Network newsrooms and startups: what could they possibly have in common?
Turns out quite a bit. Over the past decade, I’ve lived two seemingly separate lives: one was as an award-winning journalist at NBC and CBS News, and, more recently, as an early-stage startup founder building Verbate. While they may seem completely different, my journey through both feels uncannily similar.
Fundamentally, I learned along the way that it was not despite my unique perspective and collection of experiences that I was successful, but because of them.
Both industries are ridiculously hard to break into. It’s all about grit and networking. You have to stomach a lot of rejection and keep pushing. You layer on being a woman of color and suddenly, it gets even harder.
When I was a young journalist looking to break in, I had a clear playbook: get as much experience as I could and network with anyone who would give me a chance.
I enlisted my co-founder today as my make-shift cameraman and we booked countless gigs to build a portfolio. I built the Michigan Daily’s Video Unit from scratch, giving me a chance to fly to conferences across the country to meet journalists from places like CBS News. I kept a diligent list of dozens of people I’d chase down and followed up with them at 6am to make sure I hit their inbox early. I knocked on literally hundreds of doors until someone opened one up (shoutout to Michelle Miller at CBS News).
Once I made it into a big-time newsroom, I worked my hardest to make sure I made the most of the opportunity. I woke up at 4am to work the foreign desk, I launched new digital channels, I covered elections over all-nighters.
But along the way, I was often making sure I was fitting a specific mold – whether it was dressing in a particular style or talking in a certain way on-air.
When I moved over to NBC News, I started to notice which parts of myself I was leaving at home when I came to work.
I’m a Trinidadian, Indian woman born in England and raised in NY. But often, I found myself shrinking away from parts of my identity at work, not wanting to stray from the usual mold.
That changed when younger journalists started to come to me for advice on how to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. Here’s the thing. When they brought their full identities & experiences to work something amazing happened: they pitched better stories, made the teams more informed, and made the platforms richer (literally and figuratively).
That’s when I realized belonging and inclusivity at work are not just good for people, they’ve always been good for business.
Fast-forward to today, this experience of building my network and working hard to prove myself feels eerily similar to the beginning of my career in journalism. Spreadsheets of hundreds of new connections. Going to every networking event I can find. Long hours of doing the work to prove myself in an industry where not a lot of people look like me.
But there’s a key difference this time around – now I know that my unique perspective, my collection of experiences is my superpower, not my downfall. I let my experience and identity inform my work, and help others do the same. Through my company, Verbate, we help DEIB program managers and ERG leads manage, measure, and grow their impact.
Belonging is now the #1 driver of employee engagement (Qualtrics). 80% of companies are doubling down on commitments to Employee Resource Groups (McKinsey). Employee communities like ERGs are influencing company policy, product, marketing, recruiting, and more. DEI Program Manager is the 2nd fastest-growing role in the U.S (LinkedIn).
This all paints a picture of where the ball is moving, towards a greater diversity of thought, experience, identity, and experience in the workplace.
As more people go through their journeys and reinventions, it’s important to realize that your full self is going to be an immense asset to your workplace, not something to hide or shrink away from. Find people who recognize that and don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself based on your self-worth.
The Future of Work will be based on people bringing all of themselves to work, and businesses will be all the better because of it.