Lauri Freedman | #UnordinaryWomen

by Morgan Vickery

Photography by: Sophie Elgort

Photography by: Sophie Elgort

On Thursday, May 9th, women gathered at the Lafayette 148 SoHo Concept Store for an evening of fashion and philanthropy. Celebrating Lafayette 148’s #UnordinaryWomen campaign, a panel discussion honored inspiring, and successful women of all industries to support She’s the First, a global non-profit girls education program. CEO and Co-Founder Deirdre Quinn and President Liz Fraser hosted the event alongside fashion pioneer, Fern Mallis, and She’s the First CEO & Co-Founder, Tammy Tibbetts, featuring twelve of the campaign’s unordinary women.

Lauri Freedman is one of the twelve fearless ladies honored at last week’s event. A self-proclaimed “embracer of life and opportunity,” Lauri is the head of product development for The Whitney Museum of American Art and a former stay-at-home mom. Over champagne, treats, and shopping I spoke with Freedman on subjects of women and the workplace.

What defines an ‘Unordinary Woman?’

Well, I can tell you what I think defines an unordinary woman, for me. An unordinary woman is someone who is grateful for what's around her, and I feel grateful. I am someone who has been really lucky in my life. I’ve had the chance to really live a life of tremendous privilege. I've been able to stay at home, which I think is an amazing privilege. I've been able to go back to work, which for me feels like a tremendous privilege. And I've been surrounded by women of every generation who have helped me do incredible things and I've had the chance to look them in the eye and thank them, and that feels like an amazing opportunity. I guess the sadness would be not having the chance to be able to appreciate all of those things.

In your experience, how have strong working women changed the dynamic of the workforce?

It's interesting, when I stayed home and did so much volunteering and I was the head of the Parents Association, or I was the chaperone on school trips, I'll never forget the moms who worked--who weren't able to do those things, who took the time to pick up the phone and call me and say thank you or shoot me an email and really appreciate my efforts. I remember feeling at the time how what I was doing felt like I was doing it on behalf of all of us. So in that way, it wasn't just about the women in the workplace who were strong, but it was about all of us. It was about the community of women working on behalf of each other in all of those circumstances. And now that I've gone back to work, I can't help but think of specifically, and most importantly for me, the woman who hired me, the woman who didn't have a chance to stay home with her kids, who nonetheless I walked down to her chair in her office and was interviewing for a job that I think many women or many people wouldn't have seen me as qualified for. And instead, saw in me someone who had a host of experiences outside of the workplace and someone who was coming in as a really different kind of person that she had ever been able to hire before and took that as an opportunity, rather than as either an outsized risk or as someone who would be a threat to her. And to me, that's a kind of strength that probably doesn't go mentioned enough: someone who is willing to hire someone who possesses very different strengths from them and is still going to hire them.

What advice would you give to stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce? For women who feel nervous, insecure, or unqualified and need an inspirational push?

First of all, that's everyone; there is not a single woman who has stayed home who doesn't feel like they're unqualified, less qualified, nervous. And I think for that person, I would say don't be afraid to ask for help and don't be afraid when someone says to you, ‘You’re amazing, you're going to be great,’ to say, ‘Actually no, I need more than that. Is there someone you could introduce me to or would you take a look at my resume?’ I also think something that no one told me, and I did a little bit out of desperation, was that I put all of those things that I did as a stay at home mom on my resume. It wasn't a side note, it wasn't an asterisk. I put President of the Parents Association right there under work experience because it was work, and I didn't try to make that as something separate and different, but I put it right there so that in the interview, I could talk about that right there with the work that I had done 20 years before because there was no other way to make what I had done relevant to the eyes of a potential employer.

What advice would you give female students who are looking to shatter the ‘glass ceiling?’

I think it's still hard and even in places where it feels like there are lots of strong women, I look around and I still see a lot of male-dominated environments. I would say look for a mentor and really ask for advice, and I would say lean in with who you are and what your strengths are. Don't try to be someone and something you're not. I think whatever those strengths are, those are the things that are going to get you ahead. Whether it's femininity, it's what you know as a woman that is going to be the thing that gets you ahead. It's funny, I listened to Stacey Abrams speak the other night, and I feel like she speaks as a woman and that's what's so compelling about her. When I listened to her talk, I thought, ‘We’re going to be fine.’ We have these leaders who are coming up who aren't trying to be something other than, or better than, men at a man's game. And I look at my daughter who's a sophomore in college now and I think to myself, she in so many ways has it figured out in ways that I never did. I almost think my job is to sort of learn from the next generation. I guess in some ways, my advice would be to listen to the kids.

Who do you find inspiring for the everyday working woman?

Honestly, for me, it's endless. I mean, I am inspired by my daughter. I'm inspired by the women around me who are taking care of their mothers as they age. There is nothing that I could have accomplished without the women around--the women who picked up my kids when I couldn't from school. We are such a strong community when we work together that I couldn't possibly name a person. I think it is really us together that are the strength that we're looking for, and I know that I have benefited from that every single day and I continue to.