When it comes to celebrating and amplifying women who are changing the world, no one does it better than Lauren Schiller. She created Inflection Point, which is both a nationally syndicated radio show and podcast, focuses on conversations with women who are changing up the status quo. Lauren Schiller is smart, politically active, and a true advocate for women everywhere. You will love her after this interview, and don’t forget to check out Inflection Point!
Name, Age, where do you live?
Lauren Schiller, 49, San Francisco Bay Area
Give us an overview of your career.
After I graduated with a degree in Political Science from Vassar College, I moved to Telluride, CO and worked at restaurants and the local theater as a celebrity handler. After two years of that relaxed lifestyle, I shook things up and moved to NYC where I got a job in advertising first as a receptionist and then working directly for Jay Chiat at Chiat/Day. Over the years, I worked at several more ad agencies, including in San Francisco, where I became one of the first female partners in my firm.
During a business trip back to New York in 2001, I watched the World Trade Center collapse, decided to have kids, left big agency life, and joined a health and wellness startup that went down in the financial crisis of 2008. And that’s when I took up podcasting. I partnered with a friend with the idea to create a mommy blog and pivoted to create one of the first female-led podcasts. We dispensed advice we were wholly unqualified to give and opined on current events. Imagine if Terry Gross (me) and Howard Stern (my partner) had a broadcast baby. That was us for 5 years.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
In 2015 I created Inflection Point, a nationally syndicated public radio show and podcast about how women rise up, featuring conversations with world-changing women, including many whose names you know like Gloria Steinem, Teresa Younger and Eve Ensler to rising stars you need to know. I launched it during Women’s History Month and it quickly went national. It is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco and PRX. I created Inflection Point to widely share the stories, insights and actions of the women who are shaping our future–and I created it for my daughters.
You come from a long line of strong female role models. How has participating in politics from a young age informed your worldview?
I had a great aunt who once said, “we were feminists before it even had a name”–she was one of 12 siblings (10 of whom were female) who were first generation Americans. One became a labor organizer, one became a cabaret singer, one opened and ran a leading edge art gallery and one became an educator and radio host. My grandmother always worked from the time I can remember and my mom did as well. My mother took me to my first march, in Washington DC to support the Equal Rights Amendment. I will never forget being on a bus, with 30 or 40 women and men dressed in white, and me preparing to roller skate through that march. What I remember most of all, though, was the energy and solidarity we got from being all in one place…and, that even though we didn’t get what we marched for, our voices were still heard and the effects are still felt today.
You created Inflection Point, a show about powerful women and everything they’re doing to change the world, in 2015 during Women’s History Month. Tell us about your aha moment and what it was like creating this project.
In 2014, I started to notice the amount of conversation happening about women in the media–everywhere you looked–women were “trending”. But remarkably, most of the conversation was ABOUT women and hardly anyone was talking WITH women.
So I approached my local public radio station KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco and they agreed to let me produce a pilot episode featuring conversations with women changing the status quo. I called it Inflection Point because we are at an inflection point for women–where things could get worse, or they could get better.
KALW aired that pilot, got listener feedback and the station manager, Matt Martin, told me that if I wanted to keep making episodes, he would keep airing them. I remember telling him, “that’s great, because I have 12 more interviews already lined up!”
Inflection Point is a syndicated radio show as well as a podcast. What’s the difference in the two mediums? How do you prepare for each?
When I started producing the show in 2015, podcasting hadn’t really taken off yet, so I created every episode with a “broadcast-first” mindset. Meaning I tried to sound like I “belonged” on the radio, with very formal introductions. But then one day an editor I met from the BBC pointed out to me that my introductions sounded super stiff compared to the actual conversations I was recording with these women–which sounded more natural and how I actually talk in real life. Once I heard what he heard, I couldn’t unhear it!
I also earned a spot in the founding cohort of PRX’s Project Catapult, an incubator for public radio podcasts that uses design thinking to help shape a show. Now I have a “listener-first” mindset which means I am way more “myself” on the mic–me, talking to you–not some idea of what a radio person is supposed to sound like.
The other difference is that my radio program is 54 minutes (for the broadcast “hour”), but my podcast listeners are busy! They don’t necessarily have that amount of time to listen to a podcast while they are commuting, running errands, or even taking a walk, so I still had to think about the ideal length for the podcast version. So this season, based on listener input, I’ve now edited the podcast into two parts. One part is the full conversation with women taking charge and leading change, and the second part is a mini episode “toolkit” for listeners who only have a few minutes and want to take action on the issues affecting women today.
