Don’t know your place! Five lessons on leadership we’ve learnt from five editions of the WIN Media Lounge

On 3 September 2021, Women in News launched a mentorship initiative for women journalists based in Africa – the WIN Media Lounge. Held quarterly, the Media Lounge seeks to connect young, upcoming women journalists with their more experienced colleagues through storytelling sessions. This allows for intergenerational learning in a safe space.

The Media Lounge takes the format of a virtual ‘fireplace setting’ that enables the sharing of personal experiences and practical lessons in life and journalism, including working smart, building a lasting brand, navigating newsroom leadership and finding the support you need.

A key segment of the Media Lounge is #HerStory, where the yet-to-be documented career stories of women in journalism are told through panel discussions and interviews, and serve to inspire others.

Another significant aspect of the Media Lounge is mentorship. This year, through a structured approach, it has enabled more than 30 mentors to pass on their knowledge, skills and networks to mentees across sub-Saharan Africa.

One year since we launched the initiative, we have hosted five editions of the Media Lounge, learning from the stories and experiences of amazing newsroom leaders and entrepreneurs. 

We’ve heard from Rose Kimotho (Three Stones Ltd, Kenya), Ferial Haffajee (Daily Maverick, South Africa), a panel of Tsedale Lemma (JAKENN Publishing, Ethiopia), Benson Mbewe (AB Communications, Zimbabwe) and Penlope Nankunda (New Vision, Uganda), Toyosi Ogunseye (BBC, Nigeria/UK), and Blessing Magenga (The BusinessConnect, Zimbabwe).

Here are some of the leadership lessons we have picked up from these discussions.

Rose Kimotho: Determine your own value

People will value you depending on the value you put on yourself. If you allow people to treat you badly, they will. When you peg your worth low, that’s how people will value you. Women have to push themselves; don’t expect things to land on your laps.

Women are taught to play fair. Rising can be equated to being a betrayal of the gender, and others might resent you for rising ahead of them. Men don’t have that restriction. It’s about understanding this psyche. Too many women are dealing with imposter syndrome and need more belief in themselves. That’s why the WIN Media Lounge is an important space. You need to hear that you can push yourself. That you’re enough. That you’re capable.

Ferial Haffajee: Don’t know your place

If I could write to my younger self, I’d tell her: Don’t know your place. Grab opportunities. You know more — and are more than you think you are. Stake your claim and go where you want to go.

To succeed as a journalist, you must be curious. You have the incredible honour of being welcomed into people’s worlds to tell their stories. Work hard, read everything and pitch all sorts of ideas. Be keen to learn.

Seven in 10 people will appreciate this curiosity and eagerness – there needs to be a leadership framework in place that encourages this. But even if you work with the three in 10 who are likely to resist your curiosity, develop a circle of empowerment. That’s why it’s vital that we extend a hand to other women and help pull them up. Be someone’s circle.

Tsedale Lemma, Benson Mbewe and Penlope Nankunda: Women can!

It’s a constant process getting more women into the media industry. Getting them to replace you; to stand on their own. It doesn’t happen overnight – it must be a deliberate process. Women are meant for the top jobs. They can make it to the highest levels of the newsroom. They are just as driven as anybody else. But they need to be empowered to step into these leadership spaces and given the support they need to reach the full extent of their potential. It must be deliberate.

Toyosi Ogunseye: Know the legacy you want for yourself

I love being in these spaces where we discuss the issues affecting us as women in journalism because our stories inspire us. My journey was defined by tenacity. I was determined to be successful. I wanted front-page stories. I started out as a crime reporter and would sit in police stations to find the big stories. If I didn’t find them that day, I’d go back the following day. I kept at it. Every day.

If you’re good at what you do, you won’t need to tell people. But getting to this point requires that you improve yourself every day. Your job must speak for itself. Build a brand, a portfolio that shows your impact. Determine early on the legacy you want to build for yourself and work towards it every day.

Blessing Magenga: If you really want it, you’ll get it

I refuse to hear “no” and give up. I have the zeal to learn. I moved from a sales job to establishing my own newspaper because I wanted to. I wasn’t willing to be told “no”. I withstood the doubters, the harassers, those who said I couldn’t do what I wanted to because I was a woman, or because I wasn’t qualified. I learned what I needed to.

You need to know that nothing is impossible. Go after what you want. I set up my newspaper without any kind of financial support. I was aggressive. I pushed. I persevered. I was excellent. Work hard and prove yourself.

If you would like to mentor or be mentored as part of the WIN Africa Media Lounge, get in touch with us via info@womeninnews.org

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