Lola C. West
Co-Founder, Chairwoman, Chief Culture Officer, Westfuller
“Treat people as you want to be treated. I really honor that because love and kindness make the day. Why would I treat somebody differently than I would treat myself? And that’s what people don’t get. Some of the ways people talk to people, they don’t want people to talk to them like that. It’s the same way when I can tell people how they speak to a waiter.”
What are the qualities that you feel make for a Power Woman?
Love, joy, community, perseverance, honesty, kindness, and knowledge.
What do you think is the #1 action as a society we can take towards empowering women and gender equality? What do you think we need to do to make that possible?
Demand equity for women. The whole money situation of how women are paid is a real issue, and that’s across the United States in every field. I’m not quite sure how to remedy that because on the one hand, the power structure is designed, created, and run by men. And they don’t share. It’s a battle that takes a lot, and there’s certain colors of women who decide that it’s more important to maintain racism and therefore give men the charge then it is to join together and fight for equity with them.
We are powerful, we can do anything, but how do we do it without sounding like we’re putting a stamp on ourselves?
I think we just have to do it because it’s not part of the lexicon, it’s not part of the belief system, and there are still very many women who want to be submissive. That works for them for whatever reason.
Where does the power lie?
Who designs this? It’s like when you look at commercials, ok? Even commercials today, even video games today, the male is always dominant and women can be bozos. There’s some games I won’t play, some commercials I won’t look at, because I’m really clear that they are designed to keep the status quo.
Do you think asking the previous salary requirement in a job interview contributes to the pay gap between women and men?
Yeah, no, I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t think that it’s a way to compound the mistake. It’s none of their fucking business what your salary was before.
What is the defining moment or experience that led you to where you are today?
It was when I decided who was in charge of Lola, because for years, we all have a committee in our heads. Our minds are never still. The defining moment for me was the night when I woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning because I was trying to work something out, and at 3:30 in the morning I was still trying to work it out. I realized that the only way the conversation was continuing was that I was participating. So, I said to my committee in my head, “I’m going to sleep. You all can continue the conversation without me, but I’m not doing this anymore. I’m through.” And I turned over, and went to sleep. That was it. At that moment, I realized that I had to be the arbiter of the committee. I had to say, someone had to make the decision to stop the back and forth, because what I got in the moment, is this is where people possibly lose their minds. They cannot control the dialogue.
Where were you in your life when that happened to you?
I was at Merrill Lynch, I actually had to go on blood pressure medication during my time at Merrill Lynch because of the level of racism. I had already done my own business from 1988 to 1997 and in 1997, I decided to dissolve my corporation and just take 3 years off. Because the market had changed, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next. But I couldn’t continue doing fundraising because I basically work with Black non-profits, and with the computer taking over so well, all of the corporations I would go to to get money, they had centralized their giving into a foundation. Which meant that, before when I could go to Time Warner and get 5 tables from 5 different companies at Time Warner, I could no longer do that. So it meant that my 5 tables would become 1 table. It meant that my fundraising was going to get very difficult, and as a Black person raising money for Black folks, it was already hard enough. So that’s when I dissolved the corporation, then three years later I went to Merrill. Having not worked in a corporate setting for a while, the level of racism at Merrill was daunting. I mean I got access to go to present to someone, but then white managers told me, “Well, no, they’re not going to give you the money. So we’re not even going to send anybody with you.” And I was like, “If I were a white guy, you would hurry up and send somebody with me who was a multi-millionaire.” But for a Black person, they said, “Oh, they’re not going to give you that money.”
What is your mantra, what phrase or parabel best describes your approach right now?
Treat people as you want to be treated. I really honor that because love and kindness make the day.
Why would I treat somebody differently than I would treat myself? And that’s what people don’t get. Some of the ways people talk to people, they don’t want people to talk to them like that. It’s the same way when I can tell people how they speak to a waiter.
If you were to describe the political landscape of women over the past five years, how would you describe that?
It’s worse. It’s worse because of what Trump did. It’s worse because of Roe v. Wade. I mean, we reversed something. When they did that and I sat here and I was, twenty-something, thirty-something years old when Roe came in. To turn around, and have that reversed, and have that kind of a precedent say what he said. I was like, “Women voted to elect that man.” And he was in office for four years. For me, it was the worst time for women because having him in the White House was just unfathomable.
And how women were treated during his tenure was just ridiculous. So I think we really went backwards and all is not lost because I’m really holding that in the election in 2024 that the Republicans will get their heads handed to them by women because I think they really have just… it’s too much. The whole thing and the birth and the ability to control your own body is something that men have no place in. And I don’t understand why they think they do.
I’m hoping that in the next generation it gets better, that the women now just won’t take it anymore. And that’s why I’m hopeful now about the 2024 election because I think with the advent of so many women becoming voting age every single year in the last four years, that that will have an impact on the election. Because I think women have really gotten to the point where they say, “Enough is enough. This is too much.”
Women are often placed in binaries. Strong and emotionless or weak and sensitive. How do you subvert these limitations and connect to all sides of womanhood?
I don’t do that one and other binary shit, I just don’t engage in that. You know certain dialogue and certain conversations are set up to reinforce the dominant thought. I don’t ascribe to that. Because the same soul for one human is the same for the other. So if that’s what you’re about, then, move along.
If you could have somebody else’s job for a day, who would it be and why?
I’ll say it again. Mothering boys! I don’t know how that would show up, but there’s a way in which as a kid I spent a lot of time in my head. So when I was about 11 or 12 years old, I even said to my brother one day, “You know, you all get the raw end of the deal. Because you all have to get married and support a family. What if you don’t want to do that?” Because I was clear I didn’t want to get married because I didn’t want to live the life that people were living because I saw too much about what a joke it was for certain marriages. I don’t know why people were married, but it was like, wrote. They had to do it. But, I don’t even know if a lot of people like their spouses, I never felt I was inclined. And it’s not like I didn’t see loving couples, I saw fewer. Because the marriage that my parents were in was not good; I knew who my mother’s boyfriend was. We would have dinner with his wife and his sister! So I thought all of this shit was crazy. I’m like, “I’m 12 years old, and I know that my mother is screwing the minister of the church and his wife is sitting there and knows it, and his sister is sitting there and knows it, and you all are acting like this is ok! I’m like, no.” But I noticed there were a lot of people, it was like a charade. I’m not doing that.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
There have been a few, but the one that resonated the most was to be yourself. I think I was afraid of being myself in the sense that I didn’t know whether I was too much or too little or I was trying to fit into some notion of what I thought I was or who I thought I was and what I thought others perceived of me. When I just realized I had to just be Lola. Because the question I had to ask myself and dealing with that was, are you somebody that you’d want to spend time with?
What advice would you give an aspiring Power Woman?
Get a copy of the book Before Agreements and make it something you live your life by.
What steps do you take to obtain a healthy work/life balance?
Beginning everyday with a gratitude list.
Which historical figure do you identify with?
What is your favorite book, fiction or nonfiction?
This is going to sound crazy, but I read the diary of Anne Frank when I was like 9 or 10 years old and that book got me to, you can really do whatever you want to do because of the life of silence that they had to live in order to survive.
What do you most value in friends?
What trait do you deplore the most?
This is interesting because at first I was going to say nothing, because if I find something I don’t find to be pleasing I’ll work on making it better. The one thing that I’ve found is that my eyes talk, and people will look at me and say, “Lola, god, there’s a whole conversation with your eyes and you didn’t even open your mouth.” Because I look at people like, have you lost your fucking mind? But seriously.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
“Get a copy of the Book ‘Before Agreements’ and make it something you live your life by.”