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Dear 22-year-old Joann:
Congrats, 1971 Stanford grad! You’re full of energy, enthusiasm—and naivete. In launching your journalism career, you have no idea what lies ahead. But today, as I say goodbye to The Wall Street Journal after nearly 47 years on staff, I do. So I want to offer you, my younger self,
guidance about navigating the often daunting world of work.
You’re just joining the Journal, whose 150-person reporting and editing staff includes only 11 women. You’ll run into rampant gender bias while you’re reporting, such as being mistaken for a secretary, phone operator or subscription saleswoman. Male sources will tease, “Where have they been hiding a dish like you?”
A lot has changed since then, but in many ways, the U.S. workplace hasn’t come very far. Here
are five pieces of advice—tips that I believe still ring true in 2018.
Discover unwritten workplace rules. In 1973, I was working in San Francisco, where I had been hired as that bureau’s first female reporter. I asked to transfer to Chicago and was told that the Journal wouldn’t pay my moving costs because I initiated the relocation for personal reasons. My husband wanted to pursue a graduate degree at Northwestern University.
The official rules were that the company wouldn’t pay for a move if it was at the employee’s
request. I wasn’t plugged into enough company insiders to know that office practices may differ
from official policies. Even today, men generally seem to have a better understanding of the
unwritten rules of the office than women do.
Sure enough, I later learned that editors occasionally overlooked the relocation policy—the company footed the bill so a male New York reporter could live close to his ailing mother in the San Francisco area.
As it happens, I also benefited from ways my employer strayed from the literal rulebook. Even
before my move to Chicago, I underwent major surgery for detached retinas. My recovery lasted many weeks and I was paid my salary the entire time. I didn’t realize until later that the
company could have insisted that I pursue disability insurance coverage.
The point is, unwritten rules can help or hurt you. But you must truly understand them to make sure they work for you.
Find the door to the “old boys’ club.” I initially couldn’t figure out how to be casual buddies with my male colleagues. Early in my career, my boss owned a sailboat and on weekends, he liked to take along guys in the office. The married ones left
their wives behind. The only time he invited me onto his boat, he insisted I bring my husband along. I disliked being treated differently. And to avoid annoying my husband, I didn’t talk shop with my boss during our sail.
In Chicago, I found a door to the club: Men in the office without pressing deadlines regularly
played bridge in the afternoon. I didn’t know how to play, so I took lessons and players
eventually let me play, too.
But you, younger self, shouldn’t stop there! A coworker recently told me that another
former boss sometimes invited men, but not women, for drinks after work and to his home
for a barbecue one time. I wish I had known. (After I left, other women in the bureau
complained about the private socializing and he invited everyone to his house the next time.)
Deliberate carefully before making critical career decisions. When I was in my late 20s, my
Chicago boss approached me and three male reporters about taking spots as bureau chiefs in
smaller U.S. cities. If it worked out, I would have been the first female head of a Journal bureau.
However, I feared my husband would have trouble finding a job in a distant city. We were also
seriously thinking about conceiving our first child. I thought I should respond quickly. “I want
to be a bureau chief someday—just not now,” I told my boss. I was wrong to react instantly. I should have spent days weighing the upsides and downsides, following chats with my husband and manager moms elsewhere.
The three men soon were named Journal bureau chiefs and subsequently advanced higher. Years later, I applied to be the Atlanta bureau chief. A more experienced woman got the job.
Ask for the pay you deserve, but do your homework first. In 1986, Kathryn Christensen, the London bureau chief, offered me a 10% raise to become her second in command. (She had become the Journal’s first female bureau chief in 1982, in Boston.) The raise impressed me so much that I never considered requesting more. Unfortunately, women frequently react the same way today. An editor who advises reporters offered overseas assignments told me that men tend to demand more money, after analyzing local pay practices, while women accept even modest raises without objection.
Remember the power of tact and discretion. When I was London deputy bureau chief, a New York executive asked me to gauge our office morale before he visited European bureaus. I indiscreetly relayed one staffer’s comment: “At a time of austerity, why is he taking this junket?” The enraged executive felt personally attacked and tried to get me fired. I
later learned this from colleagues and spent months repairing my image.
My problem? I was a rookie manager with no training or feedback about dealing with senior
management. I hope that you’ll ask more experienced associates for informal guidance.
Ultimately, however, you must help yourself succeed. As I noted in a 2010 career column: No one can manage You Inc. better than you. Love, Your Older but Wiser Self.