The Cohort: Forget lean in. Stand up.

June 30, 2016
Category: Newsletters

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

Cohort! I’m in South Africa for the next week. Today’s newsletter is written and curated by the wonderful Amy Vernon, who did an outstanding job. I’m so excited to share her essay, links and badass profile with you all. Thank you, Amy!

I’ve been asked many times in my life why some women aren’t more helpful to other women. I’ve been told many times that the people who’ve been worst to women are women.

You know what? That’s all a load of bunk, just another way to pit women against other women instead of focusing on real issues. It keeps people thinking about problems instead of solutions (this article in The Atlantic links to tons of studies that show the myth of the Queen Bee).

Have I had women bosses who were less than desirable? Hell yeah. Have I had terrific male bosses? Of course. It’s not a zero-sum game. People are people, and some people are terrible and some people are great. Some of both are men and some of both are women.

But I’m tired of the narrative that women are somehow the problem. The thing is, the idea that all women are supposed to be helpful and nurturing has become so ingrained that we’ve brainwashed ourselves into believing that all our problems would somehow be solved if only women weren’t standing in our way.

This newsletter belies that. Facebook groups like all the Binders sub-groups belie that. I could go on, but then I’d just be saying belie and belies a whole bunch and that would get annoying.

It’s true: We are strongest when we hold each other up, both when we’re failing and when we’re succeeding. And most women I know do that. Do they do that all the time? Of course not. We are human. I failed one of my best friends a couple weeks ago because I spaced. In a moment she needed me, I didn’t come through.

We all fail. We fail harder if we regard those failures as the norm and ignore all the successes we have in helping one another.

So next time you want to say something about how women need to be more supportive of one another, stop. Just stop. Instead, think of how you can support a sister in arms. Think about the last time you supported a woman professionally and what you can do to do more.

This isn’t about supporting women because they are women, though it is also kind of that. It doesn’t mean supporting and standing behind someone who is not doing her job. It means practicing what you preach. It means standing up for the woman who is being pushed down because she’s forging ahead. It means standing alongside women of color when their numbers in leadership positions are even more paltry. It means standing behind our sisters to catch them when they fall.

Forget “lean in.” Stand up.

I read a lot. But one of the best pieces I’ve read in a long time was Melissa Harris-Perry’s piece on failure in Elle (By the way, I’ve never been an Elle reader, but I feel like they’re just killing it as a women’s magazine these days. Go them). “It is healthy to acknowledge you fail. It is toxic to believe you are a failure,” Harris-Perry writes. Exactly. I have failed many times in my life, but I am most definitely not a failure.

You may have missed it, but it was Lady Day earlier this month at Google. Why? Because in a board meeting, an investor called Alphabet’s CFO, “the lady CFO” and then addressed a male executive as “Mr.” Another investor (a woman) pointed out that Ruth Porat “is the CFO, not the lady CFO.” So more than 800 women — and men — at Google added “Lady” to their titles on June 18-19 to make a point that such casual sexism won’t be tolerated.

Some more women are standing up: Alex Laughlin of The Washington Post wrote a piece on Medium of the 22 Most Influential Women in Podcasting. Why? Because Collisions had posted a list of the 22 most influential people in podcasting and it was almost entirely comprised of white men (there were two women on the list). To Collisions’ credit, they ended up pulling the post (though a better solution would have been to update it — it’s not that none of the people on the original list was influential) and linking to Laughlin’s post instead.

I love reading Cate Hutson’s blog. She recently completed six months as a manager for Ride and wrote about the lessons she’d learned. What is most valuable about her blog, Accidentally in Code, is that although it focuses on her experiences in tech, many of the posts she writes are applicable to any industry.

Let’s remember: It’s not easy being a woman at the top in any industry. Some of the country’s funniest ladies talked about their experiences. What I really loved about this piece in The Hollywood Reporter was that the comedians (not comediennes, refuse to use that) were of all ages and from various ethnic backgrounds. Well-done, and both fun and painful to read.

Finally, let’s meet Michelle Ferrier, a journalist, activist, and educator.

I met Michelle through our mutual friend Shireen Mitchell at South By Southwest’s inaugural Online Harassment Summit. The three of us trekked to the D.C. party that night and danced the night away so we’re fast friends now. What I didn’t know after eating some appetizers, drinking some wine and dancing to ’80s music, however, was how much this woman’s done in media and is doing now to help turn the internet into a much less icky place.

Ferrier started her career managing publications for a variety of associations and over the subsequent years worked for the NEA, University of Central Florida, Elon University and the Daytona Beach News-Journal, where she was managing editor of online communities, among other jobs.

She started at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication about three years ago and is founder of Locally Grown News, a hyperlocal community of news sites about local food and sustainability issues. Oh, and she’s also president of Journalism That Matters.

But it’s Ferrier’s newest project that really caught my attention – and caused several people to tweet, text and otherwise send messages to me asking if I knew about her.

TrollBusters is “online pest control for women writers.” Basically, it’s like the Guardian Angels for women being harassed online. Send out an S.O.S. and her volunteers send positive memes, endorsements or testimonials to dilute the stream of cyberbullies and trolls. The idea is to prevent the trolls from exacting an emotional toll, as well as the potential for physical or financial consequences.

TrollBusters won a hackathon sponsored by the Ford and the International Women’s Media foundations last year in New York. As she told the Knight Digital Media Center, “The trick is to be supportive of the person under attack, not to engage or debate the trolls.”

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

Also! Michelle is part of the audience engagement summit I’m organizing on August 29 in New York City. (Total coincidence that Amy profiled her!) I’d love to see some Cohort readers in attendance.

The Cohort is part of the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to Kristen Hare, a great coworker near or far, for her newsletter edits and insight.