Defining Ambition with Neha Gandhi
Welcome back! We’re pumped to have you here for Season 2. Here to kick us off is Neha Gandhi, the COO and editor-in-chief of Girlboss, a new publication “for women redefining success on their own terms.” Sounds about right to us.
Neha told us all about her start in journalism, what it’s like to manage teams of mostly women, and how group texts with her friends keep her grounded (you’ll LOVE the rosebud and thorn analogy, promise).
First of all, maybe it’s ok to be selfish and put yourself first, and put your career first at times. But also, ambition is not a dirty word. That said, none of us feel ambitious all the time, and none of us have exactly the same idea of what success looks like.
—Neha Gandhi, editor-in-chief and COO, Girlboss
Plus: Having good and bad managers, being good and bad managers, and what we’re doing to cut noninclusive and ableist language from the show. Y’all ready?
- If you enjoy our convo about manager-ing, check this advice column from The Cut about being a better manager by being vulnerable with your team.
- Get more on Neha’s background with this interview, and follow her on Twitter for more on pop culture, politics, and the media industry.
- To hear from speakers like Paola Mendoza and Janet Mock, register for the Girlboss Rally livestream on April 28.
- For more on the topic of gratefulness and negotiating, check out this advice on how to negotiate when you’re being promoted.
- And if you’re interested in learning more about inclusive language—and maybe tweaking some of your own habits—check out this list of ableist words and the Conscious Style Guide.
- Use Slack at work? See if you can get your company to customize Slackbot to nudge your team when they use noninclusive language.
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Katel LeDû Shopify builds products that help entrepreneurs around the world start and grow their businesses. Starting from a few people obsessed with personal growth, Shopify is now a team of 3,000 folks working in offices and remote teams across the globe. They’re growing quickly and building an international team that will define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers to find out what they’re working on.
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Jenn Lukas Welcome to Season 2 of No, You Go: the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.
KL I’m Katel LeDû.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher, and I’m so excited here for our first episode of Season 2 because we have so much good stuff in store. We are kicking things off today by sharing an awesome interview with Girlboss editor-in-chief and COO Neha Gandhi. She talks to us about building a career in publishing through a dramatically changing landscape, how to redefine success for ourselves, and why talking about money is so difficult. She also talks a lot about what it’s like to grow as a manager. And, actually, can we start there today?
KL Yeah, I feel like that—listening to her talk brought up so many sort of thoughts and memories about, you know, just my career as it’s gone so far, and how I’ve had good managers and bad managers, and I feel like having both of those things has helped me grow as a manager, like when I became one for the first time. It was a really sort of frankly awkward situation because I was working in a team of people and I was most of those people’s peers and some of those people’s junior. Like I, you know, I was sort of at a level below and all of a sudden I was their manager. And it was really—a really interesting shift because I had to kind of like not just learn how to manage the team and make them feel like I was there, you know, doing the job well. It wasn’t just awkward, it was also really challenging because I was learning how to be a manager and that in and of itself is like: how do you run processes? How do you manage workflows? How do you, you know, keep things running? But then how do you also you know get the people on the team to feel like you’re there doing the right job, you’re the right person for the job, and you have their best interests in mind. And, for me, I think going directly from being, you know, sort of working with those people at—at the exact same level to being a manager was like … I realized that the more I included them in the process of like me getting up to speed, the more investment they would have in the team succeeding and like moving forward.
JL That’s so neat, because [sighs] there’s so many parts to being a manager. So many things to learn and constantly learn even once you’ve been a manager for awhile. But to then also feel you have to prove yourself because you didn’t come into the role as a manager. You transitioned to the role of a manager. It just puts on a whole new layer of things to consider when, you know, trying to really rock your job as a manager.
KL And especially when you’re, you know, either at a job or a company where there’s either a super strict or defined management style. Like if it’s extremely hierarchical or, I don’t know, not a lot of room for growth. So it’s like not as clear when people become managers or not. Or it’s loosely defined and you’re kind of like trying to figure that out. I think it’s—it’s so hard to identify when you’re a good manager, or when you’re, you know, not being good at that.
