Women in Media

Four strategies women need to succeed and lead: lessons from Women in Media

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If you’re looking for inspirational women who have risen to the top of a competitive, male-dominated profession then it’s hard to look past Australia’s top female journalists.

When you’re in an industry in which sexism has been rife not just within the office but also without with viewers and readers judging you for your gender more so than your work, you have to learn to not only grow a thick skin but also some strategies on how to get ahead despite the fact you’re female.

The annual national Women in Media conference brings together these women, in which they share the stories of their experiences and what they’ve learned about achieving professional success.

It doesn’t matter what we’re trying to achieve – whether it be to do with business or a career, financial achievements, raising kids, adopting healthier habits or completing a challenge we’ve set ourselves – the lessons and ideas raised at WIM apply to them all.

They may have been delivered for the benefit of female journalists developing their careers but there’s something in them for everyone.

At the 2018 conference, distinguished veteran journalist, broadcaster and author Caroline Jones (you’ll see her introducing the Australian Story episodes) in her keynote address outlined lessons she’d learned during her career, yet all the other speakers raised thoughts and ideas along the same lines.

Overall there were four primary strategies for women who want to lead or succeed.

Strategy 1: Back yourself

This is a muscle that strengthens as you use it. Backing yourself is far from a default position for many, many women, or young girls. It’s often a foreign concept and one which they struggle with.

It helps to remember self-doubt is universal. All ages, both genders – everyone has moments of self-doubt, even those who you assume are full of confidence.

ABC journalist Virginia Trioli said: “We women persistently underestimate our abilities.”

All the women on the WIM stage reported times of self-doubt and all of them also said women needed to back themselves even when that doubt is there.

Kate McClymont, one of Australia’s leading investigative reporters, said: “Don’t over-think, don’t assume you don’t have the skills, take the opportunities.”

Backing yourself means taking opportunities even if you feel you’re not ready or under-prepared or under-qualified.

Marina Go, former magazine editor and media company CEO and GM, the first female Chair of an NRL football club and author of the book ‘Break Through: 20 Strategies for Success for Female Leaders‘ said: “The difference between those who become leaders and those who don’t, is confidence.”

You may not want to be a leader as such but confidence – to have enough  belief in yourself to have a go – is the difference between going nowhere, or succeeding at your goal, whatever it is.

Strategy 2: Buddy up – have friends and find mentors

The sisterhood is a very loving embrace, despite what you read and hear. Channel 10 newsreader Sandra Sully

There is nothing – nothing – more empowering than knowing someone has your back.

A cheer squad of friends who believe in you or who show you some tough love and call you out on your excuses, is the platform from which you can launch yourself into any challenge.

The news industry is notoriously competitive and male dominated, so the WIM panels talked a lot about being women in that environment, and the need for solidarity to support each other.

I believe this to be true for women everywhere no matter what they’re trying to achieve – whether it be to succeed in business, to build a career, or to be the best parent they can be, to lose weight, be healthier, heal or recover, run a marathon – it doesn’t matter. A sisterhood who says: ‘I see you’ can be the difference between going on or giving up.

We hear all the time that women tear each other down – I’ve certainly experienced it.

But I’ve also experienced the opposite. I have friends who cheer me on. I have a wolf pack who defend me, even if I’m the one doing the attacking when I listen to my own doubts.

If women are to rise, then we are all responsible to rise together. If you are to rise, then you are obliged to help others rise too.

As co-authors of the book ‘Women Kind: Unlocking the Power of Women Supporting Women’, Kirstin Ferguson and Catherine Fox, had plenty to say on this topic.

“It’s not a ladder up we want to provide, because only one person at a time can climb it behind us,” said Kirstin,  who is also the Acting Chair of the ABC board.

“What we want to do is cast a fishing net – throw a net out behind us so many women can climb at the same time.

“Forget the bloody ladder. The ladder only helps one woman at a time and they have to hold on for dear life. We need to throw down a fishing net.”

Catherine, a leading commentator on women and work, told of a process she and some other females adopted in order to back each other up.

She called it amplification – an agreement that when a woman makes a suggestion in a meeting or conference, the other women go: ‘good idea, let’s talk about that’ as a way of ensuring women’s voices and ideas are heard.

