Being a Woman and a Mother in the Newsroom: Advice from 5 South Asian Journalists

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Journalism is in a state of change and so is the role women in the workplace.  While journalism and gender parity continue to evolve, women continue to make an impact as journalists not just in their reporting but also in their ability to give other women voices in areas that really matter.

With movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, there is a strong global momentum striving for a “gender parity mindset” globally and also in our own South Asian community.

According to statistics via this year’s International Women’s Day theme, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away. That’s why there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress.

For women in journalism, does being a mother impact the kind of reporting they do or manage work-life balance? How can we help the next generation of South Asian women in journalism?

We talked to five leading South Asian women in journalism who are mothers about the best piece of advice they received early in their journalism careers and how it impacted their journeys as women and moms.

 

Shree Paradhkar, race and gender columnist at Toronto Star

Shree Paradhkar, is the Toronto Star race and gender columnist and the author of Betrayed: My cousin’s wrongful conviction for the murder of her daughter, Aarushi. She has been a journalist in Bangalore, Mumbai, Singapore, and Toronto.

“One of the best pieces of advice I got as a journalist was understanding that communicating is about telling stories. You can imagine how handy this has proven in parenting. As journalists, we inhabit a large world, one filled with disasters, policy decisions, politics and social injustices (along with ‘good news’ stories once in a way). This automatically sifts out pettiness when we’re selecting what to fight for and what to let go when it comes to kids and parent-school relationships.

Work-life balance, unfortunately, has no formulaic solutions. They have to be custom-fitted to what we as individual women and our partners find right for our families, and what unique needs our kids have, and how much privilege we enjoy – as in, can we afford to do part-time, how much flexibility does our workplace offer, and more basically, are we truly taking the decision (to work or not and how much) from an empowered place or are we just fulfilling expectations  set by traditions.

 

 

Aisha Sultan, nationally syndicated features columnist and editor at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes

Aisha Sultan is a nationally syndicated features columnist and editor based at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Her work has run in more than a hundred publications, including The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.   She has won several national awards recognizing her writing, including honors from the Society of Features Journalism and the Asian American Journalists Association. Her work examines social change and how it influences families. She has also written and produced a film exploring race and identity in the Midwest. Aisha is a mother of two.

“When I was preparing for my first maternity leave from the newsroom, I mentioned to a female senior news editor that I was worried about how I would fill my time during the year-long leave of absence I had requested.

“This will be the longest I won’t be working,” I said to her. She looked me, smiled and said, “Oh, I think you’ll be working.”

I didn’t really get it at the time since I wasn’t a parent, but I certainly understood what she meant after my daughter was born. I was shocked at how exhausted I was at the end of each day, most of which seemed to run together, despite not having anything tangible, like a byline, to show that I had accomplished something. It gave me a sense of perspective on how we value and perceive unpaid versus paid work.

Two years later, I requested another unpaid leave of absence, so I could take a nine-month maternity leave after my second child was born.

Both times, I worried about taking a longer-than-typical break from the paid workforce, especially as a journalist. The second time, I wasn’t worried about how I would occupy my time. Although I had been plagued with self-doubt each time about whether I was making the right choice for my career, I don’t regret those decisions for a minute.

 

Rita Trichur, Financial Service editor with the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Rita Trichur is an award-winning journalist. She is the Financial Services Editor for The Globe and Mail and a Canadian business columnist for the Report on Business Magazine. Prior to WSJ, Rita spent more than three years at the Globe, initially working as a general assignment reporter in the Report on Business before covering the telecom beat. Rita has also covered financial services and economics for the Toronto Star, and has held various roles at the Canadian Press and the Ottawa Sun. She got her first byline at age 6 when the Toronto Star published her short story about a fish-stealing cat and paid her $10. Rita, who also speaks French, was born in Toronto. She has a Bachelor of Journalism and Political Science and an M.A. in Canadian Studies – both from Carleton University in Ottawa. She’s also the mother of two kids ages 11 and 8.

“The best piece of advice I received when going into journalism was to “rule my beat.” If you’re not breaking news as a journalist, you’re not doing your job. That often means outworking one’s competitors – which is not always easy when one’s other job is being a mom. But to succeed as a journalist, you have to want it badly.

