Sandberg is in attendance again this year, and she alternates roles on stage between interviewer of author and activist Somaly Mam and as Sellers’s interviewee. The stage, it should be noted, is a slightly raised platform in a room of black swivel chairs. Women are interviewed, only to descend back into the audience. It is a fluid, communal style.
Hovering in the green room’s doorway after the interview, Sandberg says Sellers “really helped create a community of women in business who can support each other. She’s kept that issue on the forefront. And, Sandberg adds, “she’s always made it about business, not gender.”
What it’s also about, in a way, is authenticity. Does Sellers define herself as a feminist?
“No,” she says. “It’s a little bit like asking me if I define myself as a human being.”
‘And that’s power’
It is Wednesday, the final day of the summit, and by noon, these women will be waiting outside the Ritz for black town cars to whisk them off to the airport for business-class flights across the country and the globe.
Sellers is in glasses, pants and flat shoes. You can almost see the magic dust of recent days wearing off. Mehta and Sellers and I sit around a coffee table, and we talk as the final speakers walk in and out, sit for makeup and have microphones threaded down their dresses.
Do they ever see a day, or even want to see a day, when there’s no need for a women’s event? There’s always going to be a need, Mehta says.
“It will never get to that point,” Sellers bluntly says. “We will never have anything near equality in — or parity, parity’s the better word — parity at the top of corporate America. Not because of glass ceilings, not because of any kind of discrimination, but because women make different choices. And have more choices. And are allowed to do other, are permitted to do other, things. And that’s power.”
So you don’t think 50 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives will ever be women?
I expect a rosy answer, or at least a dodging one, from Sellers, the woman who came up with the list, and the one who for three days now has been on stage motivating others to bring up the next generation of leaders.
“I don’t think it will ever, ever, ever change. Like, centuries from now, I don’t think it’ll ever change. And I think there’ll always be a place for women getting together. I think that’s okay,” Sellers says. Her voice goes up on the okay, not down. And again: “It’s okay.”
This is why people call Sellers authentic. But what is the mission, then, of this high-octane powwow?
“Listen, you know, Fortune has its business goals. This is a brand builder, this is a profitmaker, all that. For me personally, this is about bringing really interesting women together and nurturing their connections, and seeing these women — I mean, this sounds so hokey, but I so believe it, I so believe it — seeing these women use their power beyond their job descriptions.”
And that, ultimately, comes back to connection and, as Sellers said, choice. For the women who’ve made choices along the way that turned them into high-powered chief executives and athletes and media moguls, the journey is often lonely, the tundra at times barren and unforgiving. What they’re looking for — as what everyone in one way or another perhaps is looking for — is connection. A way to pass along the momentum that comes from striving toward something, from pursuing a passion.
That goes, too, for Sellers: “My favorite thing to do, more than anything, is connect people.” She says this, stretching out the word f-av-or-ite.
“You hear the passion in her voice,” Mehta says. “I mean, this is a calling.”
“It really is,” Sellers says, nodding.
“You hear people talk about how they’re called to missions in a very spiritual way. And I don’t say that in a hokey way,” Mehta adds. “I really mean it that for Pattie, this is something that’s deeply ingrained in her soul.”
There’s a hint of silence, like something clicked between them. It lingers into Sellers’s response. “Thank you.”