Bloomberg’s Stephanie Ruhle Asks Power Women The Tough Questions

When I Want Her Job last spoke with Stephanie Ruhle two years ago we asked, “What challenges keep you awake at night?” Stephanie’s passion for the “intoxicating and very exciting business” of TV journalism was apparent, but so was her desire to deliver the news in an evenhanded, responsible way.

At the time the the anchor and managing editor of Bloomberg Television/Editor-at-Large of Bloomberg News said, “In order to be taken seriously, I need to be centered, and I need to ask all the questions – not just the questions that, in my former career, mattered most.”

Stephanie has a knack for fair and bold questions, and she was on her A-game during her 2015 International Women’s Day special edition of Market Makers on Bloomberg TV. No question was off limits. She asked White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett about Hillary Clinton’s private server emails. She asked TLC, Animal Planet and Velocity Group President Marjorie Kaplan what the future holds for her network if cable plans were to offer bundling. And she asked Neiman Marcus CEO Karen Katz about her company’s fastest-growing segment – discount brand (gasp!) Last Call.

What was noticeably missing was the flurry of questions we like to ask on I Want Her Job surrounding work/life balance, the possibility of women ‘having it all’ and what it will take to change the face of business to be more female-represented.

“We kept taking these super-talented women and continued to put them in the pink ghetto,” Ruhle says. “…I don’t want people to tune out because they see Stephanie Ruhle doing “girls’ day.” It wasn’t girls’ day, it was bad-ass women’s day.”

And although at I Want Her Job we fiercely believe in the importance of discussing issues we all face as women, we can’t help but wonder if Stephanie’s articulating something we’re all really thinking.

What inspired you to run specialized segments for International Women’s Day? How long did it take to bring the project together?

Even before I came to Bloomberg – from my time in banking – I’ve been involved in women’s leadership programs. I often felt like top extraordinary women would sit on panels or do public speaking, and we kept deducing their content to women’s issues, work/life balance and women’s equality. We kept taking these super-talented women and continued to put them in the pink ghetto.

The sad truth is there isn’t a formula for success for women – or a path to the C-Suite. What we can do, though, is hear their stories. We can hear how they built their businesses, what their business is and let them strut their stuff. This holiday [2015 International Women’s Day] was the perfect time to do it.

When I started at Bloomberg three years ago, we started this so women could come and talk about how much they kick ass. We went from a few segments the first year, to two hours this year, and this year we were bursting at the seams at three hours. We featured White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Avon’s CEO Sheri McCoy and Gwyneth Paltrow. We have women running businesses, but we don’t have enough women running business. We can complain about it – or complain there are more men named John who run companies than women. We know these sad truths. We can hang on them, or we can celebrate these women running big businesses. We can inspire other women and create more connectivity.

The more stories we can tell; the more brave women we can have in the media talking about their business, whether it’s government, media, entertainment, politics … the more of us, the more women out there to sort of adopt the idea, “You’ve got to see it to be it.” So when you see a woman doing great things you say, “You know what? There’s a chance for me to do it as well.”

Were there specific women you targeted to reach out to for the special?

It was a work in progress. We definitely wanted to bring on women who were very senior, but who we don’t necessarily hear from, because I think that’s also a downside. There are some great women who lead industries who you do see in the media, and unfortunately, they kind of end up the poster child of power chicks. I didn’t want to do that. They are some great, great women, but I wanted to bring on some women who we don’t always hear from.

We don’t always hear from, for example, the CEO of Frontier Communications [Maggie Wilderotter]. Just last week, before she joined us, she left the CEO post to become Chair of Frontier. What I love about her story is she has been spending the last 10 years creating a succession plan and preparing the next person to take her job.

When the Avon CEO [Sherilyn McCoy] came on we had a tough interview. We talked about the fact that she joined Avon three years ago and it has been a turnaround story. Avon has been one of the toughest stock stories in the DOW over the last few years. It wasn’t like we brought her on and said, “Let’s just decorate today pink and put lipstick on.” These were real interviews. This is a woman tackling a company that’s over 100 years old and trying to make some relevance today.

We brought on a cross-section of women. For example, Anne Finucane, the Chief Marketing Officer of Bank of America, has had that job for over 10 years. She was in that job, next to the chairman and CEO of Bank of America, Brian Moynihan, during the financial crisis, when Bank of America bought Merrill-Lynch, when they were in a pure PR crisis when this country hated banks more than any other industry. Anne took Bank of America from the bowels of public perception to where they are today. And I think hearing these stories – the good, the bad and the ugly – are great.

