Lansing on making the rules

Photo credit: Deirdre Flanagan

Sherry Lansing has accomplished many things throughout her life. When asked the secret to her success, she replied, “If you don’t have the passion and the resiliency, you will give up. This is true for movies, [for] research, and getting money for under-served schools.”

At our last Lunch with a Leader event of the school year, students sat down to lunch with Lansing to talk about her long career in the film industry and now her work with the Sherry Lansing Foundation. Throughout the event, Lansing discussed her experiences as one of the first female executives in her industry and her passion for teaching.

Speaking about her position as a pioneer and one of the first women in her field, Lansing noted that the best part about this role is “you get to make your own rules.” But, she added, being who you want to be can be both a “challenge and an opportunity.” Lansing told the story of one of her first meetings with a famous movie director, who gave one her male coworkers the credit for her idea. At this point, Lansing realized, she had to choose her battle: fight for recognition, or find a new project where her ideas would be valued. Lansing chose the second option, she told students, because even though it was challenging to not speak up in that moment, she knew that proving her talents would be better for creating the role and respect that she wanted in the long run.

Deirdre Flanagan
Deirdre Flanagan

Lansing also spoke about her current work through her foundation with the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program, which retrains mid-career professionals from STEM fields to be math and science teachers in high-needs California public schools. A former high school math teacher, Lansing said she was inspired to teach the subject thanks to a passionate teacher she had as a student. The shortage of students going into STEM fields, she contended, is due to a lack of teachers who inspire students to enter these fields.

“The problem is we don’t have enough teachers who care, who show passion,” Lansing argued. “If the teacher is afraid of math and science, [he/she] can’t inspire students with passion, [he/she] can’t make them like match and science.”

While EnCorps works to fill schools with teachers who have a passion for STEM subject, Lansing agrees that there is a systemic problem in finding good teachers. Her hope is that EnCorps instills in some students the passion to one day become teachers, but she agrees that the United States needs better policies to incentivize teachers and to provide teachers with better pay.

Lansing left the students with some parting words of advice. Something that was critical to her continued success, she said, was her ability to collaborate. “It’s important to understand people from opposing points of view. [It is] better to get to know them and see if I can work with them, find common ground.”

She also told student to trust themselves, embrace their strengths and weaknesses, and to be authentic, because confident and authentic people are the ones we all like to work with best. “In the movie stars, singers, and politicians you like,” she said, “you like that they’re authentic.”

A big thanks to Sherry for her authenticity and to everyone who joined us! Stayed tuned for our new Lunch with a Leader series in the fall.

Deirdre Flanagan
Deirdre Flanagan

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