Daring Women Q&A: Anika Anand, Director of Storytelling at WhereBy.Us and Cofounder of The Evergrey

"If you’re frustrated at work, quit complaining and learn how to advocate for yourself."

Our latest installment of the Daring Women Q&A series features Anika Anand, director of storytelling at WhereBy.Us and cofounder of The Evergrey, a local daily newsletter that keeps you in the loop about news and events happening around town.

Read about her mentors, proudest moments and advice to women starting out in their careers in this week’s installment of our Daring Women Q&A series.

1. Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.

When I was at The Seattle Times, I worked on “Under Our Skin,” a project that shared 18 Seattleites’ definitions of words related to race, like institutional racism, colorblindness and microaggression. We heard from many readers who said the project gave them a tool to have conversations about race that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

At The Evergrey, after the 2016 presidential election, many of our readers told us they felt confused and frustrated and wanted to better understand others’ political points of view. So, we looked up the nearest county that voted exactly opposite of King County, found Sherman County, Oregon, and took a group of Seattleites there for an afternoon of conversations. Participants thanked us for the chance to get out of their ideological bubbles.

Both projects are examples of when I’ve helped create space for conversation through journalism. That’s when I most enjoy the work I’m doing.

2. What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

A few years ago when Jill Abramson, The New York Times executive editor, was fired, writer Ann Friedman published this analysis, writing, “In real time, it’s hard to be sure what’s sexism and what’s you.” That line has always stuck with me and best summarizes my challenge as a woman in the workplace.

Within that context, I’m about to face my biggest challenge yet: going back to my job after a three-month maternity leave. I’ve always poured everything I had into my work, and before having my son I thought I’d be able to maintain that mentality. But over the last few weeks, I’ve realized my work life will never be the same again. That’s because every day I’ll face what (right now) feels like an impossible choice: feeling excited to engage with the world through work and feeling devastated to leave my son at home with someone else.

How am I going to address it? I don’t know yet. I’m reading lots of articles and books — like The Fifth Trimester and Back to Work after Baby — in an attempt to prepare myself for the transition. But the best advice I’ve received so far is to be kind to myself. I’m going to try that.

3. Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?

My mentors are people who care as much as I do about the success of my career and push me to do my best. They fall into three categories.

First, my friends. Some of them have more experience than me, some have less, some don’t work in journalism at all. But what makes them great mentors is they are thoughtful about what it means to be an early-career, hardworking, ambitious person who is desperate to have their work matter and to make an impact. So, I talk with them about what drives us and how to learn from each other’s experiences.

Second, my family. I’m lucky to have Indian parents who told me I could do whatever I want with my career as long as I love what I do and can support myself financially. And my sister, who knows me better than anyone and always serves as an important gut check.

Finally, my husband, who also works in journalism. He is the only person who can truly calm the voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, and he’s part of the reason I even have the confidence to fill out questionnaires like this.

4. What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?

If you’re frustrated at work, quit complaining and learn how to advocate for yourself.

That isn’t to say there isn’t value in a nice long vent session with close friends at the end of a hard work day. But if you find yourself venting about the same things over and over again, do the work of thoughtfully evaluating the problem and the changes that could help to solve it.

It’s really, really hard, and I’m constantly trying to get better at this. But when I learned how to respectfully advocate for myself, I realized most of my colleagues were happy to problem-solve with me because we’re all just making it up as we go.

5. What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?

Both women and men can stay conscious of representation in everything they do. Whether it’s who’s getting hired, who’s working on a particular project, who’s talking in a meeting, who’s getting credit and recognition, always take stock of the voices that are missing from the conversation and invite them in. It’s simply better for business if more diverse perspectives are involved in decision making.

6. Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.

I recently got hooked on the WorkLife with Adam Grant podcast. He talks with employers who are experimenting with ways of making work more enjoyable. It’s a nice reminder that work doesn’t have to suck and that we can find ways to make money and be more honest, kind and supportive.

7. Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

I’m always thinking about creative ways to tell stories. And for that, I’ve recently drawn a lot of inspiration from comedy — like Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette —and children’s books.

Everyone has their own networking styles. For me, I don’t enjoy networking for the sake of knowing more people. I am curious about things and reach out to people who know more than I do about those things. And when people ask me if I know someone who does this or that, I try to connect people.

And I offer this digital women leaders’ coaching resource to anyone who is from an underrepresented group in the journalism industry. You can sign up to talk with any of us for advice or feedback: https://www.digitalwomenleaders.com/

8. What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?

Most important: balancing optimism and realism, not overpromising, a willingness to be vulnerable and not taking yourself too seriously.

Overrated: being the smartest person in the room.

9. What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over.

I’ve moved away from making content because I enjoy helping others work through their ideas. But when I was writing or creating content, I’d get easily frustrated that it wasn’t Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff. I wish I had been more patient and more willing to slowly get better at it over time.

10. What would be the title of your autobiography?

It Never Hurts to Ask.

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire.

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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