Women in Leadership Workshop: A Chat with Archana Sahgal ’99

By Sofia Trigo

 Archana Sahgal ’99 speaking at the 9th Women and Leadership Conference

Archana Sahgal ’99 speaking at the 9th Women and Leadership Conference

Sitting at the Athenaeum amongst powerful, determined, and ambitious women from around the country, it was hard to not to feel empowered. The 9th annual Women and Leadership Conference aimed to inspire and embrace female worth in the workplace. This year the event featured Archana Sahgal ’99, a former Obama White House official and CMC alumna. A lawyer by training and social justice entrepreneur at heart, Sahgal worked as the Senior Associate Director at the Office of Public Engagement for the Obama Administration. After her motivating talk, I had the opportunity to sit down with Archana and further discuss her ideas on women in leadership today.

Q: What does leadership look like to you?

A: “Being a leader requires setting culture and setting tone. It’s important to cultivate the kind of work environment where everyone is able to flourish in support of a common mission. Ultimately, that is the kind of leadership I am drawn to and want to support.  Traditionally, when we think about leadership, we look to the individual at the very top of the hierarchy Instead, there are different leadership models including the kind of leadership of supporting people to reach their full potential working together in service of a larger goal.”

Q: What is one piece of advice you have for young women entering the work place?

A: “The world can be harsh, and we have a long way to go in establishing equality and justice. I’d advise young women to find their inner resiliency. It is incredibly important to cultivate and nurture the ability to get back up after encountering a road block.

Q: In your athenaeum speech you talked about the discomfort many women associate with negotiating salary – can you explain this a little more?  

A: There are plenty of barriers in this world to closing the gender pay gap so it’s particularly important to recognize that negotiating a salary is an art and a skill you can develop.  In order to have a successful salary negotiation, it’s important to research industry standards as well as practice negotiating by conducting a role play and even develop talking points. Discussing money is often perceived as taboo which is why I’m grateful for the Women’s Leadership Workshop for providing hard skills like salary negotiation  to CMC students and alum.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: “I’m committed to working in social justice realm. Right now, I am working as a consultant for a global foundation to deepen the #MeToo movement. It’s been incredibly fulfilling and exciting to be working during this “movement moment” to unlock resources that directly support feminist organizing and culture change. I’ve also been craving to build and create something; perhaps that is starting a fund or creating a new nonprofit or going deeper on an issue. One thing I know for sure is that I want to continue to try and have an impact and make a difference on the world.”

Sitting and talking with Archana really prompted me to think about my future and potential career path. As a woman, Archana’s messages about embracing self-worth and uplifting other members of the community really spoke to me. Indeed, thinking about women in the workplace more broadly in turn helped me think about my personal professional future. Perhaps what struck me most, however, were the numerous individuals who approached Archana amid our chat, eager to thank her for the earlier speech. Women at the conference were incredibly grateful to have someone advocate for women in the workplace – especially in male dominated fields like politics, government, and law. It became obvious, then, that Archana’s talk resonated with so many because it truly captured pivotal themes of self-worth and gender equality.

Lessons Learned in the Entertainment Industry

By Sofia Trigo ‘20

 David Day, Michael Grindon '76, Gerry Sanoff '76, and Jay Conger at the event 

David Day, Michael Grindon '76, Gerry Sanoff '76, and Jay Conger at the event 

Sitting around Michael Grindon’s ‘76 Pacific Palisades patio, it was hard not to admire the greco-roman columns, perfectly groomed lawn, and impeccable pool. As KLI Journalists, Robert Cain ‘21 and I had the opportunity to attend the Kravis Fellows event hosted by entertainment legend, Michael Grindon, and his longtime friend in the industry, Gerry Sanoff ‘76. 

Grindon and Sanoff, although both attendees of Claremont Mckenna College, officially met amid work at Sony Pictures. For 15 years, Michael Grindon worked as President of Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) and has worked for prominent entertainment companies such as HBO and Columbia Pictures. He currently works for Legendary Television as President of Worldwide Distribution. Gerry Sanoff works as a freelance writing consultant and has enjoyed contracts with Sony, CBS, and NBC. Prior to entering the international arena, Gerry spent 12 years writing and producing TV shows in the United States such as Matlock and Police Academy. The two provided an in depth fittingly funny analysis of the entertainment industry and its constantly changing dynamic. 

Indeed, hearing both Grindon and Sanoff describe their respective experiences managing and writing, captured two distinct paths in entertainment: Business/Management and Creative/Content Development. 

Grindon began the talk with a question: Are we experiencing the Golden Age of TV or its messy, confusing future? From there, he talked about technological progress - most notably streaming services - and how the traditional TV production model has changed enormously over time. Indeed, he revealed - to a very surprised group - that the largest television viewing platform is YouTube, which receives over 1 billion viewing hours a day! 

Sanoff provided another lens in which to consider the entertainment industry. Talking to the group, he emphasized the importance of cultural awareness. As a longtime entertainment writer, Sanoff currently adapts and remakes American TV shows for a particular foreign audience. He shared various funny encounters that chronicled his range of experience around the world. Sanoff also explained that the business is a tough one: “If you get beaten down, then you must get back up. In the entertainment industry, you must be able to take profound criticism because you will be rejected 80% of the time.”

 Michael Grindon speaking to event participants

Michael Grindon speaking to event participants

Both Grindon and Sanoff emphasized leadership development and interpersonal connections as foundational to succeeding in the entertainment industry. Grindon explained that, “There are many challenges for a good leader.  The greatest challenge in any particular situation depends on the type of leadership required.  Leading men in combat will be very different from leading a group in a corporate environment.   Key items to remember: define the goals for your team, make sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do and how to do it, be generous with sharing information and praise, and do the right thing whenever possible.” 

Sanoff also shared similar sentiments and reiterated the role respect plays in effective leadership. He described often feeling alienated and never fully embraced by his international colleagues. Over time, however, he realized that by actively putting in effort to learn about different cultural traditions, norms, and values he could forge lasting bonds with his co-workers, regardless of their background.  

After both speakers concluded their discussions, I was left with a sense of excitement and community. It was incredible to watch CMC alumni come together to discuss their career paths and future goals. Grindon and Sanoff were so open to questions and offered current KLI students advice on their professional pursuits. 

Robert, my co-journalist explained that, “Coming from CMC as a Media Studies major, I know my field is very underrepresented; but, the opportunity to see and interact with a CMC alumni who is thriving in the media-entertainment industry gives me much hope for the future.”

As someone broadly interested in writing and the entertainment industry, this was an incredibly eye-opening and informative experience. I learned about the varying kinds of work in the industry and was pushed to think critically about what it is I truly want to do with my life. Michael Grindon and Gerry Sanoff epitomized the CMC values of working hard and pursuing one’s passion, and helped provide me with a tangible idea of what future in the entertainment industry might look like.