Nancy Armstrong with MAKERS Vice President and Creative Director Sammi Leibovitz and Founder and Executive Producer Dyllan McGee
Armstrong (right) with MAKERS Vice President and Creative Director Sammi Leibovitz and Founder and Executive Producer Dyllan McGee

In 2010, Nancy Armstrong teamed up with award-winning documentary filmmaker Dyllan McGee to create MAKERS, a leadership platform comprised of the largest video collection of women’s stories ever assembled. The MAKERS brand inspires leaders for tomorrow through broadcast documentaries, web and mobile content and live events. Since 2012, they’ve featured the stories of more than 300 trailblazers, including Gloria Steinem, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Oprah Winfrey, Marlo Thomas and Madeleine Albright. “It’s important for young girls to understand the history of women’s advancement in America, what we fought for and where we’re going,” says Armstrong.

How do you determine who is a MAKER?

Initially, we had a Harvard panel weigh in and essentially verify the right list of the first 100 women we interviewed. The criteria centered around women who have been the first to achieve the highest level in their chosen field, or women who were the first to break into fields that only employed men. For example, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon was Kathrine Switzer, and the first female Secretary of State was Madeleine Albright. We’ve now expanded that criteria to include groundbreaking innovators and entrepreneurs, and women who are building a movement or leading an initiative that will be game-changing. What we really want to do now is pull in younger role models for an increasingly younger audience.

What are some common threads you’ve noticed with the subjects of your videos?

Across the board I see passion, and fearlessness—not that these extraordinary women don’t have fear—they do, but they learn to manage it. They have a never-take-no-for-an-answer attitude, they are very good at what they do, and they’re determined to be the best at it. One example is Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo. The “old boys network” tried to have her thrown off the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when she showed up there in 1995 to report live for CNBC. She basically said to herself, “I can’t let these guys harass me; I’ve got to own this job,” and that meant being the best at it.

What’s the biggest issue affecting the women’s movement right now?

Gender parity at the top is a huge global topic and one of the issues we focused on at our MAKERS Conference this year. We need to move more women into positions of leadership across all sectors—and right now, the numbers are still very low. The pay gap would seem to be a more solvable problem, but we’re not there yet. I recently interviewed Olympic soccer player Abby Wambach, and she said that the male players make 18 times more than the women. It’s unacceptable and something Abby is passionate about changing in her new retirement from soccer. In business, women are in the pipeline, but the pipeline leaks the further up the ladder you go. We need to focus on sponsoring women and keeping them in the pipeline so they can have the opportunity to lead at the C-suite level. There are a lot of issues to address, and the ability to have a family is certainly one of them. Right now, it’s easier for men to have a family and keep a thriving career without interruption. Once we achieve gender parity in every sector, you’ll know the world has really changed.

What’s next for MAKERS?

Spreading MAKERS across the globe is certainly one of our big goals. We launched in China and Canada last year and this week we launched in the U.K. The response abroad has been tremendous, so we are full steam ahead. Our second MAKERS Conference in February 2016 was an opportunity to bring MAKERS to life—a gathering of the world’s most impactful leaders and innovators for a 36-hour action plan of how to break through on the issues that are important to women. The theme this year was #THETIMEISNOW. We’re also very excited about the launch of our MAKERS Stories app, because the truth is, we all have MAKERS in our lives, whether it’s your teacher, your mother, or the person you work with. We want to give people  the chance to tell their stories, so we  created an app that gives you the ability to create and share stories of inspiring women.