Growing up as the child of artists in the '80s, I didn't have much context for businesswomen. In my mind they were always wielding at least three car phones at a time while elbowing men down escalators and shopping for shoulder pads (this cartoon by Kate Beaton pretty much says it all).
So it was pretty thrilling and surprising to meet Beth Comstock, the first female vice chair of General Electric and a bona fide businesswoman, and to learn just how intuitive and creative her job really is. She bashed my expectations into the ground as she opined on everything from science to accessorization — despite the campaign to #askhermore than about her style, I could not stop staring at her Art Deco Marni choker.
Beth is, by all accounts, a formidable star. But my sources (and, yes, I have sources) also told me that she is tireless and dogged in her pursuit to bring women with her, to invest in fledgling businesses, and to take a chance on creative ideas that most megacompanies would sneeze at. She's a geek for science, a champion for women in tech, and a self-identified introvert. She's a study in contradictions and a lesson to this downtown child that her early conceptions of businesswomen were as cartoonish as Disney princesses.
Lena Dunham: At Lenny, we profile a lot of people who are "creatives," but so many of our readers are at the beginning of their careers and they really want to work in business. They're inspired by women who are working in the corporate world in a creative way, like you do. I wondered if you could give us the "dummies guide" to your career trajectory.
Beth Comstock: My career trajectory makes no sense. Absolutely no sense. I got out of school thinking I was going to be a doctor. Then I really wanted to be a science reporter, so I got into media. But I was horrible on camera. Really horrible, really bad. I learned that I was much better behind the scenes. So I got into marketing. One thing leads to another, and I worked my way through NBC. Then I end up at GE, which was the last place on earth I expected to be. But it makes a lot of sense. I love science. My science background is a thread that goes through my career.
LD: In your past role at NBC/Universal, I know you were pivotal in acquiring iVillage, which was a media company that was aimed at women. I wondered what you thought about the current landscape of women's media, and about marketing to women. Have you always been interested in women in tech and how we can use tech to reach women?
BC: I've always been interested in tech, and I'm a woman. I think it comes naturally. When I was at NBC and we acquired iVillage, what I didn't appreciate was just how passionate the community of women around the site was. It was really the first Internet property for women. Teenagers would look up things like: How do you know if you're pregnant? iVillage would answer those kinds of questions.
It was amazing what they did. iVillage doesn't exist anymore. It's kind of sad from that perspective. I think we missed our chance to understand that this community of women wanted to be engaged. They wanted to do something. They could have been a much stronger voice at NBC and in media, and that's why I love what you're doing. Tapping into the right voice that matches the people who want to come together is really powerful. I think that's what you're doing with Lenny.