Suzanne Hayward believes everyone has a story, that everyone has something to teach us. It’s a value Oprah Winfrey taught her and a lesson she’s carried with her all the way from Spokane to the Middle East.
“It was the Harvard of life lessons, being at the ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ ” says Hayward, who worked as a producer on the show for 15 years, including the finale episode in 2011. “I was in Spokane, Washington, and in a not very diverse high school, so working at the ‘Oprah’ show … just opened up the world for me.”
This weekend she’ll be opening up the world a little for hundreds of girls and community members as a speaker at the Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) Career Day, where she’ll speak of her time as a producer for Winfrey and her recent work producing for “Nida’a,” a new talk show geared toward women in the Arab world.
“It was really challenging … navigating those sensitive and controversial topics,” says Hayward, who helped produce “Nida’a” via Skype and then traveled to various locations in the Middle East for filming and postproduction. “You don’t want to offend, but you do want to have those courageous conversations.”
Some of those topics included transgender identity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and women in unlikely professions, such as auto racing. “Nida’a” also features international celebrity guests, such as former President Clinton, and Winfrey.
But the show that most moved Hayward was about women who escaped ISIS captivity. “They wanted to share their stories because they wanted people to know,” says Hayward. She marvels that “they have that kind of courage.”
Producing for “Nida’a” has meant new challenges for Hayward — she had to learn how to work in multiple languages during live tapings. But the talk show, which is hosted by Iraqi American Zainab Salbi, was popular enough that it’s now being considered for a second season.
Hayward hopes the show, produced by the network TLC and which aired in 22 countries, will soon be translated into English. She thinks American audiences would appreciate hearing about the struggles and triumphs of women in the Middle East. And her recent time abroad has made her realize how powerful international media can be, for better and for worse.
“We are so self-involved in this country that we forget that we are being watched” by people abroad, says Hayward, who adds that a Middle Eastern colleague of hers recently decided not to travel to New York City for fear of anti-Muslim sentiment. “Seeing big crowds go see Trump, that sends a message.”
Hayward’s commitment to fostering cross-cultural dialogue and women-centered storytelling makes her a perfect fit for Y-WE’s Saturday event at University of Washington Bothell, which will connect local girls from diverse backgrounds with professional women working in fields such as media, technology and politics.
“About 70 percent of our girls are immigrants, and they come from all over,” says Victoria Santos, co-director of Y-WE, a nonprofit that provides mentorship and empowerment programs for teenage girls. Santos adds that they work for their participants to, “see themselves as citizens of this country but also … as part of a global village.”
And part of achieving that goal is connecting girls with people like Hayward, who elevates the stories of women from around the world while sharing an inspiring story of her own.
“I have these moments like, ‘What is a girl from Spokane, Washington, doing interviewing [President] Clinton in Morocco?’ ” says Hayward with wonder in her voice. “These pinch-me moments where I’m, like, ‘How did I get here?’ ”
If you’re interested in the answer to that question, or you’re considering a career in international TV production yourself, Career Day is open to the public and there are still tickets available.
Y-WE Career Day
- Where: Mobius Hall, UW Bothell/Cascadia College
- When: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, April 16
- Purpose: Help local girls network with professional women, find jobs
- Cost: Free
- Guest speaker: Speakers include Suzanne Hayward, co-producer of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
- More information: http://youngwomenempowered.org/programs/career-day-2016/