This essay is the fifth in our Push For Parity essay series, featuring stories about women in leadership in journalism. For more on our series and details about how you can contribute, see Kelly McBride’s essay introducing the project. Poynter and ONA have also announced a tuition-free women’s leadership academy.
What do we need in order to push forward leadership from women at news organizations?
Courage, persistence, and a calm sense of expectation.
There is nothing whatsoever left to discuss in the matter. All the issues have been thoroughly discussed in the last 50 years. We know that many of us need flexibility at a certain moment of our careers. We know we need recognition of our competence, abilities, accomplishments and ambition. We no longer need to prove that leadership from women adds dimension, credibility and authenticity to news coverage. It has been proven. We no longer need to fill the pipeline. It has been filled. We no longer need to get the credentials. We have them. We no longer need to prove that women can be successful leaders. They have been so.
Now, assuming that you have taken the hard assignments, gotten the wide experience, learned from your mistakes and failures, developed the calm resilience and trust of your peers and of those above and below you that is needed for leadership, then what remains is for you to require the next step.
Require it of your top editor. Require it of your publisher. Require it of your media company. Require it of the venture capitalists who are backing your endeavor. Require it calmly, confidently and persistently.
Require it for yourself, but more important, require it as your expectation of a great news organization. If you yourself are blocked, look first to your own experience, background, accomplishments and leadership. If you honestly find them ready and sufficient, then require whatever needs to come next. Do it for yourself, and do it for others. When you look around your news organization, and others, find the women of accomplishment and achievement and support them. Actively, honestly, openly and courageously.
If the next step is flexibility, then require that it be made to work. Figure out how to make it work, for you, for the beat, for your readers, for your colleagues, for your management. There is no longer any question that it can be made to work. It is just a matter of figuring out how it will work in YOUR situation and YOUR management. Require this not only for women, but for men as well, first, so that they will be able to better support the women they share family duties with, but also so that their work life will be better, happier and more balanced. If you see women or men of accomplishment and ambition being blocked for reasons of flexibility, this is no longer their problem. It is your problem. If you are blocked, it is not your problem alone, it is their problem too. You must support your colleagues and you must calmly and confidently expect that they will support you.
If the next step is promotion, then require that. Require that your leadership reflect the diversity, skills and accomplishments of the newsroom, and of the news industry in general. After 50 years of talking, it is no longer acceptable that a senior leadership team be overwhelmingly or exclusively male. There are no longer arguments that explain that well.
Require promotion and flexibility not just for yourself, but for every other woman of accomplishment, achievement and ambition. Do not support women just because they are women. Support those whose abilities match or exceed those of men who are promoted.
Where does the courage part come in? It comes in here: When I say “support” and “require” I do not mean behind-the-scenes discussions. I do not mean complaining or sympathizing. I do not mean organizing conferences or mentoring programs. I mean speaking up and requiring change. Making it clear that the current situation is unacceptable. Calmly, confidently and with a sense of expectation. Talk among yourselves, of course. But do not leave it at that. Talk among yourselves and then go to your editors. Not as a group. One at a time. Go over and over again. Tell them that they must act. Figure out how to get flexibility for those who need it. Offer them suggestions and solutions. Figure out how to get flexibility for those who need it. Figure out how to get promotions for those who deserve it. Tell them that the time for explanations is past. Speak to your publishers. Not once. Not twice. Over and over again. Expect it from them. Speak calmly, professionally, logically and helpfully. But speak with a sense of expectation.
This is where courage comes in. It is easy to speak to each other. Easy to agree that the path is hard. Easy to sympathize behind the scenes. It is harder, though, to take a risk. To put yourself forward and say: This is what I believe — believe for myself, and for others. This is what I expect — expect for myself and for others. This is what I deserve — deserve for myself and for others. This is what takes courage. But it is courage that is required.
Amanda Bennett is an investigative journalist, editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Read more