|▲ Tory Burch visited Ewha Womans University on March 6 to talk about women's leadership. Voicing out that women should bond and build each other up, Burch's story inspired many students. Photo provided by Ewha Womans University
Visiting Korea on March 8 for the second time in eight years, Tory Burch chose Ewha as a platform to talk to university students about women leadership during the special lecture ‘In Conversation with Tory Burch.’
“It’s very significant that today’s lecture is held at Ewha, where female intellectuals are nurtured and educated,” said Kang Ai-ran, professor of College of Arts and Design. “Since Tory Burch’s narrative is a realistic story of overcoming social limitations and prejudices to pursue one’s dreams, I hope that her story on women’s leadership will help the students in planning their future.”
Holding many titles such as chairman, designer and CEO of Tory Burch, the 73rd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes, and Designer of the Year at the CFDA Fashion Awards, Burch’s story of powerful leadership inspired many students. Despite the busy first week of the semester, a large group of students filled the Emerson Chapel to listen to Burch.
Starting the lecture with her story of starting her career, Burch told the students about the decisions she struggled with. Burch had to make a choice when she had her third son while successfully working at Ralph Loren, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vera Wang.
“I had to make one of those very hard decisions that many women in the workforce face,” she said. “I knew I could not have three babies under the age of four and also do my job well. So, I ended up becoming a stay-at-home mom knowing that I wanted to come back at some point into having a successful career.”
Burch acknowledged that many Korean women also face similar concerns and noted that women should not get discouraged during those periods. Emphasizing that wanting to work and raise children is not greedy, she questioned why men get to pursue their dreams, whereas women cannot. For women searching for a way to continue their career even at home, Burch emphasized the use of internet.
“Many people I know are starting businesses online at home when they’re a mom,” she added. “And this is exciting. There’s so many entrepreneurial things you can do at home. My brand, Tory Burch, also started in my kitchen with a very small team when I was a stay-at-home mom.”
As her business grew, Burch learned the obstacles that women face. From balancing work and family, securing financing, and finding confidence, there were many to overcome. Highlighting her experience, Burch highly noted the importance of empowering women in the workforce.
“When started working, I shied away from the word ‘ambition,’” she admitted. “Ambition associated with a woman, particularly in 2004, seemed very crass and almost like an insult. I grew up with three brothers, not knowing women could do anything less important than man. That’s a very harmful stereotype we all need to overcome. With confidence, with women supporting women, with individual thinking and being a lifelong learner, these things are going to put women at the center.”
Now, over 80 percent of Tory Burch employees are female and the business strives to strengthen women inside and out with their Tory Burch Foundation’s Embrace Ambition campaign. The Embrace Ambition bracelet, given as a present to all attendees, not only encourages women to be ambitious, but the profits also goes on to supporting women entrepreneurs.
“We made a bracelet to launch with our embrace ambition campaign,” she explained. “You can be ambitious if you are a CEO, but you can also be ambitious if you are a mother. It’s not about saying you have to work. It’s about saying to be ambitious in whatever way that works for you.”
The Tory Burch Foundation has partnered with The Bank of America to give low interest loans to women in the U.S. and partnered with Goldman Sachs to enable women entrepreneurs to apply for a free business school. Also, the foundation provides a scholarship program that picks ten women to work with the Tory Burch team and get mentored.
When asked if the support of her foundation will go global, Burch replied that although it started in the U.S., she wishes to expand it internationally.
Proving the crowd’s high interests for Burch’s lecture, students raised their hands to ask more questions. When particularly asked how women should deal with the male-dominated workforce of Korea, Burch ended the lecture by encouraging the students to bond and network together.
“This is an incredible group of women,” remarked Burch to Ewha students. “You are all going to go out into the world and face similar challenges. It would be great to have your own LinkedIn page, help each other, and build each other up.”