SWB I remember I first became a manager—I was in my twenties and I was working at an agency and I went from being sort of like the only person doing content strategy and web writing related stuff to taking on sort of like this broader strategic role and bringing in somebody who I managed who was a writer. And then all of a sudden from there I went from having this one direct report to having a team of six staff and two interns who reported to me. And I became a director at the company which meant, you know, at this agency of like 40 people and meant that I reported directly to the owners and I was in all of the senior management meetings, and … there was no advice or guidance about what I was supposed to be doing. And not only that, there wasn’t anybody to take over a lot of the client work that I was responsible [mm hmm mm hmm] … and as a result, I was really overwhelmed and I had these people reporting to me who were great, but I didn’t feel like I was there enough for, and I wasn’t sure how to be there for them. And, you know, about half of them I really felt like I was an appropriate person to be their manager. And the other half felt like, they need a team. And I, you know, like my boss, the owner, was basically like, “We need them to roll up into somebody’s team and, like, you’re it!” [Chuckles] And like that’s not a good reason to have somebody report to you. And—but it created this scenario where, you know, like how was I going to guide and support them if I wasn’t totally sure that I really should be their manager in the first place? [KL Totally] And, you know, what—what I remember most about that experience was that I felt like the most important thing I could do in that moment, given what was available to me, was that I needed to advocate for the people on my team to the other senior managers and to the owners of the company because it was such a like weird transitional time. That was really important and I spent a lot of time there. But, you know, as a result, like I think—I think I did good at that. I did a lot of that. But what I think I did really bad at was being there for them individually, right? So like being able to hold one-on-ones with them and hear about the work that they were struggling with, where they wanted to grow, the sort of individual piece of it. And part of it was that I didn’t have time. I mean I really didn’t have time. But another big part of it was that I didn’t really know how to do that. And that’s like the biggest thing that if I—if I were going to manage a traditional team again, I would want to learn to get better at.
JL I can relate so much to what you’re saying. I manage a team now. At Urban, I’m an Engineering Manager. And I … also have always struggled with how do I be a manager and also be an engineer? And I’ve talked to so many other engineering managers that have the same struggle of trying to find that, you know, balance. I’m always trying to find a balance somewhere. And so one of the things I did—I had talked to my manager about some of the stress I was having because I was feeling like I wasn’t doing—I thought I was doing a good job, but I didn’t think I was doing a great job in that I was having a real struggle going from, ok, in the morning, maybe I’d have a touch base, and then later I’d have to go to a meeting about, you know, design specs, and then maybe the next day I’d have another touch base with another direct report. And it was just really hard for me to constantly do the context switching. And so I started instituting Manager Monday, and Manager Monday is where basically I’d come in on Mondays and I’d hold all my touch bases with my direct reports on Mondays. It varies with my direct reports based on how often they want to meet and discuss. So some people I have biweekly touch bases with, some people I have every month, every three weeks, it just depends on the desires of my direct report. And I’ve just now scheduled them all on Monday. Which means: I come in Monday, and that is my focus. I’m going to focus on the management roles of, you know, my job. And it’s really helped me because then I don’t have to context switch back and forth. I come in on Monday, I say, “This is what I’m here for today.” So if other questions get asked, my calendar’s essentially all booked the entire day with management meetings or I block off time to, you know, just work on other things that are directly manager-related. And that has just I feel helped my relationships with my direct reports and my workload so much because I really feel like I can always be there on that day and be in the headspace for it. And like it doesn’t always work, you know, sometimes I’m out, sometimes the direct report is out, sometimes something comes up that I’ll have to move it to like, oh no, Manager Tuesday which doesn’t sound nearly as good [someone else laughs] but you know then it’s like a one off.
KL That’s so great. I think that’s something that I struggle with, you know, running a business that—I work with all freelancers, all remote folks, you know. This is no one’s full-time job, which has, I think, made it difficult sometimes to have everyone feel like they’re part of, you know, a singular team. And they don’t necessarily need to, but I’ve looked for ways to try to make that happen as much as it’s comfortable and possible for people. But I think that’s been so important because everyone—when you feel like you’re, you know, kind of cruising towards the same goal it’s—it just helps a lot. So. And it’s really beneficial for me because it makes me feel like I’m not just [chuckling] like out there, you know, on my own.
