The annual Matrix Award ceremony, which celebrates women in the communications industry, almost entirely avoided any mention of politics — a rare feat these days.
The only explicit mention of the current administration during the lunchtime awards ceremony, which is administered by the organization New York Women in Communications and was held at the Time Square Sheraton, was a jab at the vice president.
“We’re friends, we’re colleagues, we’re competitors, we’re rivals. But I’m sure there is one thing we can all agree on: this lunch is Mike Pence’s nightmare,” said Hearst chief content officer Joanna Coles, who received a Matrix Award in 2013, and spoke on behalf of Hearst, the event’s corporate host.
But there was plenty of mention of current events. Gretchen Carlson, who was one of the year’s honorees, was celebrated for taking a stand against her former employer Fox News when she went public with a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes last summer, which ultimately led to the network chairman’s ouster. Over the past few weeks, Fox News has again been in the spotlight for its workplace culture after a New York Times report on allegations against Bill O’Reilly led to the host’s dramatic departure from the network.
“Gretchen Carlson is the bravest woman I know, and I know a lot of brave women,” producer Paul Feig said during his introductory remarks. “She created an avalanche we are still feeling the fallout from today — thank God.”
After leaving Fox News, Carlson has become an advocate for women in the workplace.
“I never expected to be the face of sexual harassment. But now, it’s one of my missions,” she said. “As a kid, my grandfather nicknamed me Sparkles. But it turns out, as an adult, I’ve really become quite a badass.”
Carlson teared up as she thanked her daughter for being so brave when, on her first day of school, the current events teacher called her up to the front of the classroom to explain “what happened to your mommy over the summer.”
“If you are feeling subjugated or put down in any realm of your life, I’m here today to inspire you to speak up. Because as women, we will not be underestimated, intimidated or set back by misogynists who stereotype and demean us,” she said. “We will not be silenced by the ways of the establishment or the relics of the past.”
Speaking of badasses, Rukmini Callimachi, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times who covers terrorism and the Islamic State, was another of the recipients.
Huffington Post editor in chief Lydia Polgreen, who hired Callimachi during her tenure at the Times, recalled Callimachi’s poetic writing, tenacity and bravery while covering Jihadists in Mali.
Other honorees were Nancy Weber, executive vice president of branding and marketing partnerships at Meredith Corp., real life Olivia Pope inspiration Judy Smith, FCB chief creative officer Susan Credle and Kristin Lemkau, the chief marketing officer at J.P. Morgan Chase.
While introducing Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer teased his “Today” show cohost about being clumsy and having bad taste in music — before praising her as the most well-qualified host in the show’s history.
“She’s a cool chick,” Lauer said. “I know that expression might get me banned from future Matrix Awards, but it’s true.”
During her speech, Guthrie likewise wondered how her statements would be received. “When I think about how I got here,” she said, “I return to the same thing over and over again. I’ve been lucky, and I’ve been blessed. Maybe it isn’t fashionable or even acceptable in a room like this to put it in those terms, but that’s the bottom line: lucky and blessed.”