[caption id="attachment_228150" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/CHRISTINA[/caption]
“You don’t have the experience,” my supervisor at a Maryland newspaper told me over a phone call, a few years back. “Instead, we can offer you the title, ‘senior reporter.’”I can’t even remember what I said in response. I remember thinking about all the weeks I spent with my colleagues managing the newspaper, the countless hours of pouring over the pages to dissect the choices made in placing articles.That call happened at a regional office in a larger newspaper company, but I’ll never forget how small I felt hearing those words.I was never one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to do in life - I just wanted to write. I fell in love with journalism in college, managing my friends and classmates to ensure we got the news of the week out to our small campus. We had no journalism program back then, but I was addicted to telling people’s stories and sharing how important they were with the world.Over time, that passion grew to the news industry itself, despite all the heartbreaks that come with it in the social media age. In my mid-20s, I discovered a new dream: I wanted to be an editor. Of course, passion isn’t all you need to succeed in your career goals. You need to be adaptable, willing to learn the ropes and able to deliver a strong, consistent product.
[caption id="attachment_206578" align="alignright" width="282"] Katie Tabeling, Associate Editor, Delaware Business Times[/caption]
There’s also one more thing that is more whispered rather than said out loud: You need someone who believes that you can succeed.I didn’t know it at the time of that phone call, but I found my own version of the “broken rung,” on the leadership ladder. Women struggle to leave behind their “entry level” position to the next step, which has a domino effect of keeping women out of general leadership roles - and perpetuating the cycle.Throughout my professional life, I’ve heard stories of friends and acquaintances not being taken seriously or being stymied at every turn. The most frustrating case was hearing from Dr. Devona Williams, whose consulting business works with national companies, recounting the “brick wall” in her previous corporate life. One of my mentors quit her job because someone tried to shame her into staying late after having her first son, sparking my fear of being forced to choose between my future children and my job someday.It’s nothing new. For every 100 men who are promoted from entry level, there are only 87 women promoted, according to a recent LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company study. The ratio drops to 82 for women of color.I left that Maryland company in hopes of realizing my dream of a promotion, ideally before starting a family, and was fortunate enough to do so here at Delaware Business Times. As it turns out, I was ahead of the curve. Two years after the COVID-19 started and pushed women to care for their children while trying to work at home, there’s a new phenomenon happening. Women have had enough, and are leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers. Forty-eight percent of women under the age of 30 surveyed in the McKinsey study said the lack of opportunities to advance were the reason they were switching jobs. Forty-nine percent of women say flexibility is one of the top considerations whether to stay at their company or to leave.I’m not alone in weighing promotions against family. USA Fulfillment top leaders BJ Collier and Dawn Jones, who have both been there almost as long as the company itself, said that was key in staying on so long.“Family was a priority, and that’s important for someone that has young children,” USA Fulfillment Vice President of Operations Dawn Jones told me. “That’s something I tried to do with the people who work with us: make them understand that business has to be accomplished but life’s important. I think COVID taught many people that.”The writing is on the wall for businesses: something needs to change, or women will work for something that works better for them.Editor’s note: Associate Editor Katie Tabeling is editing the annual Women In Business issue this week. Editor Jacob Owens’ column will return next edition.