Words by Kate Banville
Working on TV sets was often adrenaline-filled and exciting, but even then Beth Wallis describes her 20 years in media as a ‘love-hate affair’. And going off the data, she’s not alone.
Wallis was one of six recipients of the 2023 Women in Media Executive Coaching Scholarships, which delivered one-on-one mentoring provided pro bono by Nudge Coaching and Consultancy. The participants received six online coaching sessions over five months.
Beth Wallis found it was a chance to approach her career in a way she’d never done before: by taking stock.
“I had over a decade of contracting because it became the norm to put people on run-of-show contracts,” Wallis said. “The next gig is your next gig, and you roll from job to job so it's hard to make a definite career plan.”
Despite now leading the creative development for all documentaries produced by AFL Studios, a position in which she feels fulfilled, Wallis didn’t realise how many self-limiting beliefs she’d carried over from previous work environments and the uncertainty of never really feeling in control of her career.
“I think it's fairly common for women to have strengths blindness, so for me working with someone giving you a different perspective was really transformative,” Wallis said.
Released this month, the latest Women in Media Industry Insight Report (more details in this newsletter) found many of the unfavourable trends from 2022 continued, with persistent barriers for women working in media reported by those who were surveyed.
Alarmingly, 54 per cent of women felt either unsure or ‘explicitly dissatisfied’ with the progress of their careers, with nearly one-third thinking about leaving their job.
The data, which was collected by WiM in March/April 2023 from a survey of its members, also found 85 per cent of respondents called for gender pay audits to be introduced to address the media industry’s entrenched higher-than-average pay gap.
And more than one in two women rated the media industry’s commitment to gender equality as ‘weak/very weak’.
Jumping by 22 per cent on figures last year, 63 per cent of women surveyed also wanted more opportunities for shadowing programs to provide access to leaders and hands-on learning.
Nudge co-founder and coach Bindi Newman moved into organisational psychology after a career in media, giving her first-hand knowledge of what it's like to work in the fast-paced industry, and the challenges that come with that.
The latest Women in Media findings were also consistent with themes Newman worked through with participants during the scholarship program. She added that dissatisfaction could occur at all stages and phases of a person’s career.
“A consistent theme we see with women that we coach, is a sense of feeling stuck at all levels in their career,” Newman said. “Questions about what am I doing? Self-confidence and self-belief, imposter syndrome. Those themes are happening at every level.
“We always need to remember that this is a human experience and understand that everyone starts out with a vision, and then realise that life gets in the way. We need to have the right environment of challenge and support for that to change.”
Deeply entrenched workplace cultures and outdated attitudes, along with changes to personal circumstances, can also lead to a lack of opportunity for women working in media.
“One of the reasons that we work with Women in Media is because coaching is not part of the culture of the industry and evidence-based practice is something that we feel is really important in helping people to change,"
A key step is to take ownership of your career.
“A lot of media people are learning leadership on the job. And so, depending on your personal experience of leadership, that can be self-perpetuating, combined with a freelance culture of competitiveness it can be a real hotbed.”
Nudge Coaching and Consultancy use a range of practices derived from psychology, leadership, and sports psychology to help clients gain clarity about their career goals, Newman said.
But a warning, it’s not always as easy as a job change, she added.
“I think often change and growth can come with some loss. So be really clear on how important those changes are for you, including potential pay cuts.
“It has to be considered if you're going to take the next step and really think about what that would mean to you in the short term, medium and long term. That is often part of the change process and we need to take calculated risks, but also be brave.”
For Wallis, the impact of the coaching was about a change in perspective.
“I went in thinking I wanted to do a five-year plan, but then I realised actually finding focus and meaning and working through my values was more important. I know that when I'm ready to take the next step, I'll feel more comfortable and confident in trusting myself and knowing where I want to go.”
The executive-level coaching has also given Beth Wallis further confidence in her established professional ability.
“I think my focus was quite narrow, so I started off saying ‘I'm conscientious and reliable’, whereas the coaching encouraged me to think more widely. Two strengths we identified was I’m able to see a project through, and also the bigger picture strategic thinking that enables me to oversee the entire business ecosystem.”
Since completing the program, each of the recipients applied their newfound knowledge about themselves and their careers differently with job changes, promotions, or a new approach to existing employment.
And the process can help avoid the potential retention problems flagged in this year’s Insight Report.
The survey results again show that employers risk losing valuable talent if they fail to step up on gender equality, pathways for career progress, and access to support and resources for women working in all roles and types of media.