What the radio and podcast have in common is that they both cost money to produce. We’re actually in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of production–trying to raise $30,000 by November 18th!
What are the criteria for your guests? How do you find them?
My guests are women (mostly) who have all faced a challenge and stepped up to make change. Every season has a theme, so this season, I am talking to the “rule breakers and action takers” who are taking charge and leading change on the issues we’re confronting in our society right now: climate change, gun violence, misogyny and the low numbers of women in elected office. In previous seasons, I have explored “empowerment” and whether it translates to actual power; “uncomfortable conversations” about racism, ageism, transphobia and how to build empathy. I’ve talked to over 150 women CEOs, entrepreneurs, academics, authors and experts across industries, who have great insights for all of us, at every stage of our lives and careers. Every show provides experiences and ideas you can apply to your own life.
Podcasting is one of the hottest entertainment fields at the moment. What is it like being a woman creator in the field?
It’s exciting because it’s an opportunity to create a level playing field for women in a relatively new industry, and for me personally, I have met so many incredible other women in the field I would not have otherwise. Having said that, it’s still the same as being a businesswoman, generally. I have to work hard, stay clear in my focus, keep a sense of humor, ask for what I want–and get sh*t done.
As you continue to create new episodes of Inflection Point, how do you hope to expand the brand?
First and foremost, I hope to keep growing the number of people who know about and listen to the show, so thank you for sharing it! I also love hosting live audience events and have done this at INFORUM, The Commonwealth Club, the Uncharted Berkeley Festival of Ideas and The Bay Area Book Festival. And, perhaps, one day, I will write a book about what I’ve learned.
You worked in advertising before you created Inflection Point. What did you take from those years of experience and apply to your podcast?
What’s funny is what I had to “un” learn…my tendency is to want each of my guests to come across as amazing and brilliant as possible–to market them in a sense. And I still want them to sound amazing and brilliant. But the real conversations happen when we talk like nobody’s listening. That allows for us to have more down to earth, human moments to truly connect with each other and with listeners. As one guest said to me, “Let it be messy. Be uncertain.” I love that.
What are some podcasts you really love right now?
I am listening to (and reading) “1619” from the New York Times; I also dip into “The Daily.” Old episodes of “Heavyweight” are fun and if I am going on a long car ride, I like “Criminal” because it keeps me awake. And I love “Reveal” from the Center for Investigative reporting because it keeps our country awake.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. What’s the key to changing the conversation about aging?
Older women throughout history have accomplished so much for themselves, their families and our society (eg suffrage!). We need to hear more about these women whose stories haven’t been told, so we have more role models, more empathy and can shift our perspectives.
I just told a friend who is 55 and pondering her next career, “you’re just getting started!” And it’s true. When I was 30, I probably would have thought 55 was a good time to hang it all up. (It’s not!)
When I was about 10 years old, we had a needlepoint hanging in our bathroom that said “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” I think about that a lot. Instead of getting tripped up about the future, I want to enjoy where I am right now and not get sucked into the perception that aging is some terrible thing. Although, I will admit, I’ve started to make “old lady noises” when I stand up or sit down. I think I need to put a lid on that.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
I read so many books for Inflection Point and get excited about all of them!
But for fun, I just read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and couldn’t put it down.
What’s your go-to hostess gift?
Do you have any family traditions?
We have dinner with my extended family every Friday night that we can.
Do you have any seasonal traditions? Summer? Holidays?
All of our traditions revolve around cooking and eating. Friday night dinners with my extended family; traveling and eating; visiting family and eating. Every holiday starts with planning lunch at breakfast and dinner at lunch.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
People always said I look like Jennifer Grey–before the nose job–and Brooke Shields, because of the eyebrows. But I always wished I looked like Cameron Diaz. So, I’m going to go with Cameron.
What’s the last thing you bought online?
A pair of Vans for my daughter.
What would you put on your menopause registry?
I love that you have this. For pragmatic reasons, a magnifying glass. For pampering reasons, a gorgeous one-piece bathing suit with no side cutouts!
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
I would eliminate migraines.
If you had a warning label what would it say?
I have questions.