Refinery29's Co-Founder Discusses the Tough Women Who Inspired Her, Surviving Gunfire on the Job and Finding Strength in Vulnerability
Editor’s note: Builders Series features no-holds-barred, in-depth interviews with female leaders in different industries to give you insight into what successful women have done to push through feeling stuck, frustrated and uncreative in order to build incredible brands and businesses.
Amy Emmerich is the chief content officer at Refinery 29, which is the leading digital media and entertainment company for women (with a global audience of 550 million -- talk about impact!). She’s also an Emmy award-winning producer, with two decades of experience in content development and programming.
Her unique style and personality infiltrate everything that she does, and it was such a pleasure to hear more about how she built her personal brand and her career. Dive in if you’re ready to be inspired to take some big risks!
Griffith: What have you built? What inspired you to build it?
Emmerich: The team and I built the video business at Refinery29. I was inspired by what the co-founding team of Piera Gelardi, Philippe Von Borries, Justin Stefano and Christene Barberich had already built and my focus was to add sight, sound and motion to the courageous topics they were covering. I'm fueled by the people who work at this company everyday.
Were you born a builder or did you have to learn to be one?
I was born a builder. I literally come from a boat building and butcher family. A hardworking lower-middle class group of people who have muscled through with hard work using their hands and making things.
Who was the first woman you looked up to? Why did you want to be like her?
I was always surrounded by tough women -- quiet, but tough survivors. Rosie O’Donnell was the first woman I ever worked for who I admired. A philanthropist, humanitarian and businesswoman, she fought for perfection every day -- on and off screen. She fought for paid summers off, higher per diem and childcare at work. Like her, I knew I wanted to do more.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Some would say when I filmed females in law enforcement and ran into buildings with gunfire, that was risky, but I found it exhilarating. At the time, some thought the biggest career risk was leaving TV and joining Vice Media, but that was the best thing that I ever did. Taking a job at Refinery29 nine months pregnant sounds risky but again, best thing I ever did. Risks last a moment -- you never lose. As long as you grow from them, they drive you to where you need to be.
When have you broken down, personally or professionally? How did you break through?
Ha, I break down all the time! Personally, when I was faced with infertility, it was a blow. Through the support of friends I made it through. I have a lucky happy ending with two children, however it has shaped the way I see the world and this unrealistic societal pressure that all women should birth and have children, which we talk about openly on Refinery29. Being vulnerable is a strength, because we're all stronger when we share our pain points and fear. It allows me to acknowledge, lean into and dissect them -- and ultimately conquer it.
What makes you doubt yourself? How do you manage it?
Doubt and fear go hand in hand. Next time you doubt yourself ask, “What is it that I am so afraid of? Why am I doubting myself right now?” Failure tends to be the thing causing the doubt. Doubt and fear can be the best thing for innovation. Fear is your most misunderstood buddy, and if you can harvest and harness it, even ask it questions, it can be the biggest motivation.
How do you know when to leave someone or something?
I begin all my relationships with a 100 percent trust level and, I find I know when to leave when that trust is broken. In 25 years, that’s only thankfully happened a handful of times. I’m not sure I ever knew when it was time -- I just knew I was unhappy and in that state I couldn’t reach my full potential.
When was your bravest moment? How do you practice being brave?
Maybe I was born brave, or, I was just so curious that it drove me to be brave.
When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being behind the lens -- never did I dream of being in front of it. Practicing bravery means taking chances every day no matter the outcome. Don’t weigh your odds and only take risks on what you will win.
Knowing what you know now, was it worth it?
Yes. Every risk, every mistake, every step has been worth it.
What can you see yourself building next?
I would love to build a structure that allows creative women to be financially sustainable within the career that they want. I like disrupting through innovation and right now I am focused on the film business model and how much opportunity there is to help sustain careers for so many.
What do you value most in others?
What do you value most in yourself?
Honesty and loyalty.
What holds you back?
Now, nothing. Before, lack of confidence.
One thing you’re afraid of?
One thing you’d change about yourself?
Improve my patience level.
What is your biggest vice?
Arts and crafts with my kids
What keeps you sane?
Nap time with my kids.
Something you wish you would have kept doing?
Something you wish you would have stopped sooner?
Caring about what others think.
What keeps you going and building?
Possibility of change.