Meet Dee Poku, the entrepreneur revitalising women in senior leadership

dee poku the suite
The importance of female career communitiesDee Poku

When you have reached the zenith of your career, what’s next? That was the question plaguing Dee Poku, a former Hollywood executive, who held senior positions at Paramount and Focus Features. Her success and the success of other women like her, had left her feeling the truth behind that old adage: it’s lonely at the top.

“You know, the stats are pretty depressing,” she tells me, with a wry smile. “I think roughly 6 per cent of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women. But change comes from the top. We can advocate for ourselves, but we really also need people who have the sort of influence and power to make those changes.”

As a woman in leadership, she found herself with a great deal of power. To her credit, she also recognised that this goes hand-in-hand with a great deal of responsibility towards other women. To fulfil this responsibility, in 2020 she formed The WIE Suite, a private-membership community and peer-learning platform for women in leadership. It operates as an ecosystem of women supporting each other, with the aim of redefining what female success looks like: women doing it their own way, with a burgeoning sisterhood behind them.

It was a formalisation of an idea she had actioned back in 2010, then called The WIE Network, which was a series of conferences about women in business that attracted a deluge of sensational speakers and partners, including Mellody Hobson, Arianna Huffington, Christy Turlington, Queen Rania, Melinda Gates, Thasunda Duckett, Diane von Furstenberg, Nancy Pelosi and Naomi Campbell.

“When you get to this position, you have the lived experience of what other women are also going through or are about to go through, whether it's about flexible hours, or maternity leave, or being in the sandwich generation where you have to care for both elderly parents and for kids,” she says. “These are things that women are living with that men are perhaps not aware of in the same way, or don’t feel as viscerally. So, I decided to specifically focus on women at a leadership level, because I think we need decision-makers who can really advocate for the generations coming up.”

dee poku
Dee Poku

Poku’s idea rests on a foundation of sisterhood and female community, which flies in the face of unhelpful, but pervasive, rhetoric around women in the workplace. For decades, women have been made to feel like there's only a limited amount of space for them at the top. Twinned with this is the misconception that women don't work well together, that they are hyper competitive with one another. Not only does Poku dispel this notion, but her entire initiative also serves as a counter to it; the suite is where women can grow constructively, not competitively.

“This membership is all about women supporting other women,” she stresses. “I belong to some members clubs and I go there to meet people I already know, but for us, it was much more about finding a way to curate gatherings where we're purposely putting people together who we think would benefit from meeting one another, rather than just saying, 'Hey, here's a space just show up in and watch a talk'.”

Besides curated events, the lifeblood of The WIE Suite is the coaching. Members are organised into different committees and groups to either coach or be coached. “That way you’re in a group of people that gets to know you really well and understands your habits: the things that you're great at and the things that you want, and the times when you might fail. I think that’s really important when you're driving towards your goals,” says Poku. “Peer coaching gives members a structured check-in every month and there's a real format to how they run, so people are really seeing results.”

There are also specialised groups pertaining to particular sectors. “Sometimes you want to talk about trends in your industry or discuss something you're grappling with that only other people who do what you do would know that instant shorthand about. That’s the value of those groups,” she says. The WIE also works with companies to help them with the issues they see their members facing, aiding them with supporting and retaining female talent.

Nearly 15 years on from her original idea, Poku has never been happier with the work that The WIE Suite is accomplishing. “Having this purpose is something amazing in my life and I’m doing something that comes organically to me – something I love to do” she says. “Quite frankly, I would have done it for free.”

You Might Also Like