Laura Schoen, Hall of Femme 2020

President, global healthcare practice and chair, Latin America, Weber Shandwick

What word would you use to describe your childhood and why?
Challenging. On the positive side, I'm happy to have grown up among parents and a grandmother who respected culture and the empowerment of a good education. On the negative side, a family divided between Italy and Brazil. I was exposed to a lot in my childhood that forced me to grow up fast.

Tell us about your most embarrassing fail. How did you recover?
I can’t think of anything memorable and worth sharing, but I subscribe to the school that failure is part of the journey that leads toward success. The biggest embarrassment is to realize you never tried!

What fictional female character (in a book or movie) has always inspired you?
The most recent inspiration is Elena Greco (Lenu) in the Neapolitan Chronicles by Elena Ferrante. The books are set in post-war Italy. Being half Italian, it explains so much about my family and the struggle of Italian women to free themselves from violence and domesticity to pursue a bigger life for themselves. It is about resilience, curiosity, independence. All issues that are close to my heart.

I read a lot, so there are many characters who impressed me throughout my life, from Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Clara (The House of the Spirits) and Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's). What these characters have in common is the tension between the vulnerability of their situation and their determination to break the stereotypes.

Any real-life women or men you look up to?
A woman who inspires me is Jane Fonda. It would have been so much easier for someone so gorgeous and talented to stay away from controversy, but she chose to be more than a Hollywood icon. I may not agree with her all the time, but I admire her non-conformism and her commitment to making a difference in this world, and she pays a heavy price for it.

What’s something about you no one knows?
I am an eternal learner. In my forties, I decided to take piano lessons, and in my fifties I made a commitment to learning to swim properly. Both are now part of my personal routine. I have to find another learning challenge to embrace.

Favorite song and why?
Since piano is my musical instrument, my favorite piece of music is the Goldberg Variations by Bach. Besides being simply beautiful, the same notes can be played in a way that the music sounds sad and mellow or vibrant and happy. It always makes me think that happiness is what you make with the notes life gives us.

Tell us about your hobby.
I had not played ping pong since I was 12, but have now embraced the fast-paced game. Wearing my healthcare hat, ping pong improves hand-eye coordination, mental alertness and concentration. I joke that it is my Alzheimer’s prevention plan, but the truth is that I have a lot of fun playing it.

Finish the sentence: To ensure career advancement and pay parity for women, I will...
...make a commitment to speak out for women even when it does not make me popular.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you?
The false idea that you don’t need a lot of knowledge to be successful in public relations; you just need to be a people’s person. The business has changed and we are counseling clients on very complex issues.

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
When we help clients address challenging issues by finding the nexus between constituents’ and our clients’ interests. The best work we do is when we find that win-win idea.

What is your golden rule at work?
Build a work environment that is stimulating, fun and embracing. I like Mondays and enjoy working with my colleagues. I work hard to make sure that my whole team feels the same way.

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