When producers asked for your favorite interview, you said you didn’t want to choose because you felt it was like playing “mean girls.” How do you find the confidence to be so bold?

I have no other choice. It’s already been proven; nobody’s going to stick up for us but us. We end up being channeled. We end up being stereotyped. And as women, we’ve spent too much time complaining that we’re not getting help, so we’ve got to just help ourselves. And I do think it’s unfortunate that [the producers asked], “Which one was your favorite?” I can’t pick one. If you had a show of 10 men, you wouldn’t say, “Which one was your favorite?” If you looked at corporate boards and said, “Do you like that girl on the corporate board, or that one woman?” We need to stop asking those questions. And that doesn’t mean that I need to be a villain to the people I’m interviewing, but if I don’t change the conversation that I’m in, how can I expect anyone else to?

Was there a comment that surprised you the most or that you felt the most strongly about?

When Gwyneth talked about goop and how she’s had tons of times when she said, “Why the heck am I doing this?” She’s Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s one of the most famous actresses in the world, and she took a different turn. Remember, celebrities endorse products. They could like a product in 2015, and in 2016 after their check clears, they walk away. Gwyneth has built a business. And remember, there’s a huge difference between fans liking you, and thinking that you have great style, and people buying your product and buying into you. She’s saying, “You like me, now buy me.” And she said this is a huge risk she’s taken on. She didn’t realize just how big of a risk, and it’s super scary. So, to watch a celebrity of her level say, “God, this has been a really difficult endeavor, and there’s tons of times when I say, ‘I didn’t need to do this.’”

I’m not Gwyneth Paltrow. I needed to wake up. I needed to get a job. I needed to build a business. Gwyneth won an Oscar when she was 21 years old. Over 10 years later she said, “I want to go from a lifestyle blog to being a real entrepreneur.” And she’s doing it. So, to hear kind of the humility from somebody like that – somebody who, let’s be honest, really gets attacked by the media – I was super impressed.

What do you hope every woman who watched – or was a part of your special – walked away with thinking?

Honestly? Not that there’s a key to success. But if there’s any pathway, any formula that you could deduce, it’s just about really working hard, and being driven and being focused. I think we spend so much time saying, “What industry would I be good in? What would I do well in? What’s a good fit for me? What would I like?” I think you could see across every woman we spoke to that the similarity was each of them are absolutely best in class. And you could tell that they know their stuff. They’re unbelievably hard-working. They’re unbelievably focused. And that’s sort of the key. I think it’s probably less about the content and more about the commitment to succeed. And all of them have an extraordinary commitment to succeed.

Your co-host [Erik Schatzker] is a man. What were his comments about the show?

He actually said it was one of the best days he’s ever had – one of the best shows he’s ever had. Because, listen, we did talk about real business, but I think we talked about it a little bit more from the personal side. Often times, when you have CEOs and corporate executives on, they’re definitely coming carrying the party line with their company talking points. These women didn’t. They really talked about what it was like to run the companies or the efforts that they’re in. Whether it was Valerie Jarrett talking about what it’s like in her position, and fielding off questions around Hillary Clinton and emails. These are difficult conversations to have, but women who are on top have to handle them, and handle them beautifully.

Think about the Avon CEO who’s facing a situation where our Millennials, or even women like me, I’m 39-years-old, and do I associate modern-day beauty and cosmetics with the Avon lady calling? No, and the CEO is aware of that, she’s owning it, and she’s addressing it. I think that’s amazing.

What was your biggest takeaway from the show?

For me I would say the biggest takeaway was, when the day was over, the amount of feedback that we got. Yes, we got it from men saying, “I DVR’d it, and I want my daughters to watch it,” or saying, “That was incredible.” I wish we heard from those women more often. We just got such great feedback. And I guess the thing that disappoints me is that I think media in general are so critical of women. We are so critical of women executives, whether we’re talking about Marissa Mayer, or Sheryl Sandberg or Mary Barra from GM. I think we criticize these women and critique them so much more than their male counterparts. The unintended consequence is they end up being very media shy, because they’re in a situation where it seems like there’s only downside. And that’s really unfortunate, because to hear these great women, talk about their great stories is inspirational for everyone. I hope that the work we did will inspire more women to talk about what they do.

As women, we’ve spent too much time complaining that we’re not getting help, so we’ve got to just help ourselves.