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Power trip: How women find power working together


Katie Hawkins-Gaar* says women can be generous, collaborative, supportive and caring and a powerful force when they are working together.


 

I’ll never forget the moment when the first Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media class met in person.

It was 12 April 2015, and none of us knew what to expect.

Would this idea work?

Would the participants connect with each other?

Would we achieve what we hoped to?

Those fears didn’t last for long.

The 28 women in that first Academy became fast friends – a bond that’s lasted for years.

One of the myths we’re sold about women is that we’re catty and untrusting of each other.

Time and again, each Women’s Leadership Academy has proven that idea couldn’t be further from the truth.

One of my favourite things is watching each cohort connect, learn to trust each other, and discover that women are so much stronger when we’re working together.

I have the very lucky job of overseeing the Academy selection process, lining up guest speakers, brainstorming presentations, helping to secure funding and, of course, getting to know each new cohort of women.

This work has been incredibly fulfilling, and the number of smart and talented women I consider friends has grown exponentially since the program’s inception.

Here are my biggest takeaways since the Academy launched:

  1. We can’t do this alone.

Many of the women know what it’s like to be the odd (wo)man out in the workplace.

As ambitious leaders and change-makers, Academy participants often experience being the youngest employee in the room, the only person of colour on a team, the lone voice calling out problems or the sole woman sitting at the table.

Getting to watch these women meet each other and discover that they’re not alone is incredible.

The leadership lessons, thought-provoking presentations and candid conversations that make up each Academy are wonderful, but the real-life connections between participants are what’s truly invaluable.

  1. Success looks different for everyone.

Our goal from the start of this program was to grow the number of women in leadership positions across the news industry.

There are still not enough women in leadership positions, men are still out-earning women and journalism still has major diversity issues.

That said, there are plenty of women who aren’t particularly interested in landing a job in the C-suite.

That’s OK, too.

While the original goal of this program stands, I realise that there are plenty of ways in which women can affect positive change across the industry.

That requires women who are finding fulfilment in their jobs, doing work they feel passionate about and feeling empowered – not fancy job titles.

In that same survey of participants, 76 per cent have a clearer vision of what’s important in their career.

As someone who’s perpetually figuring out her own career goals, I’m willing to call that a big measure of success.

  1. The cone of silence is a powerful tool.

Every Women’s Leadership Academy is off the record, giving participants and speakers the opportunity to speak openly.

There are a few downsides to that rule – namely, missing out on chances to tweet the brilliant things that people are sharing – but the benefits are overwhelming.

Keeping the Academy under a cone of silence means that people feel safe to be vulnerable, open and honest with each other.

Women share their biggest frustrations and insecurities, as well as their greatest dreams and plans.

I often wonder what workplaces would look like if we all felt as comfortable being so transparent and vulnerable.

  1. The path to the top isn’t always clear.

We work hard to line up unique guest speakers for each academy.

While they’re all successful women with wildly different careers, our speakers have one thing in common – their paths to success were winding.

This discovery – that there’s no clear path to success, and that there are plenty of detours along the way – always seems to be incredibly reassuring to participants.

The truth is that none of us ever really know where we’re headed, and that’s true for even the smartest women in the room.

  1. Gender inequity is more than a women’s issue.

There have been many wins since this program launched.

Participants have landed big promotions, launched ambitious projects, participated in panels and other public speaking opportunities, and built lasting relationships with each other.

Again and again, I am reminded how generous, collaborative, supportive and caring women can be, and how powerful a force we can be when we’re working together.

I also realise that we can’t do this alone.

All-women programs are invaluable, but they’re not a cure-all for industry-wide problems.

As participants return to the real world, outside of the cocoon of the cone of silence, it’s as important as ever that they continue to identify and build relationships with allies in the workplace.

Simply put, women can’t fix the gender divide without men.

We need to do this work together.

 

Katie Hawkins-Gaar is a freelance journalist and the organiser of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media.

This article first appeared at www.poynter.org