Workplace Advice Given to a 22 Year Old Self

Author: Joann S. Lublin Source: Wall Street Journal

Dear 22-year-old Joann:

Congrats, 1971 Stanford grad! You’re full of energy, enthusiasm—and naivete. In launching your journalism career, you have no idea what lies ahead. But today, as I say goodbye to The Wall Street Journal after nearly 47 years on staff, I do. So I want to offer you, my younger self, guidance about navigating the often daunting world of work.

You’re just joining the Journal, whose 150-person reporting and editing staff includes only 11 women. You’ll run into rampant gender bias while you’re reporting, such as being mistaken for a secretary, phone operator or subscription saleswoman. Male sources will tease, “Where have they been hiding a dish like you?”

A lot has changed since then, but in many ways, the U.S. workplace hasn’t come very far. Here are five pieces of advice—tips that I believe still ring true in 2018.

Discover unwritten workplace rules. In 1973, I was working in San Francisco, where I had been hired as that bureau’s first female reporter. I asked to transfer to Chicago and was told that the Journal wouldn’t pay my moving costs because I initiated the relocation for personal reasons. My husband wanted to pursue a graduate degree at Northwestern University.

The official rules were that the company wouldn’t pay for a move if it was at the employee’s request. I wasn’t plugged into enough company insiders to know that office practices may differ from official policies. Even today, men generally seem to have a better understanding of the unwritten rules of the office than women do.

Sure enough, I later learned that editors occasionally overlooked the relocation policy—the company footed the bill so a male New York reporter could live close to his ailing mother in the San Francisco area.

As it happens, I also benefited from ways my employer strayed from the literal rulebook. Even before my move to Chicago, I underwent major surgery for detached retinas. My recovery lasted many weeks and I was paid my salary the entire time. I didn’t realize until later that the company could have insisted that I pursue disability insurance coverage.

The point is, unwritten rules can help or hurt you. But you must truly understand them to make sure they work for you.

Find the door to the “old boys’ club.” I initially couldn’t figure out how to be casual buddies with my male colleagues. Early in my career, my boss owned a sailboat and on weekends, he liked to take along guys in the office. The married ones left their wives behind. The only time he invited me onto his boat, he insisted I bring my husband along. I disliked being treated differently. And to avoid annoying my husband, I didn’t talk shop with my boss during our sail.

In Chicago, I found a door to the club: Men in the office without pressing deadlines regularly played bridge in the afternoon. I didn’t know how to play, so I took lessons and players eventually let me play, too.

But you, younger self, shouldn’t stop there! A coworker recently told me that another former boss sometimes invited men, but not women, for drinks after work and to his home for a barbecue one time. I wish I had known. (After I left, other women in the bureau complained about the private socializing and he invited everyone to his house the next time.)

Deliberate carefully before making critical career decisions. When I was in my late 20s, my Chicago boss approached me and three male reporters about taking spots as bureau chiefs in smaller U.S. cities. If it worked out, I would have been the first female head of a Journal bureau.

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