THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SUPERWOMAN
Career advice from BBC news presenter Mishal Husain
When I joined the BBC exactly 20 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined what I do today: my work in radio and television puts me in the privileged position of being able to question the powerful, and I’ve been fortunate to travel across the world covering breaking news and making documentaries. It’s a job I love, but one that also tests me in many ways – the content, the scrutiny and the working hours, which involve a 3am alarm.
What made me want to write about women in the workplace was a desire to cut out some of the myths, particularly the idea of ‘superwomen’ seamlessly combining careers and families. I had three children in two years (my first child was followed by twins) and life was, for a time, a bit of a blur. I remember thinking I’d never go back to the career I’d had before, especially the international travel, but looking back now I am so glad I took it one step at a time and didn’t make any far-reaching decisions, because that phase passed.
I also wanted to combat common myths in our perception of successful people, especially when we see their attributes as innate rather than honed over time. When I was told 10 years ago that the key quality needed to get to the top of my field was authority, I had no idea how to go about developing it. What I know now is that it comes from acquiring knowledge and being prepared to demonstrate it, showing those around you the mastery you have of material, whatever your line of work. Similarly with confidence – in my experience, preparation, familiarity and routine are all key elements, as well as resilience. There are ways to work at developing all of these qualities, and I wanted to be open and honest about what has helped me, rather than treating it as a closely guarded secret.
NOT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW YOUR
DOUBTS. Being apprehensive about your capabilities is normal, at least for those with a healthy awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. But guard against them becoming part of your outward persona at work. Don’t do yourself down. This doesn’t mean being full of bravado, but simply knowing that not every germ, worry or apprehension needs to be expressed.
You may end up placing doubt about your capabilities into the minds of your peers or managers.
MAINTAIN A SENSE OF PURPOSE IN YOUR
WORKING LIFE. You may not love what you do, but the job may have important benefits that keep you there: whether that be pay, useful experience, CV points that will help get you somewhere else or simply a decent work-life balance. Stay positive about why you are there, or look around for other options.
NERVES ARE USEFUL. I am almost always apprehensive before going on air, and I think it helps me deliver. Once you recognise that, it takes away some of the fear and turns the experience into something more manageable. Routine helps: figure out the order in which you tackle a to-do list or set of tasks most effectively and focus on them one after another.
YOU CAN PREPARE FOR THE BIG MOMENTS.
Take yourself through what is likely to come up, or how you want to set the agenda if it’s a meeting you’ve initiated. I was deeply apprehensive about becoming one of the London 2012 Olympics presenters, but I set aside time to learn as much as I could about each sport and competition. It wasn’t about trying to pass myself off as a sports broadcaster but about making an effort and getting to grips with the subject matter. From that, the confidence and a greater ease flows.
WHEN YOU’RE MAKING A SPEECH, KEEP IT TIGHT. Many people go on for longer than they need to or should, while others are tongue-tied at crucial moments. A good rule of thumb is to divide what you want to say into three areas or three points. These should be the absolutely crucial ones that you want to make sure you deliver, and keeping them to a number that is easy to remember will also help them stay at the forefront of your mind. You don’t want to walk out of a meeting, appraisal or interview and only then remember what you wanted to say – and you also don’t want to make a prepared speech so long that your audience drifts off.
IF IN DOUBT, ASK A QUESTION. It’s not only a very useful way to keep any kind of conversation going, but framing a contribution as a question can also mask any uncertainty you might have at work. Those who are prepared to question the status quo are also vital for any organisation’s plans or projects to succeed – you need people who can think through where any gaps might be, point out the issues, anticipate the problems and ultimately make the ideas better, stronger and more likely to come to fruition.
SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES, WOMEN OR MEN. These are the people experiencing your workplace alongside you. Build bonds where you can, looking out for what might be helpful or where you can go the extra mile and offer support. A circle of trust at work where you can share information and advice, as well as rely on each other, is a great boon. And if one day things get particularly tough for you, the bonds you have invested in and the relationships you have developed could pay dividends.
BE CAREFUL ON SOCIAL MEDIA. In normal conversation, we vary tone and content depending on who we are talking to, but these subtleties are not possible on social media. Err on the side of caution – there are too many examples of those whose feeds came back to haunt them. Nevertheless, these platforms can be an excellent positive outlet – you can use them to burnish your professional image, commenting on or analysing issues relevant to your work. Equally, if you have a passion, particular ability, an eye for the beautiful or a dream of starting a business, that can also be the cornerstone of your social media identity. Your ideas then have an online home – and you never know where that might lead.
KEEP A FIRM GRIP ON YOUR
DIARY. Effective people will always be in demand, and the requests and commitments can pile up. Work out your own checklist of priorities and apply it to whatever comes your way – whether the time frame is next week or next year. It’s all too easy to put something into the diary unthinkingly because it’s far in the distance, only to realise as it draws nearer that it should have been a ‘no’.
TOUGH MOMENTS ARE THE ONES YOU
LEARN FROM. My job is intense and rewarding but also one that involves often-uncomfortable scrutiny: sometimes even a word or two uttered in a live interview can spark comment on social media or in the newspapers. It’s important to find a way to note what is true and will help you hone your skills, but not get derailed by it, so try to remain sanguine. The trickier assignments and more challenging projects are the ones where you develop the most.
‘A CIRCLE OF TRUST IS A GREAT BOON’