Accepting & Celebrating The Croly Journalism Award
In 2019 I had the thrill of accepting the Croly Journalism award for the reporting in my TEDx talk, Interrupting Gender Bias Through Meeting Culture. I'm sharing the acceptance speech I gave in Austin, TX below!
Wow. WHAT a thrill.
Thank you to the General Federation of Women's Clubs for granting me this honor and distinction.
This recognition is much bigger than me. It’s a celebration of a pioneer named Jane Cunningham Croly, who championed and lived the idea of women supporting other women. She was a journalist. At a time when women weren’t journalists.
In 1869, a pivotal event happened to Croly. She and other female journalists were barred from attending a lecture at the all-male New York Press Club. The person speaking? A novelist by the name of Charles Dickens. This incident – this refusal - inspired Croly to take action. To elevate and advance women.
Croly believed that a woman with a voice was, by definition, a powerful woman. But she didn’t just encourage women to be vocal individually. She invented…the women’s club.
She knew that behind every brave woman is a tribe of other brave women who have her back. She created a space for women of different backgrounds to come together. To widen their life and career choices. To amplify each other’s words.
Talk about a force…Croly advocated and lived the idea of “unity in diversity.”
Croly advocated and lived the idea of “unity in diversity.”
Now I feel like I know something about unity in diversity too. See, I was lucky to grow up in a home that was just that. I’m the daughter of an immigrant from Pakistan. See, my father came to the US for a better life. He began teaching himself English in Pakistan, and then got a little more proficient in England, until he reached the US. You guessed it, with just a few bucks in his pocket. He had more ambition than anyone I’ve ever met.
Even though he was raised to believe little girls should be seen, not heard – to him, education was supreme. He could usually be found sitting our kitchen table, arms outstretched with our local newspaper – the Philadelphia Inquirer. I still remember Sunday mornings as a little girl, sitting on his lap at that table, where he taught me how to read. He told me to read him every newspaper headline. A typically serious guy, I still relish making him laugh when I read: “Local business leaders strike deal with labor ONION.”
See, I’m also the daughter of a Caucasian mom. My mom’s parents immigrated here from the Ukraine. She was raised in upstate Pennsylvania on a dairy farm – where the family vacillated between two states of living: poor or destitute. In second grade, her stepdad forbade her to keep going to school. It wasn’t until a truancy officer stepped in and advocated for her that it was decided she could go to school…with the condition that she work the farm before school and on weekends.
Well back in classes, my mom was an A student. But even so, her principal told her as a teenager, she had 2 career choices: housewife or secretary. She was so great in math and science though, something I did not inherit, that she got a full scholarship to college in Philadelphia.
Suddenly her mind and her world expanded. And her family too. That’s where she met and married my dad.
As a family, we were different alright.
As a family, we were different alright. Walking through the grocery store in the Philly suburbs as a kid, I remember people looking from my dad - to my mom - to me, trying to compute our patchwork existence. There they were, my dad, with his dark brown skin and heavy accent, and my mom with her fair complexion and green eyes. We jokingly called our house Ukraini-stani-delphia.
Now looking back at my childhood – I made a critical realization recently. Nothing on this planet gives you “reporter” training like being the youngest of 4 kids. That’s where I fell. Anyone here a 4th born? You know then – that my ability to tell on my siblings was unparalleled. …To share all their little transgressions. My parents came to depend on my firsthand accounts, my breaking news. Hey, I was just keeping them informed.
Despite that early training, I never had eyes for journalism, per se. I didn’t study it in school or practice it at a newspaper. What sparked my need to write is that I joined the workforce. Here I was, a young management consultant trying to make my mark as a professional. I had that fire and ambition from my parents – I wanted to become a leader one day. But as I looked around at each of my first jobs, I started to see all the little ways women were diminished at work. These women weren’t being manhandled or openly harassed. No. Instead, I saw a 1,000 little slights, snubs, and micro-aggressions.
Women being passed up for the leader role. Or not being considered in the first place for a juicy assignment. Sometimes I’d see women speak up in a meeting with a great idea and simply not get any credit for it. That idea would get “claimed” by the person with the biggest, booming voice. These daily oversights, omissions, and lapses started to make my teeth itch. They made my skin prickle.
These daily oversights, omissions, and lapses started to make my teeth itch.
I decided then to become part of changing the game for working women. To influence leaders and workers to do better. It would help, though, if I could really speak the language of business. So, I began to work at night on an MBA.
