The Cohort: This might be a dumb question, but …

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

Oh hey, y’all. I missed you!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about vulnerability. It can be pretty rare in the workplace, where everyone’s angling to prove that they have the right answers and no one wants to admit otherwise.

It took me a while to discover the power of vulnerability in my career. As a young manager, I found myself thrust into situations and Big Important Meetings where I wasn’t sure entirely what was going on. (Scrums? Opting-In? KPIs? There were so many foreign words and workflows!) My initial reaction was to keep quiet, frantically jot down notes, and try later to connect the dots on my own. Not surprisingly, I found myself increasingly frustrated and struggling to keep up.

It wasn’t until I spoke up that things started to change.

Hey, so this is my first time working with developers/lawyers/the business side. Which is awesome! I’m excited to learn so much. I’m going to ask some pretty basic questions early on to make sure I’m on the same page as you. It’ll help me keep up and help you identify what’s new for me.

Those Big Important Meetings completely shifted after that. The jargon slowed down a bit. I discovered I offered a fresh perspective as a newcomer. Most importantly, I made some key newsroom allies — colleagues were happy to help and eager to share valuable knowledge. Allowing myself to be vulnerable ultimately made me smarter.

Today, more often than not, when I see someone ask for help during a work discussion or defer to others in the room for guidance, I respect them more as a leader. No one knows all the answers. And that’s OK! The sooner we’re willing to admit that, the sooner we can start identifying problems and shortcomings and start working on solutions.

Here’s to admitting we all need help every once in awhile.


p.s. This year’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media wrapped up on May 6. It was a fantastic experience with another stellar group of women. I’m still processing it all, but I took note of the topics and challenges that resonated most. I can’t wait to dive into them in future newsletters!

Speaking of vulnerability, I wrote an essay about my father, who passed away in 2013 and ultimately helped me discover a passion for workplace happiness.

Things worth reading
Yep, here’s another pay gap article: “On average, American women earn less than their male peers. Highly educated women fare worst of all.” (The related interactive is really cool, if slightly rage inducing.) In happier news, Robin Wright is a baller and asked for equal pay for “House of Cards.” The concept of the biological clock is a relatively recent invention. We probably have more free time than we think we do. And I think I nodded the entire time I read this article from The Atlantic, which explores the idea that responsible employees are often saddled with more work.

Meet Danielle
Photojournalism isn’t easy, especially when you’re a woman. Photojournalism is also a pretty badass job, especially when you’re the rare woman doing it. Danielle Scruggs knows that better than most anyone else.

Danielle is the director of photography at the Chicago Reader, and I could listen to her talk about her craft all day long:

“I’ve always been interested in other people— finding out about their lives, their motivations, their body language — and it was far easier to make those kind of connections when I had a camera on me. There is also a thrill I get from the act of composing and framing an image. I get a lot of pleasure out of creating something that wasn’t there before. Or perhaps was there but only existed in that exact way for just a fraction of a second.”

Below is a Q&A exchange we had over email, which has been edited for clarity and length.

Photojournalism can be a tough gig. It’s a largely male-dominated, relatively low-paying and risky career. What motivates you to stay in the industry?

I want to be a role model for other women photographers and photo editors, especially Black women photographers and photo editors. We make up such a tiny fraction of newsrooms in the U.S. and it is important to me to be visible, to be present and to show other Black women who are considering entering this field that we’re out here. Our numbers are small but we are out here doing the work and coming up with some damn fine results.

So many photojournalists, including you, have created opportunities for themselves. What are some things you’re doing outside of your day job at the Chicago Reader?

I still exhibit my personal projects from time to time. I have been moving into curatorial work as well, and curated several exhibits and programming in D.C. I also recently signed up to be a programmer for Nightingale Cinema, an independent film screening organization here in Chicago. And I started a website called Black Women Directors in 2015, which I actively and regularly maintain.

I love your Black Women Directors project! What inspired you to create it?

I was looking for a one-stop shop that celebrated and highlighted the diversity of Black women filmmakers from around the world, not just one particular city or country. Much like photography, filmmaking is another industry where Black women are doing exciting, inspired work but do not necessarily getting the credit they fully deserve. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so I simply created it. (Of course, in a lot of ways, my work is a continuation of Sisters in Cinema, which was founded by filmmaker Yvonne Welbon.) Before I migrated the site to stand on its own, I started it on Tumblr. It was covered by Blavity, the British Film Institute and For Harriet so that let me know other people had been looking for something like this, the same way I had been.

So many women I’ve met lately have talked about the importance of finding a community and support network. What tips do you have for badass ladies out there looking to find their allies?

In a lot of ways I’m still trying to find my community as well! One piece of advice is to follow your obsessions. Those things that stick in your craw, those things that you spend a million hours falling down a Google research hole to find out more about? Someone else is just as obsessed, just as passionate. And eventually you will find your people when you do that work.

Thanks to Danielle for being an all-around inspiration. If you have a project to share, email or brag on Twitter with #digitalwomenleaders.

The Cohort is part of the ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to Kristen Hare, cheerleader extraordinaire, for her newsletter edits and insight.