JL Yeah, at Urban we had combined engineering teams. So we had a engineering team at Anthropologie and an engineering team at Urban Outfitters and we’re now combined under one team, starting about a year and a half ago. And one of the things that was interesting there was you took two teams and now we’re meshing them together it’s not like—you have to build a new culture! Because all of a sudden you just have a whole new team of people. And so we started a Urban Education and Culture Club where we tried to come up with activities for people to sort of get together and learn from each other and meet each other. And it sort of expanded to the whole building, so not just engineers but other people that are working on the websites and some [?]. And we use a Trello board to manage some of this [laughing]. So what we do is like drop things in like, “Topics People Wanna Learn,” or maybe people want to have, you know, a clicks watching party we did one time. Or, you know, a bowling happy hour. And just ways that we can get together and sort of sometimes it’s … you don’t want to force culture, but sometimes you do have to shape it. And like, you know, help build relationships by having planned activities. Things don’t just happen naturally. You don’t put 200 people in a building and be like, “Ok! Now everyone know each other and be friends.” So I think it’s ok to force a little activities on people—but things that help people learn to grow with each other.
KL And ultimately that—I think that helps people learn how to work with each other too [mm hmm]. Can I steal that? A Culture Club Apart or something?
JL I love it.
KL Great [all laugh].
SWB I mean I—I like thinking about how we build cultures and how we shape cultures because I think, you know, in—in industries like tech, oftentimes it’s like people substitute perks for culture [mm hmm]. So it’s like, “Oh we have free beer and ping pong.” Or whatever, right? Like there’s the stereotypes and often that’s like literally what they have and it’s like that is not a culture. [Mm hmm] And sometimes that can create really problematic cultures because it’s like, you know, you get super alcohol-centered or you end up with a culture that’s super male driven, and you don’t really have activities that women feel comfortable participating in, or lots of problems. But I think the big underlying thing is that those perks are not culture. Like culture is something you have to create and foster and [mm hmm] like facilitate and then over time you have to sustain it and all of that is work. And I think that work is super important, it’s not talked about enough, and oftentimes it’s like super devalued. Right? It’s like, that’s the office mom’s job as opposed to a fundamental part of having a workplace that is healthy and, therefore, also productive.
JL During my one-on-ones with direct reports we’ll come up with goals and talk about, you know, things and that very often is technical related but sometimes it’s more about building the sharing community of our group. So one of my direct reports wanted to start basically like a code sharing thing which didn’t have to do directly and necessarily with the work we were doing on Urban but any technical problems. So we have something instead of a round table, we call it the dev square table. So we brought the dev square table where we could just look at different pieces of code, either for Urban or outside of the company and, you know, talk about it and share it with each other. So sort of a show and tell for code. Which is really neat because it just gave us a chance to just sit around and—and talk—talk code with each other, which was awesome. Another that we’ve done there was developer’s cinema lunch which then another one of my direct reports, when I went on maternity leave, took over and made it sort of… we’d bring popcorn and it ended up moving outside of lunch. So, don’t worry, we weren’t just eating popcorn for lunch [laughs]. But it was really neat. You know she sort of took what I had and enhanced it by having, basically, we’d watch a video and then discuss it. Talk about like things that we learned in the video. And it just gave us more of a chance to really learn and grow from each other. So it’s really neat, I feel like, to work—to help just outsource it. So it doesn’t become like an office mom thing, but you’re working with the whole team, for the whole team to take part of growing that culture.
SWB You know, speaking of building culture, that’s definitely something that I thought was really interesting in Neha’s interview. When she joined Girl Boss, it was just a fledgling startup organization and she’s really trying to build that out and figure out what that culture should be there. And so why don’t we go ahead and listen to that interview?
KL [Music fades in] Yeah let’s do it.
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KL Neha Gandhi is the editor-in-chief and chief operating officer of Girlboss, one of our favorite magazines and communities. She’s been building a career in publishing for over a decade, navigating the editorial world at publications like People, Harper’s Bazaar, Seventeen Magazine, and Refinery29. Excuse us while we brush the stars from our eyes. Neha, we are so excited to talk to you. Welcome to No, You Go.
Neha Gandhi Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
KL Awesome. You’ve had an exciting career in publishing so far, one I’m sure that has been a ton of work. Can you tell us a little bit about your path?
NG So I graduated from college a little uncertain all through college about what would I really wanted to do. I think I found my path really through a process of elimination more than anything else. “Oh, I worked at a congressman’s office. Maybe that’s not for me.” “Management consulting: not for me. This non-profit: not for me.” So then I ended up interning at People Magazine one summer right before I graduated and loved it. Except that when I graduated I was like, “Oh I have this one amazing internship, surely I can get a job!” So I was looking for a magazine job and the competition was fierce. Everyone else who was applying for these jobs had had, you know, 10 different editorial internships over the course of four years in college and I had been doing a lot of different things that I, now looking back, really appreciated, but at the time was like, “Oh. I’m not going to be able to find a job.” So I didn’t find a job right out of school.
