“You can’t take a risk if you don’t feel secure,” Sherrie Westin said confidently in her interview with us, “because to calculate any risk, you need to take emotion out of the equation, which is almost impossible to do if you don’t feel safe. If the risk doesn’t work out like you planned, at least you have a solid base that allows you to recover from setbacks.”
Sherrie was referring to her own career when she said this, but her words reveal a truth we heard throughout many of our interviews: Purpose-driven women seek to feel secure before taking a risk, and as Sherrie’s story demonstrates, InnovateHERs are often inspired to take the leap of faith when the rewards lead to a higher purpose. Sherrie exemplified this quality throughout her career. Calculated risk-taking was a guiding force as she navigated the waters of building toward her current position as the President of Sesame Workshop. Never taking her eyes off the purpose or the “why” behind her risks—to create a better, more equitable world—she has built a positive, long-lasting legacy while making groundbreaking strides in what is possible in the worlds of nonprofits, government, and media.
Sherrie started off as a young professional searching for a way to make a positive impact in the world. Always a calculated risk-taker, she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or boldly explore different areas of interest as she navigated news, communication, and politics. She quickly earned a reputation as someone who was enthusiastic, optimistic, and solution-oriented. She earned the respect of her colleagues in the workplace and began to rise through the ranks. After holding positions in the first Bush Administration—including the highest rank in the White House as Assistant to the President for Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs—she returned to the private sector and the world of media, holding positions at U.S. News & World Report and, a few years later, at ABC Television Network as the Executive Vice President of Network Communications.
At ABC, Sherrie found a fast-paced environment and a level of responsibility that positioned her to influence the status quo. She effectively connected with others, using her optimism to positively influence her colleagues. She honed her ability to delegate—and to feel comfortable with not mastering or being in control of everything—and learned to trust her team to get the job done. She was transforming into the leader she always wanted to be. But still, there was something missing.
Sherrie had previously spent time at ABC News prior to her time at the White House, and she loved being back at ABC in a new role that included overseeing the network’s children’s programming. After several years in that role, Sherrie adopted her daughter from China at five months of age. As much as she loved her work at ABC, being a new mom hugely increased her focus and interest in the importance of quality children’s media. A path to a career pivot was becoming clear. When Joan Ganz Cooney, the creator of Sesame Street, approached her to ask if she would ever be interested in joining the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop), she felt it was the perfect way to combine her professional interests with that of being a new mom.
“I was so interested in focusing on education and being a new mother,” Sherrie reflected during our interview. “I loved that everything I cared most about was finally connected.” Her passion for innovation and her tolerance for risk to take newer and bolder chances with the Sesame brand grew as she became more vested in building a better world. With her purpose and passion connected, her career began to skyrocket.
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