I have written scoops on my smartphone in a Tim Horton’s parking lot with my kids passed out in the backseat of my car; or on my laptop in between diaper changes or with a sick kid’s head in my lap. It’s important to chase difficult stories. I’ve written stories about money laundering, banks getting slapped down by regulators and deal scoops that moved the stock market. I never want anyone to think that I lack ambition because I’m a mother of two.

Being a mother doesn’t have to hurt your career.  Each time I became pregnant, I received a new job offer. My children brought me luck on the job front.

I have five pieces of advice for young women entering journalism (in addition to “break news”). 1) Make sure that you have a supportive partner or spouse. I’m very lucky that my husband and children are my biggest cheerleaders. 2) Have mentors across the industry — both women and men 3) Know your own worth and demand to be compensated fairly 4) Ask for support from your employer when you need it.  5) As a working mother, you may face barriers/challenges that other people won’t face. Accept that life’s not fair. Then find a way to win.”

 

 

Angie Seth, TV Anchor, Global News Toronto

Angie Seth is the weekend anchor of Global News at 6pm and 11pm in 8 markets across Canada.  Angie began her broadcasting career as a reporter for OMNI television upon graduating from the University of Toronto, with a bachelor’s degree in political science, English, and philosophy. While with OMNI, she worked in various positions in the newsroom, ultimately landing the position as lead anchor of South Asian News in 2006.  Angie is a strong advocate for women’s rights, children’s rights and the fight against domestic violence. She worked on a two-year project with the South Asian Women’s Centre titled, There is No Honor in Violence Against Women and Girls.  Angie won several awards including the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for her work as a journalist and contributions in the community.  She is a long-distance runner and has participated in five marathons, including the Boston marathon in 1999.  Angie is married with three children.

“Growing up I had some amazing women in my life that have helped me immensely. My mother and grandmother stand out the most. They are two strong, independent women who have persevered through the hard times, shined bright through the good, and taught me what it means to be my own person regardless of what others say.

The best advice they gave me was to always be true to myself and to be my own champion…To fight for what I believed in and to stand up for those beliefs even if it meant standing on my own.

I have learned independence, passion, strength, determination, and love from these incredible women.  It is their example that has guided me as a mother and in my career as a journalist. It is these lessons I now pass onto my 2 daughters and son – guiding them the way my mother and grandmother guided me. On this international women’s day, as I do every year, I hug my mother and thank her for setting the path for me. My grandmother passed away years ago at the young age of 99. She is always in my heart and her spirit remains strong within me.”

 

 

Aparita Bhandari, arts and life reporter

Aparita Bhandari is an arts and life reporter in Toronto. She has published with a variety of media including CBC, the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and Walrus magazine. Her areas of interest and expertise lie in the intersections of gender, culture and ethnicity. Her objective this winter, as she works on an assortment of print and audio features, is to finish knitting a Rowan sweater that’s been seven years in the making. Bollywood and Toblerone bars are two of her many guilty pleasures.

“The best advice that I got as a journalist who was going on my first mat leave was from a no-nonsense colleague Ing Wong-Ward, who does not suffer fools or mince her words. While almost everyone around me told me how much my life would change, and how wonderful it would be, Ing was the only one who told me that my world was about to turn upside down, that there would be days that would seem as if there was no end in sight (to whatever it might be: sleeplessness, fatigue, a general sense of what have I done). However, there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

Ing was right. There were many days at the beginning of motherhood where I had no idea what was going on. The first baby can be challenging. And I kept on repeating Ing’s words — That there would be light at the end of the tunnel — like a mantra.
It took a long, long while to get back into the swing of things. Back to work, back to the events that I cover, back to my own sense of self. There are still times when I question myself. But I keep remembering Ing’s words to me, and look to her as an inspiration, as a journalist and just as a person. Even though she was never a hands-on mentor to me, I look up to her.
So my best advice is: Find that person who will give you no-nonsense, good advice. Who will encourage you, but also tell you things as they are.”
 

What’s the best piece of advice you have a received that helped you along the way as both a mom and woman in the workplace? Share your thoughts below!


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