NG [Continued] I moved to New York for an internship that paid minimum wage at InStyle. And I’m really grateful for that opportunity. I learned how to fact check, I sat with the copy editors, and I, you know, developed an attention to detail and was able to work on some really cool pages, and do some research. And then I moved over to Meredith which I was a freelance editorial assistant and I got the opportunity to do the job … as like maternity fill-in for the senior fashion and beauty editor. And I think that that was just a great opportunity that came my way probably because they didn’t have the money to really bring on someone for maternity cover. But it really taught me the value of saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s an opportunity. I will absolutely do it. Do I know how to do that job? Definitely not. Do I think I can figure out in the fly? Probably.” So I got to do that and that was where I learned to properly assign, how to edit, how to think about an editorial calendar, and I learned about publishing on the web for the first time there. So that was great and when she came back, they were like, “You know, you probably want to move on and find another job because you don’t really want to go back to that freelance editorial assistant role that you came in for.” So I did. I moved over to Harper’s Bazaar and I started out as an editorial assistant there and then was the online editor there and I, you know, got to sort of help with research, I got to assist, I got to work on the website, which at that time involved a twice a month refresh that, you know, was me adapting some stories from the magazine, taking them down to the 14th floor in the Hearst Tower on like CD-ROM and having them like hard code the website twice a month. So it was a really [chuckles] different time [someone else chuckles] for internet publishing [yeah] but that was great. I learned, you know, everything I know about having proper work ethic and how magazines are run I learned at Bazaar. Well and from there our managing editor at Bazaar went over to Seventeen and he brought me over with him after a couple of months and I got to be the associate lifestyle editor there, and then I took over some of the entertainment pages, and then eventually took over the website, and I was at Seventeen probably for four years, and that was a lot of fun as well, and that was the first time I really had my own pages, and got to contribute in a very different and I got to conceive of ideas, and put them through the entire process, and write stories, and edit stories, and fact check, and all of that good stuff. Um it’s where I became a real editor. And then after that I moved to Refinery29 and I was there for about six years. And I, honestly, just loved the website. I was a big fan of the brand. God, I got to be the deputy editor there, the executive editor there, I got to grow that editorial team from probably eight people to over a hundred, and then I moved into a role as VP of editorial strategy, and got to sort of bridge the divide between editorial, and marketing, and content strategy, and product, and then eventually moved into a role as the SVP of content strategy and innovation, where I really got to dig into analytics and data and think about how do we use the signals—the many, many signals that we get from this audience—to make the best possible work that we can? Things that allow us to grow as a business and be as strategic as possible without ever … sacrificing the quality of the work, and of the brand. And that was really fun. And I probably could’ve stayed there forever because, you know, you stay somewhere for six years in publishing years that feels like three or four lifetimes. I ultimately ended up leaving to take the job that I’m in now at Girlboss because it felt like a big adventure. I met Sophia, the founder of Girlboss, she wrote the book Girlboss in 2014, probably last January, and she and I met over drinks at the hotel she was staying at, and she really talked to me about her vision for what we could build here. We wanted to make less content but really go deep with it and have a lot of purpose and just really add value to this woman’s life. And I got so excited about that. I sort of couldn’t stop thinking about it, which I think is always a good sign when you’re thinking about a new job or making a move.
NG [Continued] So we had that conversation for a few months and then I finally, officially, accepted in April and I started here in July and we’ve just been sort of … head down trying to get this thing off the ground, and really delivering the promise of what Girlboss can be.
SWB So one of the things that really came out as you were sort of going through that story and that trajectory was this sort of shift in thinking that happened along the way, at some point, which is like from this idea of online publishing being somehow like sort of the second-rate piece of it to being something that was really fascinating to you. And I’m curious, like, how did that shift happen for you or what made that shift happen for you, where you saw sort of a big potential for your career to be doing something interesting that was online focused and like online explicitly?
