Shaun Robinson on Women & Leadership

Negative images of women run rampant via media. On television, we see rituals of violence and shaming amongst sisters of color enacted every day.

In order to advance spiritually, intellectually and professionally, the mindset of women must far surpass an environment which invites patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, violence and shaming. Women must move forward, not backward.

Enter the Spelman College Leadership and Women of Color Conference this week to offer informative workshops and transformative presentations geared toward the advancement of its attendees.

From May 14-15, Spelman College will host its annual conference at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta. Spearheaded by the college’s president, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, and Dr. Jane E. Smith, executive director of LEADS at Spelman, this serves as a 10-year anniversary for the distinguished empowerment conference. JPC’s very own Linda Johnson Rice, chairwoman of Johnson Publishing Company, will be honored this year with a special Legacy of Leadership Award.  Ebony’s newly named editor-in-chief, Mitzi Miller, is another highly anticipated speaker at the forum.

In preparation for two days of empowerment, JET spoke to a highly respected Spelman alumna and esteemed host for entertainment news show Access Hollywood, Shaun Robinson.  The television veteran will host this year’s conference. Check out our Q&A with Robinson, who has contributed reports to the Today Show, MSNBC, CNN, and NBC Nightly News, and served as a panel expert on Larry King Live.

JET: What are some of the highlights taking place at the conference this year?

Shaun Robinson: The highlight for me is coming back to Spelman College, my alma mater. Spelman invites lifetime sisterly bonds. You could meet a Spelman graduate years later and the sister connection will still be strong. The conference brings together a group of powerful women who are changing the world. I support women who give back to others and serve as role models.  The former NBC Universal chief diversity officer and former co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks, Paula Madison, will join us. Paula was instrumental in aiding the careers of countless minority journalists. Major General Marcia Anderson will join us as well and she’s the first African-American woman major general in the US Army Reserve. I’m excited for the participation of all these great women taking part in the conference.

JET: As a Spelman graduate, you are part of a list of extraordinary women who’ve attained admirable achievements. What does leadership mean to you?  

SR: When you have a platform of any kind, you should use it to help others. That’s a message I give to young people. My mother always encouraged me to use my platform for good and helping others to achieve their goals. A platform without assisting others is useless.  All of the women in the conference represent true leadership. These women are about serving as role models, but also helping young people to achieve their goals. True leadership is about helping young people to understand no glass ceiling is unbreakable.

JET: For many years, women in entertainment and beyond were told not to lead, but to stand behind men. How can women combat this current state of patriarchy and sexism? 

SR: Going to a school like Spelman taught me that women could be game changers in the world. Helping other women is more important than highlighting what type of man you’re married to.  Sexism is definitely alive in our society. As more women enter into decision-making roles, we can begin to see sexism possibly diminishing. Hopefully with conferences like the Spelman leadership conference, we’ll start to break down some of these barriers.

JET: The road to success is often paved with challenges. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you heal? 

SR: Gosh, I’ve encountered so many challenges along the way! Years ago, when I was working in a local market, a colleague told me not to pursue my goal of becoming a national entertainment television host. He honestly believed I would not make it to a national entertainment television format. I believed the words that fell from his mouth, but only for a moment.  Dreaming big is what we need to do and we should never stop dreaming big.  When I was a reporter for three months in Flint, Michigan, my news director told me I didn’t have what it took to succeed in television. If I would have allowed that nonsense to enter into my mind, I wouldn’t be in this job today. People will always express discouragement at your goals. It’s about believing in yourself and knowing if you put in the hard work, you can accomplish anything.

JET: A few years ago, you published a book filled with candid advice from celebrated women. How can young girls tap into their leadership abilities?

SR: The quickest way to true self-esteem is to take the attention off of you and put it on people that are less fortunate. There is a chapter in my book where girls are talking about how volunteering helps foster inner change. I started a girls empowerment group called One Girl, One Voice. It’s an online site where girls can log on and talk about their volunteer work. It doesn’t matter if you’re volunteering in your household or in Africa–no volunteer work is too small.

JET: How can we get some of these reality stars to foster bonds that are mutually empowering outside of the same disempowering images we see over and over again?

SR: How much time do you have on this one?  [Laughs]  We all have guilty pleasures. I’ve watched reality show,s but what is very disturbing is when I see intelligent adult Black women degrading themselves by physically fighting one another. It’s just for sport. It’s sad. Young Black girls do not have many positive images they can aspire to on television. The images of Black women fighting promote the stereotype of the angry Black woman.  White women do not have to combat this sort of stereotype even when they are angry on television. Girls today are growing up thinking other women are adversaries and not allies. It’s very disturbing. This needs to change.

JET: You are weekend co-host and correspondent for top entertainment news show Access Hollywood. You’ve contributed to the Today Show, MSNBC, CNN and NBC Nightly News. What’s next? 

SR: I would love to have my own show. I had a couple of talk shows in my career. I love that talk show format. I would love to do something like Inside the Actors Studio.

The Spelman College Leadership and Women of Color Conference is open to the public. For more information on the Spelman College Leadership and Women of Color Conference, click here


Quassan Castro is a news and entertainment journalist. Follow him on Twitter @Quassan.