May 3, 2018

The Cohort is a Poynter newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Since the inception of the women’s leaderships programs by Poynter and the Online News Association in 2015, more than 2,500 women have applied for 218 spots. The programs have always had an aspect that focused on how we, as a community, could better support more women and share what we’ve learned. 

We have a long way to go, but we are thrilled to roll out one step: a one-stop shop where you can set up office hours with more than 40 alumnae of the Poynter and ONA programs. These women are incredible, and the diversity provided gives you options for skill sets and when they are available to talk. Check out

When we think about networking, we often think about identifying people who can help us advance our careers. These are often people higher in the organizational chart or who have more experience. But looking up is not the only way to get ahead — talking to peers and those with less, but different experience than you helps too.

If you’re interested in signing up for a time slot, be prepared with what you want to talk about. For a 30-minute time slot, you can expect to touch on one or two things. 

Katie Hawkins-Gaar, who led the efforts in creating, suggests leaving enough time for feedback. Don’t get wrapped up in explaining the intricacies of challenges you face so you will have time to dig into solutions. Try to identify patterns instead of zeroing in on a particular troubling colleague or annoyance. 

But coaching isn’t a one-way street. You can also benefit from coaching someone else and listening to their challenges.

“If you articulate the decisions you make every day, you’ll find the strategy behind it,” said Hawkins-Gaar, who founded the first women’s leadership academy and this newsletter. 

Coaching can tell you a lot about yourself. 

There are obvious things that you can coach on, like the skills you use in your job every day. But you also have hidden talents, like managing difficult conversations, that would be helpful to others. 

“One of the ways to figure out what you are good at is to get feedback from your peers,” Hawkins-Gaar said, adding that sometimes your strengths come so naturally to you that you may need outside perspective. 

When I was thinking about coaching, I asked my trusted group chat what they thought I was qualified to talk about, and many of their answers were things I hadn’t thought of.

Think about the hard things you’ve been through. For example, if you’ve been laid off, that’s something you can help others work through. 

What should the coach do when the call starts? Ask a lot of questions. Sometimes the person knows the answer and just needs to talk it out. 

“Providing a space for them to work through their problems can be hugely valuable,” Hawkins-Gaar said. 

A big part of the women’s leadership programs is networking with women outside of your organization. There are just some things that we can’t talk about with our coworkers, like working on an exit plan or negotiating a raise, and coaching can be a venue to bounce ideas off of outsiders. 

I started coaching in mid-April, with three 25-minute slots open every Friday, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. I’ve loved connecting with the women who have signed up. They’ve asked questions about things I’ve been through or have been thinking a lot about, and I am so happy to be able to pass on the lessons I’ve learned and the things I wish I had known last week, last month, last year. 

“I think the most valuable part of the office hours format was blocking out a time specifically to problem solve some professional problems and traps I'm experiencing,” said Caitlin Cruz, one of the women who signed up for my office hours. “Too often, when I talk about career-adjacent problems, it devolves into a complaining or just catch-up type of conversation. While those types of conversations have their place, they aren't always productive in the long term. Office hours with Rachel were specifically about creating action items, which I found really helpful. We don't always allow ourselves time like this — blocked out and specifically about you — even when we need it.”

The women who have committed to coaching on are amazing, and I hope you reach out to one (or five!) of them. I know I will. And then pass it on. You can create office hour slots using Calendly and share the link on social media. The strength of our community comes from every tip shared and every challenge faced. 

Things worth reading

Five books I’ve read this year that I recommend (reviews for everything I’ve read in 2018 are here): 

Do your homework

I’ve been thinking a lot about #Beychella lately. My thoughts follow two trends: 1. The unmistakable joy from her and everyone on the stage performing. I love this analysis of that happiness. 2. Beyonce is at the top of her game, absolutely killing Coachella and everything she does. But she’s been performing for more than 20 years. Those of us who have been in this journalism game for five, 10, 15, even 20 years need to cut ourselves some slack. We don’t have to be at our absolute best before we’re 30. This week, make a list of five things you can do before the end of the year to be the best version of yourself right now. Make more space in your brain for short-term goals and celebrate the hell out of them when you reach that mountain.

Focus on the work

The Honolulu Civil Beat has launched season three of "Offshore," a podcast about a Hawaii most tourists never see. This season focuses on the international adoption boom Hawaii experienced starting in the ‘90s. Podcast and multimedia editor Jessica Antonia is the primary reporter and host for "Offshore," which has an all-woman production team. Season three is the first season they are producing without an outside producer to help manage the project.

“I’m proud of this work because it’s a super intensive project for a small/local newsroom to pull off,” Antonia said. 

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