NG I think some of that started when I was at Seventeen, partially because the internet changed and because publishing changed, and editors-in-chief and publishers were much more willing to sort of, you know, start thinking about the internet not as a thing that’s going to cannibalize your newsstand sales but as a thing where you can talk to your audience, and you can tell meaningful stories, and you can potentially even make money. That sounds so ridiculous saying that out loud right now but that was really a concern. That was the concern for most magazine publishers in the early 2000s. You know, “That’s never going to be a place where we make money, the internet. So we want to protect all of our hard work from sort of just being given away for free over there.” But that thinking started to shift and at Seventeen I really saw the power of that and especially talking to a teenage audience, you want to be on the internet. You want to be there with them on their social platforms, you want to be tweeting at them, and that was where we got to do really fun programs like I would, you know, live tweet “Glee,” and “Pretty Little Liars,” and all the shows that teenagers were watching then, and then I would take the tweets that our audience was um sharing back, and I would create more storytelling out of it. And that was so much fun, and that felt like what storytelling on the internet could be, suddenly I saw the power of that in a whole new way. So I really credit Seventeen and the editor in chief at the time, Ann Shoket, as well as Julie Hochheiser, who was overseeing the website when I started there because these are people who really were able to understand what could the internet be for this audience, and how do we really maximize its potential? So that was really fun but there was also a part of it that was … it was easier to get a more senior job if you make a shift to the internet. And I don’t know that that’s true today because the business models have changed so much and I think, you know, publishing is a tough place to be these days. But in 2010 I knew like in a very sort of like cut and dry way that if I wanted that deputy editor title, I was going to get it much faster moving to a place that was a startup like Refinery that was internet only, rather than waiting to get there at a print magazine.
KL So there’s probably not a lot that’s like quote/unquote “typical” about, you know, your day to day but can you—can you just tell us a little bit about what, you know, what you might do in a typical day?
NG It’s so fun working at a startup at this stage because what that is changes everyday, and what I try to do for myself is um we have a weekly team stand up, 10am on Mondays, where everyone goes through and says their one priority for the week, and I think at a startup at this stage that’s really hard, and at first we got some pushback that was like, “I can’t pick just one thing. I have a hundred things on my list. Like I could [chuckles] no sooner, you know, choose a star in the heavens.” But that has shifted a little bit and having that meeting has really forced people to prioritize and say, “Ok, it’s Monday today, and what’s the one thing that I need to do in order to feel like I’ve really accomplished something meaningful by Friday?” So that’s how we really think about our time here. So every week is probably different but we set that priority on Monday for each of us and, you know, right now my priority is really thinking about the Girl Boss rally which is coming up on April 28th and we actually moments ago just sold out of our last ticket. So um I’m really excited. We’re going to have a full house and just amazing speakers but that’s really where I’m laser focused right now. So I have meetings with the team. I do a one-on-one for an hour every week with each of my direct reports, and I have an incredible art director, an incredible editorial director, an incredible head of audience, and then an editorial assistant who report to me, and I’ll have their own direct reports, as well as I always do a team meeting with all of those three team leads, and then make sure that I have time with my partner on the revenue side, Alison Wyatt, who’s our incredible CRO and president, to connect probably twice a week. So those are the standing things that happen every week and then I really try to think about how can I make sure that the rest of what I’m doing this week is less about checking things off my to-do list and like dealing with small stuff, obviously important stuff comes up all the time, but it’s less about sort of that like tactical like just check mark work and more about driving toward that priority that I set at the beginning of the week. And I think that that sets me up to be much more successful.
KL Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, we all occasionally have bad days. If you are ever having a bad day, is—what’s something that you do to kind of work like work through that and get back on track?
NG I have been forcing myself, and this is the advice I give to everyone on my team as well: if you’re having a bad day, if you’re feeling frustrated, and especially if that frustration is about to manifest itself as a snippy email, or as like some form of written communication that maybe you’re not going to feel great about later, take a step back. Like actually physically stand up, take three deep breaths, and if you still feel that way, like you’re just unsettled, or you don’t have an answer, get up, leave the office right now and we work here in Silver Lake at this beautiful space at Sunset Junction. We have like this like—I don’t know, I just moved to California six months ago so I’m still blown away by the natural beauty of everything here. But we have this beautiful space and a basketball court, and I’m like, take advantage of that, right? And I try to do this myself: stand up, go for a walk outside for at least five minutes, but that really does help me because I think that mental reset of like: stand up, go outside, see the sun shining, get some fresh air, and like just like clear your mind for a second. Like that really helps because I think a lot of those like mental tricks, like I need the like physical trick to trigger a reset for me.