We can all do this – we can all of us, through our online channels, talk each other up so that our ideas are heard. We can amplify other women’s voices regardless of whether we know them or not.

Strategy 3: See failure as an opportunity

Something is always going to go wrong at some stage. Mistakes happen, failure happens and we can choose to see it as a disaster, or an opportunity.

In the media, your mistakes or disasters can be very, very public.

Tracey Spicer, a former TV anchor and reporter and author of the book ‘The Good Girl Stripped Bare’, fainted on air when she was given her first gig on TV, filling in as the weather reporter.

It happened again the second night but she said three great things happened because of those embarrassing moments:

  • She realised she experienced anxiety and panic attacks;
  • She landed an audition for a fulltime newsreader position;
  • And a punk band called themselves the Fainting Weather Girls.

Caroline Jones told the story of a time when she had burnt herself out which resulted in a two year gap in her career. At the time she was saying to herself ‘what have I done?’ but  from that  disaster new opportunities came along which she said ‘would lead to my next  adventure in journalism’.

“See disaster as an opportunity for growth and new opportunities.”Caroline Jones

Virginia Trioli opened up about her very public disaster in which she was caught on air making fun of federal politician Barnaby Joyce. It was by all accounts, a career disaster, and unbeknown to anyone at the time, came at a time of great personal heartache for Virginia as well.

It could have spelled the end of her career yet it didn’t and she remains one of the country’s top broadcast journalists.

(You can read the full transcript of Virginia’s presentation Benefits of Being a Difficult Woman in Difficult Times here.)

Sometimes our stuff ups and failures can feel catastrophic but turn out to be a catalyst for something better or something new.

At the very least, we learn and grow, but they can often be a u-turn or lead to a new adventure.

Shutting down a fear of failure opens us up to opportunities lost to us if we avoid risk.

Strategy 4: Ditch the naysayers

Don’t waste time on people who aren’t good for you.Caroline Jones

When you’re trying to achieve something new or different or difficult, there can be people around you who hold you back, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.

Sometimes it’s done from a place of jealousy, but sometimes it’s fear they have for you – they love you and don’t want to see you hurt through failure or judgment.

Other times, you can find yourself up against people blocking your path purely in order to protect their own position.

Kate McClymont said: “It’s really important to not want to be loved if you’re going to do a tough job.”

I’d add that it doesn’t matter if it’s a tough job you’re setting out to do – putting yourself out, up or forward in any way requires a form detachment from other people’s opinions.

In this world of social media likes and trolls, the need to be liked – or to have likes – lurks larger than ever. Yet you can’t worry about whether people will like you, what your social media numbers are or the opinions of other people if you want to achieve anything of significance.

When you’re setting out to rise, to succeed, or simply just to do something others around you don’t do, as a woman you may be told you should keep your thoughts to yourself, that you’re not strong enough or smart enough, that you’re this or that.

To move forward requires ignoring these voices, ignoring the criticism and distancing yourself from people who hold you back.

We all too often listen to the thoughts, opinions and voices of others rather than tune in to ourselves.

When the topic came up at WIM, Catherine Fox said women needed to start drowning out the message they’re not cut out to lead.

“Stop telling women they don’t have confidence. It’s bullshit. (You feel that way) because you’ve been told you’re not good enough,” she said.

The problem for women who want to rise or succeed or even speak, is that we’re still an unknown quantity.

Many men still don’t know what to make of us and so find it hard to make room for us.

Many women still aren’t sure how to act or be themselves so they continue to mimic the men ahead of them because that’s all they know and so they sabotage themselves and other women.

The world is still not sure what to make of a woman on the rise, or a woman with an opinion, or a woman on a mission, or even just a woman who turns up expecting a fair go, and so it continues to tell us to stay in our place.

Things are changing, and with thanks to those who have have gone before us, we now have women who’s lead we can follow to tread our own path should we have the courage to do so.

As Virginia said:

“… if you can get in touch with the difficult woman inside you — the one who insists on her voice being heard, the one who refuses to bend to ‘the way we’ve always done it’ before, who can identify what she was put here to do and asks for the help she might need to get it done, then one key difficulty melts away.

“Then, you slip the shackles of someone else’s expectations of you and you firmly set the boundaries of what you expect for yourself.”

Picture courtesy of Women in Media Qld

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