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MENA Women At Work: The Lesson I Learnt From Constantly Arguing With My Editor

 

This is the first in a series by Sustain Leadership, bringing real stories by real women in the MENA region to the discussions surrounding diversity, gender bias, leadership and more.

Diversity and inclusion are the fuzzy feel-good buzzwords on everyone’s lips. So why aren’t we getting closer to achieving this strategic business imperative? 

Real talk: it’s tough work. Being inclusive isn’t just about hiring more people from different ethnicities or dressing up in kimonos or saris while chomping on sushi and tandoori chicken all in the name of diversity.

Living up to principles of inclusion requires you to endure the excruciating pain anyone is bound to feel when their fundamental beliefs are challenged. 

And it is indeed excruciating to try to accept diverse thoughts, psyches, and leadership styles. I should know. I’ve gone the full gamut on the spectrum of tolerance in my past life as a journalist.

Overheard in the newsroom

‘IF THIS WAS A REAL NEWSROOM – YOU’D HEAR A WHOLE LOT MORE CUSSING AND YELLING…’

It wasn’t the first time I heard this comment from my ex-editor. He had made his career covering hostile situations and demonstrations in his native country and abroad. When I joined his team as an editor of an international news site, I was a bright-eyed 24 -year-old journalist keen to make a ‘positive impact’ in the world.

We butted heads. A lot.

Fuelled by Pollyannish ideas and a headstrong desire to implement real change, I fought for what I thought was the right way of doing things in our newsroom. It wasn’t easy. To top it off, my editor and I disagreed on the fundamentals of what it meant to be a journalist.

‘YOU NEED TO TOUGHEN UP;  EVERYBODY HATES THE SUBS AND EDITORS – AND THAT’S NORMAL;

REAL JOURNALISTS FIGHT TO GET THE STORY.’

True to my innate contrarian inclination, I resisted. I’d (unfairly) retort back: ‘You’re being pig-headed and old-fashioned. We need to start doing things differently.’

Now, while my editor exchanged these kinds of views often during amicable non-confrontational conversations: I internalized it. Chalk it down to imposter syndrome or my editor’s views, I began to believe that I wasn’t a real journalist. After all, I wasn’t  abrasive, tough, or willing to rub people the wrong way. I hadn’t unearthed my own Watergate, tripped up a state minister or had a yelling match with the other editors.

This internal monolog didn’t sadden or stop me. I made my peace with being some hybrid social media strategist/ glorified blogger with journalistic tendencies. I continued, as usual, sporadically sparring with my editor and accepting my pseudo-journo avatar to be part of my identity.

Shattering the glass

All this changed a year after I moved to another role when I discovered gender theory.

I learned about different leadership styles, priorities, and behaviors. One concept stood out to me: the difference between the established (masculine) and alternative (feminine) leadership styles. [Note: It is important to highlight that either leadership style can be espoused by either gender].

In particular, it was interesting for me to learn how the established leadership style prioritizes accomplishing tasks and so such leaders tend to exhibit assertive, dominant behavior. On the other hand, alternative leadership esteems interpersonal relationships over tasks and thus has an affinity towards a more democratic leadership style.

The more I read, the more I began to reframe every turbulent conversation I had with my editor. No longer did I see him to be completely right or wrong about his views and style of working. What’s more, I no longer hold on to the idea that I’m not a real journalist.

Journalism as a profession can and has been seen as wrought with conflict, abrasion, and hostility. Depending on which leadership style you espouse, managing a newsroom can be an exercise in assertion and dominance – OR – a practice in empathy and collaboration.  

Seeing as we each embraced different perspectives, I now understand why my editor and I clashed so often. I no longer vilify him for his approach; nor do I play the role of the misunderstood millennial. This flexibility of thought has helped me achieve what most diversity and inclusion programs aim for: Acceptance.

With this acceptance, I’m now able to get beyond our difference and fondly look back at the good and funny times we’ve shared (mostly involving him doing Bhangra dance moves on his chair while singing in a high-pitched comedic voice). 

I know he never intended to make me feel like I wasn’t a real journalist because I wasn’t tough and aggressive. We’re still in touch, and we’ve just had a long conversation about the very piece you’re currently reading (of course, he made several recommendations for my writing).

The takeaway

And so, armed with this anecdote, I urge you to challenge your world view. If you want to bring diversity into your organization truly – think seriously and critically about your most core beliefs. For instance, what do you think it means to be a professional in your industry? Be honest about your past conflicts in the workplace: Was incompetence to be blamed or diversity of thought?

The more you do this, the more you will realize how a lot, if not, most conflicts at work stem from the diversity of priorities, though, and psyches. It takes practice to be consistently challenging yourself on the stories we all tell ourselves – and the stories we’ve been told by the larger socioeconomic forces at play.

Still, inclusiveness is a muscle (read: superpower). The more we flex it, the more we build it. And as I’ve learned, the more you develop your empathy for different ways of thinking, the easier it becomes to cope with the everyday challenges of managing fragile egos in a high-pressure work environment.

Good luck.

Eva Fernandes is a communication specialist and activist dedicated to empowering individuals, organizations and communities at large to embrace authenticity, diversity, inclusion, openness, intentional living and curiosity. In her words: “I’m a storyteller, open to different perspectives. I’m an explorer, always seeking ways of better living.” Connect with her on www.EvaFernandes.com  

 

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