SWB [Chuckles] I was just thinking about how, like, one of the ways that I know that I need to take a moment [KL laughs] is I can hear myself like kind of angry typing. So if I’m writing an email [laughter] and it’s like CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK really aggressively, I’m like, “Hmm, I’m going to take a moment on that one.” But I was just, you know, I was just talking with a friend like in one of our many backchannel conversations where she was trying to like write back a reply to somebody. Some guy had like, you know, kind of sent her a really passive aggressive email and she’s like, “How do I respond to this and make him know blah blah blah?” I’m like, “What are you trying to get out of that interaction?” And just taking that moment and thinking like, “What am I trying to get out of sending this angry email? Am I just wanting to like tell this person that I think they’re an idiot? Is that actually going to be productive for anybody? Is anybody going to get anything out of that? Or, you know, am I trying to resolve a situation? Like could I just not reply to them ever? Like what are my options here?” And I think that like it kind of helps me at least get out of my feelings a little bit and um breathe and—and then think long and hard about whether I actually want to send that response or whatever it is that’s giving me a tough time.
NG That’s so right. I feel like so often in those moments where you’ve gotten some kind of communication over whatever medium that has like triggered that like rising heart rate reaction, it’s so often it’s about, like, I just need to write back or I need to say something in order to feel like I won this conversation. Like, “You have said something wrong, and you have to know it.” But it’s like, actually, you don’t. And we’re all adults and we’re, you know, senior in our careers at this point and like we should be setting different kinds of examples. But it’s so much easier said than done.
KL Yeah. It totally is. So we talk about ambition a lot on the show and sometimes we hear sentiments like, “Does this even apply to me?” Or “I don’t see myself as a quote/unquote “successful” person.” We read an interview where you mentioned something similar for Girlboss that defining a girlboss as someone who “gives herself permission to define success on her terms and change that definition whenever she damn well pleases.” We love that. What would you say to that listener who’s not really sure that they, you know, necessarily qualify as ambitious?
NG Well, first of all I would say: take a step back and, like, how are you defining ambitious? Because I don’t feel ambitious every day. But I do want to make sure that we’re having a conversation about ambition that doesn’t like set it aside as a taboo or demonize it in any way because I think it’s wonderful to be ambitious, and I think there are still sort of social stigmas that come alongside being an ambitious woman, alongside being seen as too aggressive or too difficult or too focused or selfish. And I think that like I do want to change those conversations and say, first of all, maybe it’s ok to be selfish and put yourself first, and put your career first at times. But also, ambition is not a dirty word. That said, none of us feel ambitious all the time, and none of us have exactly the same idea of what success looks like. So how do we have different conversations and get out of this space where we’re putting ourself in—ourselves in boxes. Where we’re saying, “This is an ambitious person and she looks like this. This is an unambitious person and she looks like this, and I have to be one of these people,” where we should be having much more nuanced conversations about, “This is what good looks like for me right now in my life where I am.” And maybe that is about relentlessly pursuing a career goal, maybe that’s about in my personal life, maybe that’s about caring for a parent, or caring for a partner, or for a child, maybe that is about thinking about my mental health in a different way, and really caring for my body. It’s probably some combination of all of those things but like where you’re pulling each of those levers in different ways like that’s your ultimate definition of success where you are right now. And like how do we create spaces for women to honor that, right? Because I don’t think it’s about giving them permission. You don’t need me to give you permission to do anything. You can do whatever the hell you want to but how do we create a space … and start conversations that remind you of that?
KL I love that. I wish you could see how furiously I’m nodding my head [chuckling] along.
NG [Laughs] Aw! Thank you.
KL I think, you know, one of the things that we’ve talked about on the show and, you know, I think is at the forefront of a lot of our minds is just talking about money because it’s so hard, and for women it’s made to feel shameful. And I think it’s really exciting and heartening to see more conversations happening around pay equity and, you know, salary negotiation, and just learning how to talk about it. What do you feel—like what are Girlboss readers looking for most when it comes to money talk? And like what have you found?
