Primetime Princess, Lindy DeKoven’s debut novel, centers on Alexa Ross, a female network executive trying to make it in a very male-dominated industry. If anyone would have the background to sink their teeth into this storyline, it would be DeKoven, who spent years as an executive at NBC Entertainment, Paramount/CBS and Walt Disney Television. At one point in her career, she was the only woman with the authority to green-light movies and miniseries.
DeKoven has taken her experiences and twisted them into a Devil Wears Prada-esque story that is so enthralling you most likely won’t put the book down until you’re finished.
On top of being an accomplished business woman and author, she has served as chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. Previously, she served on the boards of Women in Film, the AFI Women’s Directing Workshop, and the Hollywood Radio & Television Society.
What inspired you to write Primetime Princess?
I wrote Primetime Princess because I had a story to tell. That subtext is about sexism in the workplace. I hope it’s a story readers find funny, maddening, inspiring and hopeful. Many women in other businesses have similar stories and I hope they’ll tell them as well. I also think its helpful for readers to know that women who hold senior positions can be vulnerable and insecure, too. They may not discuss it publicly but many, particularly those who work in an overwhelmingly male environment, have a tough time adapting and participating in that culture.
What made you take the leap and go for it?
I had enrolled in a Women’s Fiction Writing Class through UCLA Extension. I had no idea what I was going to write, but figured I had some time to think about it. However, the first chapter was due the following week. Fortunately, I’ve worked under pressure my entire career and had to adhere to many deadlines. So I sat down and began writing, and Primetime Princess came pouring out.
How do you define “feminism”?
The same way the dictionary does; Feminism is a social movement that seeks equal rights for women.
Do you think this definition applies to you?
I believe in equal rights for women.
As a former executive, What workplace advantages do you think you have because you’re a woman?
Our intuitive instincts might help us more than we think. Because we want to be valued for our contributions, we express our appreciation to others. We engage in interactive communication, which more and more studies point to as a great tool for a successful workplace. We are introspective, diplomatic, expressive and strategic. Those attributes and others certainly helped me over the course of my career. It offered a more inclusive style of management.
Have you ever felt held back by your gender?
Well, in the workplace it seems that women may not receive stretch opportunities as easily as men. That’s probably the area in which women have the most difficulty. And then sometimes women feel left out of a conversation that’s often about sports or chasing girls. There’s a scene in Primetime Princess where the main character, Alexa, is in a staff meeting and is being drowned out by a cacophony of male voices. In order to be heard, she stands on the chair. So, yes, sometimes women might feel that gender holds them back, but you simply can’t let that happen. That’s where other behaviors come into play and women need to learn them so they can compete effectively in more male dominated businesses.
How do you think we can improve equality?
I think the biggest issue is competition among women. Women tend not to have the kind of camaraderie or supportive attitude that men do. We’re not helping each other. Some of it’s because there’s still a fair amount of tokenism, and therefore women believe only one will be admitted into the boys club. And to some extent, that’s true. But the first woman has to open the door for the next one to follow and so on. There’s also the constant battle between the mothers who work and the ones who don’t. I think that all contributes to the dearth of women taking on larger and more significant roles. And separately, we need more women to get involved in the political process. Because that’s where big change occurs.
What do you think we can do as women to be more supportive of one another?
I think we need to understand and accept that we can bring about change if we stand together. We need to listen and learn about the struggles and how those challenges were met and conquered. We need to understand how other women rose through the ranks. Instead of trashing them for achieving success we need to support them. We need to applaud their efforts and let others, particularly women on the way up, know that there is not rivalry but shared experience.
That was the sentiment I wanted to express in Primetime Princess because there is power in numbers, and it’s our job to make room for other women. If one rises to the top, then she must bring the others along.
What women inspire you?
The obvious response is Hillary Clinton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Betty Friedan, Eve Ensler, Ann Richards, Nora Ephron, Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg, and other like-minded trailblazers. However, it’s the women in my own life who inspire me most. My girlfriends. One raised a daughter who suffered from epilepsy. Another raised three kids while working full time as a single mother. And another raised a daughter on her own, held a senior corporate position, and wrote and published four books.
I’ve worked with many female colleagues who’ve met enormous challenges both at home and in the workplace. During my time chairing the California Commission on the Status of Women I encountered women who were just scraping by enduring some of the worst domestic violence, horrible living conditions, and outrageous forms of sexism. I think about my mother who was widowed at a young age and left to raise two children on a teacher’s salary. And then I think of my nieces who are now in the workplace and very aware of the challenges they face. All of them inspire me. And all of them are modern day feminists.
What books or media have made an impact on your life?
Well, I’m sure you’re not expecting this one, but it really did help me understand the workplace better than any book on the market. When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss. I learned about teamwork, leadership, and the power and importance of resilience. It so impacted my life that it became an underlying theme in Primetime Princess as Alexa was motivated by her father’s idol, Vince Lombardi.
I think growing up with TV shows like Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, and Roseanne, all comedies featuring strong independent women may have influenced me more than I ever realized. In some ways they provided the role models we didn’t see in the workplace but could identify with on TV.
How do you think we can make a difference in the world?
By supporting legislators who share our ideologies. Ones who are committed to fight for what we believe in. They need our support. And we need to be involved. And actively involved fighting for what we want and the rights we deserve.
We need to speak out and be more passionate about issues that affect women and girls. We need to be more persistent and tenacious so we can make a difference.
Look at Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, former United States Senator Olympia Stowe, and United States Senator Dianne Feinstein. All of these courageous legislators took on unpopular positions at one time or another and sometimes even crossed party lines in the quest for change. We need to elect more who are like them and support the ones serving now.
As Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s as simple as that. It’s up to us.
Follow Lindy on Twitter @LindyDeKoven.