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7 Insights from Joanna Coles, Editor and Media Maven Extraordinaire

Savannah Sellers, co-cost NBC News "Stay Tuned," with editor and author Joanna Coles in the Girls' Lounge at NBCU

Savannah Sellers, co-cost NBC News “Stay Tuned,” with editor and author Joanna Coles in the Girls’ Lounge at NBCU

Joanna Coles has been at the helm of some of the most influential women’s magazines of our time, from Marie Claire to Cosmopolitan. Most recently, she was the Chief Content Officer at Hearst, the media company behind both of those titles. She is also an executive producer of the docu-series So Cosmo, and of The Bold Type, a scripted series based on her life as an editor. Her other side hustles include being on the board of directors for Snapchat and authoring the new book Love Rules: How To Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World. In her storied career, Joanna has learned a lot. In the Girls’ Lounge at NBCU, she shared some of her top tips on how to win at work and in life. 

Recognize the women who came before you.

“If you go back to look at the early versions of Cosmo and what [former editor] Helen Gurley Brown did with it, she really was one of the great editors of the 21st century…She came of age as an editor when the pill had just been approved by the FDA. You can’t imagine how that changed the culture. It changed women’s ability to have more fun without worrying about getting pregnant. She was brilliant at understanding that.”

Ask for what you deserve.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg very much launched this new feminist re-awakening. For the first time, she brought all of the research together and showed that women weren’t getting ahead as they should be, and that there was no equality with men when it came to leadership. There were very few women leaders at Fortune 500 companies, and just 18% of women in Congress… It’s not because we didn’t have women in college either. So it’s shocking that there aren’t more female leaders. I think that was the new beginning of younger millennial women starting to ask why, and starting to ask for more. And realizing, ‘If I don’t ask for myself, no one else will.’”

Opportunity might not come knocking, but it’s there.

“There will be opportunities in your life waiting in plain site that you are ignoring right now because you’re not paying attention to them. Opportunity doesn’t literally knock on the door and say, ‘Hi, I’m an opportunity.’ It’s someone saying something to you that triggers a new idea, or someone you meet that you wouldn’t have expected. It’s these kinds of conversations that literally have the ability to change your life. You never know when the serendipitous meeting or phone call is going to come.”

Stay open.

“I would urge you all to take the call for the job that you don’t think you even remotely want, because it can often lead you somewhere where you’re not expecting to go. Or to be open to talking to people who you don’t necessarily talk to, or to people who you wouldn’t normally make the effort with. Often it’s not your best friend who gets you to your next move, it’s actually someone who doesn’t have that much investment, but who just has some information that’s useful.”

Sometimes you need a career pivot to find a better life fit.

“I started as a journalist, and became the New York bureau chief of The Guardian and then worked at The Times. When I had my second son, I realized I couldn’t do my job anymore. It wasn’t because of anybody’s fault, I just had two children, I wanted to see them, and the job required an enormous amount of travel—often at very short notice. I wanted to stay in media…but I thought, I’ll go into magazines because then I can control my schedule, I’m not traveling and I’ll go into the office. So I went to New York magazine.”

Having kids can change your career—for the better.

“A realization for me was that having children really does change the way women think about their careers. It doesn’t mean that you’re any less powerful, but it does mean that you have to think about how your life is going to work. I think this is a conversation we don’t have very often. Women may feel bad that it isn’t like it was before, but it doesn’t have to be like it was before. In fact for me, it turned out to be a perfect move, because it brought me to a management track I hadn’t anticipated…and led me to the life I wanted to lead.”

You really want to be in charge.

“Another thing women don’t often talk about is this: It’s so much more fun to be in charge. If you’re in charge, you get paid more, you get to make your own schedule, and you get more support. Those are the three things that make an enormous impact on the quality of your life.”
Getting more women in leadership positions? That’s something we are truly passionate about. For more insights from trailblazing female leaders, check out:
Esther Perel On The Post #MeToo Era
8 Lessons From TheSkimm Founders On Building Your Dream Business (And Creating Change)
Jewel On The Power Of Mindfulness