Digital Women Leaders is a centralized place to find accomplished women working in journalism who can offer advice on a variety of topics. We aim to facilitate conversations that can be awkward to start and to connect people to knowledgeable, understanding mentors who might otherwise be hard to find. We hope to provide this service as a helpful resource for someone who may be feeling lost in her career, isolated from higher-ups, or anxious to talk through a problem. And because coaching sessions are just 30 minutes, the time commitment for mentor and mentee is low; but the impact on career satisfaction can be significant. 

Journalism isn’t the only industry where there’s a need for mentorship, and women aren’t the only people looking for mentors. Similar mentorship projects could (and should!) be created for underrepresented groups in other industries, communities and workplaces.  

I view this as an open-source project — you’re welcome to copy what you like and modify what you want. I’ve written a step-by-step process for how this site works, including time and cost required, along with other helpful tips. All I ask is that if you create your own coaching effort based off this model, please let me know! I’d love to start a running list of similar mentorship opportunities out there.

Here’s to improving the industries we love, making mentorship less elite, and giving everyone a fairer shot at career advancement.

— xoxo, KHG

 
 Photo courtesy Taylor Shaw

Photo courtesy Taylor Shaw

 Photo courtesy LaToya Drake

Photo courtesy LaToya Drake

 Photo courtesy Veralyn Williams

Photo courtesy Veralyn Williams

 Photo courtesy Brittany Hite

Photo courtesy Brittany Hite


 

Tips and tricks for creating your own coaching initiative

 

This site is built on Squarespace. I’m using the Avenue template and have done minor customization. I have very basic coding experience, and have found Squarespace super easy to use. I’m using the Business Plan, which costs $18/month.

Pro tips:

  • Update the favicon. (See the “🙌” in this website tab? That guy.) It’s a small touch, but helps your site stand out. In Squarespace: Design > Logo & Title > Browser Icon.

  • Do a little customization, whether it’s changing up the color scheme, or making a custom footer. This might seem unnecessary, but if you’re trying to get people excited about a coaching initiative — especially at work — a little style can help your substance.

  • Add a social sharing image, so your site is optimized for Facebook, Twitter and all of the other places people will share it. In Squarespace: Design > Logo & Title > Social Sharing Logo.

Coaching sessions are booked through Calendly. Each coach is responsible for her own Calendly link, and figuring out her own availability. Most coaches only offer up one or two half-hour coaching slots a week.

If you don’t have Calendly, you can sign up for a free account, set 30 minutes as your default meeting time, and sync it with your work calendar. You’ll want to figure out your own availability (likely busy most of the time, and only offering a few free slots for coaching each week), but that’s totally up to you. Calendly has some additional helpful tips on setting up office hours.

Vetting coaches is important. All of the coaches who are part of Digital Women Leaders are alumnae of either Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media or ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator. The group is wonderfully diverse. They all made it through a competitive process to be accepted into those programs, and have also received intense, hands-on leadership training. All of the coaches are eager to give back to the community, and are committed to this project. Last but not least, I know these women personally and can vouch for them.

I ask each coach to send me the following information to join the site:

  • Current title, and organization where they work.

  • A short sentence (15-20 words or less) about what they could coach on. Example: "Katie can coach on boosting productivity, having difficult conversations, managing burnout, and leading happy teams."

  • A link to their 30-minute Calendly.

  • An updated headshot, ideally 300x300 pixels.

Ownership is important, too. As with most passion projects, having a main champion/point person/evangelizer is a key to success. That person can field questions, give tips to new coaches, and maintain enthusiasm about the initiative.

Be sure to ask your coaches for help in spreading the word about your coaching effort. There’s strength in numbers! And don’t forget to thank coaches for blocking off their valuable time for mentoring, and listen when they have suggestions for how the process could be improved.

Helping others is the goal. The coaching sessions offered through Digital Women Leaders are free and first come, first serve. All of the mentors volunteer their time for coaching, and I'm running the site pro-bono. I have added an option to donate, and have received enough money to cover a year's worth of website fees (thank you!). Because mentorship can be hard for women to find at the start of their careers, it made sense to keep this model free and available to as many people as possible.

That said, it's nice to earn money for your work. I get it! Donations can help support mentoring efforts, or you could create a freemium business model, where initial coaching sessions are free, but follow-ups cost a small fee. It's all up to you, but don't lose sight of the main goal: Helping as many people as possible.

The biggest time commitment is updating the site. I didn’t keep track of how many hours I spent building the site before launch, but it was at least a full week’s worth of work, on and off. Most site updates, especially on the main coaching page, require several hours. The Squarespace backend tends to lag, and the process of adding coaches can take a long time.

There are some pain points. We’ve had some problems with no-shows at coaching sessions, which is annoying and disrespectful to mentors. And while demand for coaching sessions is a good problem to have, it can be frustrating for women looking to book a session. I also don't have a good system in place yet to track how many women have been coached.

I wish I would have created a form for feedback/testimonials at the website’s launch, when interest was highest, and given more guidance at the start about not signing up with multiple coaches at once.

But overall, it’s been fantastic. Since this site was launched in May 2018, hundreds of women have received free one-on-one coaching sessions. The feedback I’ve received and stories I’ve heard have been incredibly affirming and encouraging. Coaches say that the mentor sessions are equally helpful and energizing for them. Plus, getting to play a role in diversifying journalism and helping to empower, inform and connect women is incredibly rad.

tl;dr, I wholeheartedly recommend starting a model like this for your community. Now, go do it!