admit (to myself) that it was simply too late to pitch my project(s), they had lost currency — and, conversely, to not give up. Cocky though it may seem, I almost always knew I had the right ideas, often ahead of their time. It was the limitation of the buyer to not get it. I pitched one project 69 times until it sold!
3. Understand your unique preferences.
Personally, I don’t give to capital campaigns or general funds or infrastructure (unless it’s a percent of my total gift). I’m motivated to give to very specific projects and programs — and always out of passion and often because they seem new and feel innovative. Because I am uninterested in maintaining the status quo and passionate about innovation and disruption, I often go where others have not. I ask lots of questions, do due diligence and ultimately go with my gut.
4. Leverage every conversation for your cause.
The most critical lesson I’ve learned as a disability rights advocate is to try and leverage every conversation, every panel, every gathering. At a strategic moment, I’ll say, “Since we are talking about minorities (or access or opportunities) I have a question for all of you (but don’t answer if I’ve already told you…). Does anyone know what the largest minority in the U.S. and the world is?” A question gets everyone’s attention; this question is one virtually no one answers correctly, opening the door for me to co-opt conversation.
5. How to find true meaning:
The best way to feel happy in one’s career — and life — is obviously to do something one likes. But far more profoundly meaningful is helping others, without any expectations of emotional, social or financial compensation. The act of giving is the soul of living.
For more information about Loreen Arbus, visit arbusprod.com. For more on the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City and the 15th Annual Women Who Care Awards Luncheon on May 15, visit ucpnyc.org.
Read the original article on Forbes.