By KARI COBHAM
We came from as far away as London and as close as a few-hour drive on Florida’s I-75. We spoke accented English tinged with Portuguese and a Trinidadian lilt and the Alabama cotton fields. We were White, Black, Asian, Latina, East Indian and mixed. We were immigrants and children of immigrants. We ran large newsrooms and small dev teams and had all aspired for more for as long as we could remember.
And within a week we would all be Squad.
Launched by ONA and Poynter in April, the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media brought together 25 women leaders at Poynter’s St. Petersburg campus. We had candid discussions about the challenges we faced at work and at home, and sessions on leadership, influence, entrepreneurship, budgets, negotiation, cohorts and more. We were coached by prominent women leaders in tech, media and academia.
That over 500 women had applied was a clear sign how necessary a program like this is. When the attendees were announced, Poynter’s VP of academic programs Kelly McBride called the selection “an amazing and intense process.” But it also came to describe the week we would spend together and the organic ties that would arise by its end.
By careful design and by dint of the personalities of the women in the program, we began an elevated conversation in a safe space where we could share our experiences, offer support and solutions, and, yes, be vulnerable — something many of us seldom did on the job.
It didn’t take us long to realize we all spoke the same language, faced the same challenges and were hungry for like-minded female allies.
It took me a full week to begin to piece together the lessons I’d learned and the full impact of the close relationships I’d forged at Poynter. They will stay with me for the rest of my life. But part of the charge of such a transformational experience is to pass along what you can, so I’d like to share with you five things that resonated with me over those five days.
1. Woman, you are awesome.
I admit it. I was wildly intimidated by the women selected to be part of the program. Then I realized everyone there was wildly intimidated by me — and everyone else. As accomplished as we all were, we had all questioned our right to be there just as we often questioned our right to have a seat at the table as digital leaders in our organizations. The imposter syndrome is so very real.
Writes Stacy-Marie Ishmael, BuzzFeed’s News Apps editor:
“Let us bite our tongues before we blurt out, “I’m really not qualified to speak at the conference” or “Oh, why would they want to interview me? I’m not that interesting.” … let us deploy the IMPOSTER SYNDROME SIREN when we recognize the signs — in our sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters, cousins, friends, colleagues, direct reports and yes, our arch rivals.”
2. Find Your Squad.
There’s nothing so lonely as being a woman in the workplace having to fight professional battles with no support system. It took the Women’s Digital Leadership Academy for me to find an epic cohort, but without realizing it, I’ve had small pockets as I moved through my career. Find your mentors, build a group of strong amazing women you can lean on who will tell you like it is, remind you of your strengths and tell you when it’s time to let go.
3. Ask for more (you deserve it).
How many of us have accepted a job offer without negotiation? How many of us have never asked for raises we knew we deserved? How many of us cringe at the very thought of negotiating to be paid what we’re worth?
You’re a bad ass. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have gotten the offer. Assume it’s negotiable. They expect you to! Call on your salary friends; do your research; back it up with salary data, your experience and accomplishments. If they can’t match the salary you want, can they sweeten the pot with other perks? Repeat after me (and Will Neville-Rehbehn):
I’m a bad ass. I deserve to be paid like one.
4. Never stop asking questions.
“The best boss I ever worked for never stopped being a reporter, never stopped asking questions,” said Butch Ward, senior faculty at Poynter. How can I adjust my approach to leadership so the people I work with get better? When you start thinking that the end goal of managing people is to make them better leaders, it shifts your approach and perspective.
That means being a coach and a champion, and asking questions to find out what each person on your team needs. That means adjusting your approach for introverts and extroverts. That means giving someone your attention when they come to talk. That means no typing, no glancing at email or getting distracted by Tweetdeck. (Guilty!) If need be, reschedule to a better time. But ask and never stop asking.
5. Be the influence you want to see in the world.
A huge part of being a digital advocate in any newsroom is collaboration, working across teams and building influence, said Meredith Artley, VP of
CNN Digital. Cultivate your supporters, get a decision-maker in your corner, refine your approach to dismantling roadblocks, speak the language of money, KPI’s and benefits to the organization. You can do this.
6. Family matters.
When L.A. Times’ managing editor S. Mitra Kalita shared how she reorganized her career to accommodate having children, I jotted this down:Did she feel making those decisions would’ve derailed her career? And then I asked.
Short version: Yes, she thought about it. But she also thought about the bigger picture and what mattered in the end. And that was family.
I remember leaving the newsroom before sunset — a rare occurrence — for my daughter’s first Halloween a couple years ago. I felt guilty about doing it, but I knew 10 years from then I wouldn’t remember the work I’d been doing, I’d remember her smiles. Leaving meant building memories. Both Mitra and Fusion’s Latoya Peterson reminded me that those choices matter and feeling guilty about leaving work behind, feeling like I’d look like I wasn’t a dedicated worker, is very often self-imposed and unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. You do what you need to do and the rest will take care of itself in its own way.
What have been some of your lessons along the way as a female leader or a woman aspiring to leadership? You can continue the conversation on social media with #digitalwomenleaders.
Kari Cobham is social analyst for Cox Media Group TV stations. She was previously executive producer of social media for WFTV in Orlando, Fla. She is a stroke survivor, runner, writer, mixed Trini print journalist at heart, and most important, a mom to #mayabear.