The Cohort: Why volunteering for opportunities at work is critical for women

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

It feels really nice to be asked. Asked to speak at a conference. Requested to mentor someone in your office. Recommended for a role without applying. 

But most of the time, we don’t get asked. We have to raise our hand. 

That’s how we ended up here. Hi, I’m Rachel Schallom, and I am thrilled that The Cohort is back. Katie Hawkins-Gaar started The Cohort newsletter in February 2016 as a way to provide more training, resources and support for rising women leaders in journalism. She founded and fostered an incredible community of women, leading important and necessary conversations within a cohort of women I am so grateful for. Now, we’re adding even more women into our group. This week, Poynter is hosting the first of three leadership academies for women in digital media. Meet and follow the amazing women from every class here

When Katie announced she was leaving Poynter, I reached out to others I knew there and asked if anyone had been selected to continue writing The Cohort. I put myself out there and sent some ideas. I raised my hand.

A little bit about me in one paragraph: I work on digital strategy at the Wall Street Journal. I moved to Brooklyn in July after spending five years in South Florida, where I worked at the Sun Sentinel and Fusion. I was laid off eight days after the 2016 election, and I wrote about my experience interviewing for a new job. I curate a weekly newsletter highlighting interesting things happening in digital storytelling. I was a member of the 2016 ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media class. I strongly believe in the Shine Theory, the power of live music and that there is no such thing as too much cheese. 

I liked to be asked. When I was interviewing while laid off, the conversations where they reached out to me first made me feel special. But it’s important to have the courage to throw your name in the ring and raise your hand, both for new job opportunities and for opportunities within your current workplace. 

Becca Aaronson knows a thing or two about raising your hand within your organization. She started as an unpaid intern at the Texas Tribune, and now she’s been there more than seven years. She’ll be in Poynter’s 2018 Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media class. 

Her strategy is simple: “Instead of getting frustrated with things, I tend to figure out how I can be the one to solve that problem.” 

We all see problems, opportunities and holes in our organization. Aaronson does something about it. She makes sure her managers know she isn’t bringing up the problems to create more work for them. She wants to take it on. And she recently took on a new responsibility when she identified that there was opportunity to organize how to implement new ideas and goals from their strategic planning process. When she finds problems to solve, she’s making the organization better for her and for the people she works with. It’s an incentive to stay at a workplace she loves. 

Why is this so important? Because women are less likely to be asked. 

Joan Williams, a distinguished professor of law at the University of California Hastings, says that men are more likely to be seen as ready for a stretch assignment or promotion before women are seen as ready. Women are often required to prove themselves again and again before being seen as competent. 

The Harvard Business Review calls stretch assignments “glamour work,” assignments that get you noticed by higher-ups. They found that white women and women of color were 15 percent and 23 percent less likely, respectively, to be satisfied with their access to high-profile assignments. (Men of color were also less satisfied than white men.)

Williams discusses gender biases in her book “What Works for Women at Work,” focusing on how women need to speak up so they don’t fall victim to the gender stereotypes of being seen as modest team players. 

“If women don’t put up their hands, they may be seen as completely satisfied,” Williams said. 

At Poynter’s Women’s Leadership Symposium in New York on March 5, Marcy McGinnis, former senior vice president at CBS News, talked about constantly raising her hand when she was a reporter. “Send me!” she would say when she wasn’t given the opportunity directly. 

Williams recommends that women make sure the people who make decisions know what their career goals are. This is especially important after having a baby. 

“Even women who have had no problems often have problems when they become mothers,” Williams said. 

Outlining your career goals will establish you as an individual and will hopefully elevate you above the gender stereotypes that haven’t changed in 20 or 30 years. Ask for the best way to get from here to there. Use tone control; this is not about anger. Network within your organization to build allies. To prep, Williams recommends digging into the workbook she and her co-authors just released. 


Things worth reading

Everything that's made Warren Buffett the most celebrated investor in the world lines up with what we've learned about the tendencies of female investors. HBR found that connecting women at conferences really does work. Heather Bryant on how women help her solve problems while men warn her about how challenging the work is. A self-proclaimed marriage cynic changes her mind and ties the knot. What it’s like to live with endometriosis, a disease that affects more than 10% of women. The gender discrimination starts way before we start reporting. Bloomberg will no longer allow their journalists to participate in all-male panels. Why millennial women experience more career burnout. The link between women’s success at work and divorce rates. This Q&A with Lisa Tozzi, the global news director at Buzzfeed. 

Do your homework

This week, send a thank you note to someone who has taught you something valuable for your career. I work with a woman who is so articulate in meetings, even when it's something contentious. Being around her has taught me a ton about how to phrase what I am trying to say, and I will send her a note to let her know.

Focus on the work

Imaeyen Ibanga and her team launched a really cool project in February called Because Facts. AJ+’s Because Facts is a weekly series of 8- to 10-minute news features that help contextualize news. They aren’t taking the easy route; they are focusing on stories you’re not seeing other news organizations tackle, especially in such an engaging way. I watched the episode on the stereotype of the strong black woman, and it was so good. 

With just five episodes published, they already have more than 180,000 followers on Facebook, and the episodes amassed millions of views. As senior producer, Ibanga wants to not only grow the number of followers and watch time, but also facilitate constructive conversation about the hard-hitting topics. I’m excited to watch this series develop and can’t wait to see what they have coming up next. 


Register to attend Poynter's Women's Leadership Symposium, a one-day training event to empower women journalists, in Los Angeles on March 30. 

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