Former CEO discusses fashion industry at Annenberg

Lisa Gersh, former CEO of Alexander Wang, spoke to students about the need for gender diversity in the workplace and the importance of integrating social media into business. (Photo from Twitter)

Lisa Gersh, former CEO of luxury fashion label Alexander Wang, discussed common trends in fashion and lifestyle design in the business sector Monday at an event hosted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s Media, Economics and Entrepreneurship Women’s Leadership Society. Gersh spoke about ways women can advance their professional careers in the fashion industry and about methods to adapt to new intersections of media and fashion.

During the event, Gersh highlighted the importance of gender diversity in the workplace and said it was vital to include multiple women in meetings and business decisions.

“It changes the conversation for women, when there’s other women in the room,” Gersh said. “It makes it so much easier.”

The event was moderated by Andie Wright and Maya Kashlan, both seniors majoring in public relations. The moderators said they hope hearing from Gersh will encourage young women to advance their careers and secure more executive positions.

“We’re really dedicated to recruiting female professionals to come and talk to our members and the public about their career paths and hopefully inspire them,” Wright said. “Lisa is amazing … her cross-platform career where she’s worked in media and she’s worked in fashion, and she’s held such high roles in these companies — so a very diverse perspective.”

According to Gersh, the rise in popularity of the social media and internet news has led to rapid changes in fashion and advertising. Aspiring fashion professionals must learn how to merge media with business, she said. Many companies are struggling because they fail to use social media to promote fashion shows and products.

“I think people are really struggling [to change] because it used be so formulaic — you bought five pages of a magazine, you had a fashion show,” Gersh said. “I think it’s really challenging for the fashion business, in order to figure out really how to get noticed.”

Gersh reflected on her own experience as CEO of Alexander Wang, and she offered advice for women who intend to pursue a leadership role in the future.

“If leadership is something that attracts you, then that’s the path you want to be on,” she said. “Doing different things is … a really good path to becoming a CEO … getting really good at [a task] and completing the task is really important before you move up.”

Gersh said young students who want to work in fashion media should use their knowledge of social media to help companies market their products to younger demographics.

“It’s a really rapidly changing field, and I think people who are thinking about going into marketing should be thinking about social [media],” Gersh said. “That’s really where all the dollars are going and the 42-year-olds can’t figure it out.”

In addition to business advice, Gersh also discussed her background and journey to becoming a fashion and media specialist. She began as a lawyer, but soon managed to secure executive positions at PopSugar entertainment media company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and NBC Universal.

Marilyn Zhang, a freshman majoring in journalism, asked for Gersh’s perspective on how to balance passion in a career.

“I don’t think you should try to balance your passion,” Gersh said. “I think you’re looking at a career path — it’s something you’re really excited about, something that really drives you. You should find a way in and go in that direction.”

WLS member Anam Faruqi said she enjoyed learning about business and the fashion industry through Gersh’s experiences.

“I think it was really enriching … I think she gave us a lot of insight about what it means to be a leader and just the business industry in general,” Faruqi, a freshman majoring in communications, said. “I also thought it was very interesting the way she has jumped around so much in her career.”