I was over the moon when I found a special business program at Johns Hopkins. They allowed students a chance to direct two research projects. And I knew just what I wanted to do: interview women at the highest leadership ranks in business to learn how they made it to the top.
There was only one problem: I didn’t know a single one. And I didn’t have any connections to women leaders either! I thought, “Maybe I’ll just interview the highest-ranking women I do know.” I proposed the idea anyway, and my one female professor in business school, Dr. Lindsay Thompson, said something I’ll never forget. She said, “Selena, I’ll approve your research on one condition. You have to go after the whales. You have to go after women executives you think will say ‘No.’”
"You have to go after the whales."
Wow. Talk about a nudge.
Well, I took her advice and reached out to women I idolized. Marie Chandoha, CEO at Charles Schwab. Rosemary Turner, president at UPS. Cindy Bigelow, CEO of Bigelow Teas. Irene Change Britt, Chief Strategy Officer at Campbells Soup. And you know what? They all said yes. They agreed to sit down with me one to one. 30 interviews later, my eyes were opened. Talk about an education! These women had shared their hardest won lessons, their toughest mistakes, their best tips for getting respect.
It changed my life.
And you know what? I realized I’m not that unique. I knew it would change other women’s lives too. I pitched my research material to a book publisher. …And they said ‘Yes.’” As my Grammy would say, I was happier than a bird with a French fry.
I wrote The Next Generation of Women Leaders offering leadership lessons to up-and-coming women. I quit my job as a management consultant. I started writing a column for The Washington Post and then Forbes, on women and the workplace. I pointed out all those little micro-aggressions I kept seeing. And I have to tell you, I loved having a voice. That first book became a company, a second book - Pushback, and many articles and Op/Eds about working women.
And I have to tell you, I loved having a voice.
Then, after all those career experiences, I was invited to give a TEDx talk in Hartford, CT.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, TEDx talks are independently run conferences that take place all over the world. The goal is to help people communicate ideas worth spreading. Speakers are limited to 17-minute or less talks, and video recorded. The videos that result have gone on to shape discourse, gain wide media coverage, and influence thinking. When I was selected for a talk, I was ecstatic! I was excited to have a chance to talk about the ever-present problems of micro bias in the workplace, and — more specifically — how bias lives in the meeting room.
This talk gave me a chance to address this issue head-on, especially considering that a majority of TEDx speakers are men. That irony? It was not lost on me.
I used this moment to shine a light on workplace gender bias and groupthink — and the solution, which lies in our everyday actions. I wanted to take back some of the narrative. I wanted to remove some of the blame around this conversation. I wanted to show people the practical ways that all of us can disrupt outdated models with simple actions.
The talk was intimidating, I won’t lie. It was one of those “put on your big girl pants” moments. But the talk was a success and, for me, it was a pivotal moment that taught me the power of video journalism in the modern age. Video is offering a new way for women to have a voice — an uninterrupted one — to put forth ideas. Where they’re seen and heard.
Video is offering a new way for women to have a voice — an uninterrupted one — to put forth ideas. Where they’re seen and heard.
In a world where the screen is still often dominated by men, that is no small thing.
I grew up, and I’m sure you did too, watching men in movies, on TV, on the news, and in commercials. Rarely did I see someone who looked like me talking about things that were important represented on the screen.
But the advancement of video technology has changed all that. Now, almost anyone with a camera can make a video and post it online, and that means more women have a voice than ever before.
This realization has been so empowering for me! It gave me this freedom to express myself and to prove my ideas and expertise - without - being overlooked or talked over. I started going by the motto, “When someone says you can’t do it, do it twice and take a video.”
I started going by the motto, “When someone says you can’t do it, do it twice and take a video.”
The beauty of this is that we can all document our best thinking. We can show the world the power of our actions — in living color. Just imagine a young girl who is active in her community, who volunteers and makes change happen, documenting that journey online. Imagine watching her grow and evolve and help others firsthand. Imagine the power of that.
Because it’s happening, all around the world. There are women who were told at one time to “Hush,” who are putting their ideas, their experiences, their lives out there for others to see ANYWAY. …In hopes of inspiring others to take action and make change in their communities. In their worlds, too.
Those small actions are no small drop in the bucket, and they’re contributing to a rising tide.
That’s the power of video. That’s the power of a voice. That’s the power of women.
Thank you, General Federation of Women's Clubs for this outstanding honor.
And thank you to all of you change-makers – for the ways you’re helping women make noise and be seen.