Offering a professional leg-up through courses and coaching, Women in Media is on a mission to help women find their voices and make the most of their media careers.
Words by Susan Horsburgh
At the height of her career, Selina Joseph was living in New York, working as a news producer on NBC’s Today show during the history-making days of September 11. When she returned home to Melbourne in 2004, though, she struggled to find a job.
She stepped away from work for six months to have a child then, over the next two decades, took a series of TV jobs, including rolling contracts as a field producer on Nine’s Postcards – until that work dried up about five years ago. “My wage had been going down over the years,” she says. “First it was four days and then it was three; first it was 46 weeks a year and then it was 39 – it just kept going backwards.”
The pandemic was the clincher: “I’d been doing the same sort of work for a long time and wasn’t progressing – and then COVID completely derailed me,” she says.
“Food/travel is my passion and that kind of content isn’t really being created anymore, and when it is, it’s completely brand-funded … It was just that feeling of, ‘I’m getting too old for this shit.’”
As her career stagnated, her confidence spiralled, and age discrimination in the job market was undeniable. “I’ve applied for a lot of stuff and most of the time it’s crickets,” says 55-year-old Selina. “I was distraught. Professionally I was at a stalemate because I couldn’t decide what to do next and wasn’t getting anywhere trying to do what I’d been doing in the past. I couldn’t decide what direction to move in, or even if I wanted to stay in the industry.”
When Selina saw an ad for Women in Media’s 2023 Relaunch Project, she leapt at the chance to recharge her career. So did dozens of others, with Women in Media taking applications from women across ages and cultural backgrounds – not only those returning to work after maternity leave or redundancy, but also struggling freelancers and women with leadership ambitions.
“One of the key reasons women are not getting to those [executive] positions is because women often take career breaks,” says Relaunch co-project lead Jacinta Rose.
“We’ve also got women who want to find out how to put themselves out there … to make sure they’re not just shrinking away but showing they have incredible life experience and all these skills.”
The screaming need for support is indisputable in this year’s Women in Media Industry Insight Report, which shows the majority are dissatisfied or unsure of how to advance their careers, while almost a third are thinking of leaving their media jobs in the next year. “People are saying, ‘I just don’t feel like the industry sees the issue’,” says Women in Media strategic advisor Petra Buchanan.
Alongside the Relaunch program, Women in Media gave away six coaching scholarships earlier this year with the support of Nudge Coaching, and more will be offered next year. Women in Media has also developed a 38-week Empowering Women in Media Leadership Program for 2024, to teach 24 women how to lead with confidence and authenticity.
“If you look at Relaunch, these are not just women at the beginning of their careers – these are incredibly talented professionals, at various levels of seniority and experience,”
“There was this perception that it was going to be a program for mums coming back after maternity leave, but there is such a bigger need out there. We need to be inclusive across age and circumstance.”
In partnership with Google News Initiative, Women in Media’s five-month Relaunch program gave 16 participants from around Australia – plus journalist Iva Danford from Fiji – a series of 10 online workshops, one-on-one mentoring sessions and tickets to the Women in Media National Conference last month. The workshops covered personal and professional development, focusing on leadership, media industry trends and personal branding. Among the most popular speakers, says Jacinta, was LinkedIn’s Amanda Margariti, who taught the women how to promote themselves “and not feel cheesy or icky about it”.
Post-Relaunch, there was a 70 percent uplift in participants feeling they had the tools and experience to nab their next job.
“A number of women felt confident enough to leave jobs they weren’t happy in, or to go for jobs they now feel they can flourish in,”
says Jacinta. “And sometimes they just made little tweaks … and that can make a big difference.”
Sarah Elks is a case in point. She loved her role as a senior investigative reporter for The Australian, but applied for Relaunch when she was returning to work after baby number two; after 15 years with the paper, she was “feeling a bit stale” and frustrated that her stories seemed to be sinking without trace behind a paywall.
For Sarah, a major takeaway from the program was the need to seize opportunities – a lesson that came in handy when she was asked to moderate a panel discussion in July on the Voice, with Noel Pearson and two Cape York mayors.
“My initial response was, ‘Why would you pick me?’ and also, ‘No, thank you, that sounds terrifying!’” says 38-year-old Sarah. “And then I had the Relaunch program in my head going, ‘You need to say yes to this.’ So I did – and it really helped my confidence to know that I could do something like that, even though it was very much out of my comfort zone.”
Relaunch speakers hammered home that no one’s work speaks for itself; visibility is essential. “It feels incredibly uncomfortable but I started a professional Instagram account and I’ve put more focus on LinkedIn,” says Sarah. “You’ve got to do a bit of shouting about your work.”
As for Selina, she has identified her strengths through Relaunch and, with the help of her mentor, plotted a way out of her career quagmire and into a job that capitalises on those leadership qualities.
Since joining the program, Selina has done a post-production traineeship and scored a job as a post-production supervisor – something she wouldn’t have attempted pre-Relaunch. “I went into that interview more confident than I’ve ever been,” says Selina. “I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth!”
Now, heading into the second half of her 50s, Selina is looking forward to a fresh career phase with excitement and optimism. “I’m in a completely different headspace to where I was this time last year,” she says. “Relaunch was totally life-changing.”