NG So we try to cover money from every angle, whether that is talking about the basics of how to save, whether that’s talking about how do you actually do the research you need to do to figure out what your quote/unquote “market value” is? How do we have more honest conversations about debt? About things that are really hard? And things that are holding us back? Those sort of deep seeded like dark things that like keep you up night when you think about money because I think money anxiety is very real for so many women and men in this generation and we want to address that. But we also want to talk about things, like, something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is just the relationship with money and self doubt, and thinking about … promotions. Like how do you negotiate for a raise? How do you negotiate for a raise when, say, you were offered a promotion but you weren’t offered more money to go with it? I’ve been on both sides of that table, and this is something I write about in my Girlboss email this week that goes out on Thursday, but I’ve been someone who’s had to manage a team and has had to cut budgets and say, “Ok. You can have—I fought for a promotion for you but I can’t get you more money now.” And that’s really tough and I’ve seen different reactions to it but I’ve also been on the other side. I think, you know, when I was younger and, you know, an associate editor, I was definitely at a place where the publishing industry was struggling. We had so many layoffs in 2008. I mean so many industries were struggling at that time. And there was this was sense of like, “You just need to be grateful that you have a job, and don’t ask for more, and maybe you can absorb the job of the person we laid off next to you but you should be appreciative of that.” And that idea of like, “You should be appreciative,” is really tough. I think that that’s something I really struggle with because so often my internal monologue is about gratitude. I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the thing I’ve already been given. So I couldn’t ask for more. I couldn’t counter your perfectly good offer with something that I actually really think I deserve because I don’t want to seem like I’m not already grateful for what I’m being offered. And I think that that’s really tough. There is a place for gratitude in all of our lives, and I think that it fuels us and it makes us better people, but I think when you think about negotiating this fear of seeming ungrateful I think it’s really … troubling. I think it’s something that on a personal level I know holds me back, and I think I see it for many women. How do you have like a really clear, unemotional conversation about what you need and deserve when you’re worried that the reaction you’re going to get is emotional?
JL I think it’s so interesting to think about this, you know, idea of grateful—like of being grateful and I can totally relate to a lot of what you were saying. And I think about when I was younger in my career having those same feelings and I think the way it’s leveled out for me is I’ve been more grateful to myself. So I’ve been really grateful about the experiences that I had and I felt more I think confident and grateful for what I can bring as well. So I think that’s helped me with that balance.
NG Oh I love that! That’s such a nice way to think of it.
JL I was thinking about it as you said it. I was like, “Oh yeah,” I was like, “That,” I—like—hearing you say that it just like resonated so much in me that I realized like I think that’s part of like how I’ve grown over the years and like realizing like a balance between that.
SWB You know this is something that I think is tough, though for—for a lot of people, particularly women, and particularly sort of earlier in their careers because there’s so much sort of like—there’s so much about our culture that will tell women that they—they kind of like should be grateful for the opportunity to finally get a chance to do something and it encourages them to sort of not necessarily see themselves as somebody who deserves to be there. And sort of like bringing value that is important for the organization. And I think it’s easier, you know, like looking back for me now, being in my thirties and kind of like having, you know, feeling like I’ve done a fair amount that, I can say like, “No, what I do matters. I’m very good at what I do. And I absolutely, you know, want to be paid fairly for it, and feel comfortable advocating for that because of that confidence.” I think it’s hard when you’re—when you’re getting started. And I’m curious, Neha, do you have any—any advice that you give people who are earlier in their careers about sort of like where to find some of that confidence without—without necessarily having as many years to back it up?
NG I make a point of, every time I hire someone, I like to put aside a little bit—and I’m giving away my tricks here—but [chuckles] to put aside a little bit of money inside of my budget to give someone room to negotiate because I think it’s really important, especially in entry-level roles, that if someone tries to negotiate they’re not immediately shot down. And even a little bit goes a really long way in that regard but the people who don’t end up negotiating are asking for anything and just end up accepting the offer. I usually go back to them and say, “Hey, let’s talk about this at your six month. But like I had a little bit of money that like I had put aside so that you could negotiate for like a little bit more and you didn’t ask for anything. Like I would encourage you to always ask.” Which maybe is, you know, unorthodox advice for a hiring manager, but I do think it’s important because talking and dealing in specifics in real scenarios is what really lets us think about how you would do something differently and how you can improve.
SWB I feel so conflicted about that because on the one hand I’m like, “Yeah! Learn to negotiate! Like it’s a really helpful skill. It is a skill that, you know, I think women, in particularly, aren’t—aren’t really taught as much about. And then on the other hand a part of me is also like … it’s—it’s true that women are not necessarily, at least in a lot of environments, they’re not taken the same way as men when they do try to negotiate or when they do, you know like, if women go into work environments and behave in the way that would be totally acceptable for a man to behave, they are not necessarily treated in the same way. And so I always worry about sort of like setting the expectation that we should be teaching women to do at work is the same thing that has worked for men. And so I always feel a little bit like, “Huh, what if work were just more transparent? Like what if we—we were coming to that conversation differently altogether?”
