Waiting for my bibbidi-bobbidi-boo

The Cohort is Poynter's bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Elana Zak is awesome for many reasons, including the fact that she stepped up to write and curate this week’s newsletter. “I volunteered for this because I wanted to continue building out a community of strong, female digital leaders," said Elana, who's the social media lead at STAT. "I don't think we talk enough about what we're all dealing with (pay inequality, lack of knowledge around negotiating salary, imposter syndrome, overworking) but we're all facing it and being more open can only help.” Amen.

I needed help with today’s newsletter because the 2016 ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media is happening right now. It’s pretty incredible to see a new cohort come together IRL and build some lasting connections. I’ll share some takeaways in the next newsletter, on May 19. In the meantime, enjoy this issue and give Elana a virtual high five for being so great.


I used to view mentors as something akin to the fairy godmother from “Cinderella.”

She would swoop in when you most needed her, sprinkle a little fairy dust on you (words of encouragement and advice) and help get you to the ball (a promotion or a new job). And she would just magically appear.

For a long time, I was frustrated that I didn't have a mentor. Where was my fairy godmother hiding? But mentors come in many forms. (They don't, however, come with wings or fairy dust — sad, I know). Instead of looking for one perfect mentor, I found different elements of bosses and colleagues that fit what I needed. (Poynter’s Kristen Hare came up with a great term for this: "Frankensteining" a mentor.)

I watched and learned from one former manager how to handle stress in the workplace. Another old boss was amazing at managing up. And one colleague showed me how a positive attitude goes a long way toward improving your workplace reputation.

A mentor isn't always the most senior person in your office. Some of the women I view as mentors are also my peers. Often times, they are more accessible and facing similar career questions. (How do you ask for that new title? Did I negotiate enough for my salary?)

Along the way, many former bosses have also become more like that mythical fairy godmother. They take time out of their Sunday nights, after an incredibly busy week, to give me career advice. They coached me on writing my first memo. They want to see me succeed and help bring out my best. (Side note: If you have a mentor, take time to thank them.)

And hey, if you are looking for a mentor, send me a note. I'd love to share some of the wisdom my fairy godmothers have taught me. I'm @elanazak on Twitter or elanazak@gmail.com.

Things worth reading
Alexandra Petri hilariously wrote about the "woman card": "It entitles you to a sizable discount on your earnings everywhere you go." Speaking of pay, here's a good argument on why you should skip telling hiring managers "what's your current salary." Etsy is no longer categorizing employees by gender. And I'm loving Refinery29's Money Diaries, where different young women share how much they spend in a week.

Meet Hailey
I met Hailey Persinger at last year's ONA conference in LA. We were sitting next to each other at a session on analytics and when I heard she worked for one of my fav news apps, Yahoo's News Digest, I knew we had to be friends.

Hailey currently manages all the editorial content of the app. But starting on May 9, she's joining The New York Times as an associate product manager. Go Hailey!

Hailey is the kind of peer mentor I mentioned above. She and I DM constantly about work-related issues (in addition to non-work stuff) and give each other pep talks or advice as needed.

Her #1 tip for finding a mentor? "Looking around you is the best place to start." She elaborates:

"Take a look at the people in your immediate group of friends who are doing things you wish you could do but just need a little boost. Another really great way to find people to act as mentors is to take full advantage of people who do ‘office hours.’ Rebekah Monson, total badass techy journalist and all-around good person, does these virtual coffees. I spent half an hour in a Google Hangout with her last fall just to ask how I could move from editorial to product. I took all her advice and am now starting a new job in that space.”

Hailey's advice is always practical and encouraging, which is why I love talking to her. (Point in case: I had never heard of Rebekah Monson but immediately followed her on Twitter after Hailey suggested her "office hours.")

One last piece of advice from Hailey, which I also strongly recommend:

“Don't be afraid to reach out to people who you admire,” she said. “More often than not, they'll take a few minutes to tell you how they got to where they are. Those people are magical and there are more of them than you think!"

If you’d like to curate a future Cohort issue or if you have a project to share, email me at katie@poynter.org. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with #digitalwomenleaders.

Final note from KHG: We are halfway through our crowdfunding campaign and need more support to make our goal. If you care about improving newsroom culture, donate here. I sincerely hope we can make this project happen!

The Cohort is part of the ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to Kristen Hare, who works well with everyone, for her newsletter edits and insight.

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    Katie Hawkins-Gaar

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar is the organizer of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. She was previously Poynter’s digital innovation faculty member, and taught journalists how to make the most of social media, understand audience engagement, rethink workflows and foster creativity.


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