Dawn Ostroff: A fearless dreamer and do-er who gets by with a little help from her friends

As a 2021 New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) Matrix Award winner, Dawn Ostroff continually dares to be front and center in our ever-changing digital media industry. And she gets there with grit, passion and pure joy. But behind her warm, personal demeanor is a hard working New Yorker who gets things done.

If you’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with Ostroff, then the first word that will probably come to mind is dynamo. She is unafraid of any challenge she faces. Launch the CW television network with a programming slate that will have teens on the edge of their seats? No problem. Develop an engaging digital content and streaming platform for traditional publishing giant Condé Nast? Piece of cake. Transform Spotify from a destination for music into a podcasting behemoth that offers content creators a distribution and advertising platform reaching millions of listeners in over 178 countries? Check. Raise four incredible kids and finally get the chance to take your daughter to college in the midst of a pandemic? She’s got that one covered too.

And Ostroff is equally grateful to her family and her village of powerhouse friends who have supported and guided her both personally and professionally.

Ostroff spoke with NYWICI about the importance of community and shared her insight to help young women pursue fulfilling careers in our industry.

You’ve been a female leader in the entertainment industry for more than two decades. What changes, both positive and negative, have you experienced as a woman in a leadership role?

When I was starting in the business, we were sort of the token women, and it was certainly a boys club. I’ll never forget when one of the trade magazines decided to do a women’s issue and had a hard time finding 50 women to honor. There were some high-ranking women like Sherry Lansing and Dawn Steel, but the idea we could run a network was just a dream. Years later, when I was running the CW network, there were three other women running networks, so we had four out of the six networks being run by women. Today, there are so many women who proliferate the industry in all types of positions. What I think we haven’t accomplished is having women running media businesses. My friend, Shari Redstone, is the Executive Chairwoman of Viacom and is a high-ranking woman and majority shareholder of a publicly traded company. We need to see more women who have risen through the ranks and are CEOs of publicly traded companies and who are setting the path for their industries and their companies to thrive and evolve.

During the pandemic, Spotify became a destination for content creators to inspire, share information and tell their individual stories. How is Spotify continuing to lead the way as a one-stop resource for storytellers and their podcasts?

Spotify has played a critical role in transforming the music industry, and similarly, our founder and CEO has taken on the challenge of doing the same with podcasting. We believe in the creative economy. We strongly believe everyone has something interesting to say, and anyone who’s interested in making a podcast can do so, get distribution and even monetize it. For us, it’s about innovation on all sides of the business—be it as a consumer, creator or advertiser.

As a working mother raising four children all while juggling a highly demanding career, what advice would you give to new and working moms who may be struggling to stay afloat professionally, especially during these difficult and unsettling times?

When I was raising my family, I leaned on an incredible group of women who were all going through the same experience as me—raising kids while both parents had demanding careers. That was the most meaningful part of my personal balancing act. That group included women like Dana Walden, a studio executive, Jeanne Newman, an attorney, Nancy Josephson, an agent and Nancy Tellem, who was running two TV networks at the same time. I reached out to them more times than I can even remember. I also looked to organizations like NYWICI and that’s where I met so many like-minded women who to this day are still my dear friends.

Having that kind of support and community around you is most critical. You’re not in it alone, and you shouldn’t try and get through it alone. I think my motto has always been to keep my priorities straight. I couldn’t be in all places at all times so I chose what was most important at that particular moment and leaned on others to help get me through. There are times when you have to be somewhere for your kids, and then there are other times where there’s something really important at work, and you have to make those calls. They’re difficult and gut-wrenching and you won’t get it right all the time, but you have to be forgiving of yourself, and you have to know that nobody is perfect.

How did the pandemic impact your own life, both professionally and personally?

From a professional standpoint, I realized so much can be done via Zoom or Google Hangout. I think we’ve all learned there is another way to approach travel and meetings, especially at a time when we’re all dealing with so much of a crisis in our own environment. We’re all struggling to figure out how we are going to make our world a better place and be more responsible citizens. I think everyone has had a different experience through the pandemic. It was very hard watching my daughter finish high school without being in high school. I’m already experiencing the gratitude of watching my kids be with their friends or taking my daughter away to college and having her able to attend school. There were so many experiences we had to either compromise on or didn’t get to have at all. I think when we go back to some semblance of normalcy, as we’ve done to a degree, we’ll just have such a deeper appreciation for so many of the things we took for granted before.

What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to pursue a career in their chosen profession?

I think as a young person starting out, you need to make sure you work hard and hone your craft and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. You’re not an imposter—you’re great at certain things, you’re probably not great at other things—and that’s what every single person you meet in your career will experience as well. The key is to find what you’re really good at and go in that direction and continue to grow and learn. I’ve always been somebody who believes in hard work and letting your passion drive your career. I am still excited about what I do every day. I wake up each morning looking forward to going to work. I actually jump out of bed excited because I work with such brilliant people. I would encourage everyone to start off being excited and curious and make sure you carry that through your entire career.


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