NG You should leverage the traits that are yours, but what I’m talking about here in terms of like negotiating, like, we’re not at a place yet where we have true transparency in terms of what we pay people. And we do know that there is a gap in terms of wages that is largely, not entirely, but like significantly contributed to by the fact that women are less likely to negotiate especially as they move further up the ranks. So what I’m trying to do is give advice based on what has worked for me in the industry that I’m in, and I think that there are other industries where it is much harder to ask for more, and where it’s, you know, even commonplace for there to be some level of retribution if you negotiate. And I think that that’s very different. But I think I can comfortably say if you work in media and you’re seeing retribution for negotiating, that’s a real red flag. Not—most organizations in this industry are not like that and so if you’re coming up against someone who is going to behave that way, that’s a red flag for other bad behaviors that are going to be coming down the pike.
SWB I love that because I think we talk about that a lot on the show that like how somebody treats you in an initial interaction should tell you a lot about what you can expect in the future and if what they’re doing is a red flag up front then, like, maybe you don’t want to be there at all.
KL I like—when I think about, you know, just the conversations around money and managing it, and—and just everything that you’ve been talking about, that—to me that is a—a very small part of what I consider my mental load, and sort of something that I carry around that I think is, you know, we talk about all these areas and it’s like I think as women we sort of, at a baseline, carry a much heavier load, and I—I would love for you to talk a little bit about that because I know that you touch on the idea of mental load and kind of just how we manage that. I mean, how do you manage it? And how do you feel like a good, productive conversation can happen around that?
NG I think I will preface this by saying I don’t have any of the answers but this is something that I think about so often, it’s something that me and my closest friends talk about all the time, and many of them have kids so I think that the conversation about emotional labor and about mental load becomes much more exacerbated when there is the care of another human being happening. But I—I think about it—I mean I actually think part of mental load is how much time I spend thinking about mental load so, I don’t know, say what you will about that but like [all laugh] … you know I am so I’m married, I’ve been married for a couple of years now to someone who I really see as a true partner. It’s someone who, you know, when I was offered this job in LA, said, “Yeah, let’s take the leap. I’m going to work remotely at my job and we’re going to make this move across the country to support your career,” and I think that that’s partnership, and I recognize that there are going to be moments where we make choices to prioritize in my career, as well as other moments where we make choices to prioritize his career and I think that that’s exactly right for me, and I hope for more women. But … I think I still worry about like what—like what’s really—what’s equal? When you think about like introducing like the care of a child into a marriage, into a home, when both parties are working? Because I think that some of this is personality based, some of this how we’re socially conditioned, and some of this is what society like expects from us, right? But I am the project manager of our lives and I think that’s not to say that my husband doesn’t contribute often but, you know, I am the one who loves making lists and loves, you know, if you’re going on vacation you book the hotels, you do the pieces that like allow you to feel like real structure around the experience and that’s, again, it’s not a ding, right? Because like we could have a great vacation that had probably a little bit less structure to it and still be really happy but if that’s my default state how are we ever going to live in a place where I’m not the one who’s always doing that? And taking up just a larger part of like what is required to keep a home and a family in order while also, you know, I had big ambitions about my career, and about sort of how I want to continue to grow from here, about the things I want to accomplish, and that … feels terrifying to me, truthfully. Like thinking about how to really balance what my ambitions are in a professional sense with what I think good could look like at home and this feels like such a … old conversation. Where like I feel like we haven’t made that much progress in a lot of ways. And, you know, in some ways we’ve made a lot of progress but in other ways I don’t—I don’t know what the solutions are here but it’s something I think about all the time and it’s something that my husband and I talk about a lot pretty openly and I think that that’s part of the solution, right? How do you have really honest conversations about the things that … scare you?
SWB Ugh! I love that!
KL I know [crosstalk and laughter] —
JL This is so real [laughs]. I like can’t—[laughing] I like can’t even. I’m just I am currently—and it’s funny—the reason I was able to make it today is because we have a snow day here and my husband is currently watching our one-year-old son downstairs so I could be on this podcast [chuckles]. So I’m just like, I’m like yessing everything that you said and just like wow! [NG chuckles] I’m like —yes! [Chuckles] One hundred percent! You are speaking exactly what I have thought so many times. So thank you for articulating that so well.
SWB I mean like literally the three of us on the podcast on our, like, sort of private backchannel Slack, right, we’re talking about podcast stuff. We just had a long conversation about this very topic, of sort of like being the project manager in our relationships. And we all have partners who are … partners. They’re real partners. And like I made a joke, they’re not like … guys who come home from work, sit on the couch, and like wait for you to have dinner on the table. Like they’re very much active participants in—in all of these different parts of life, but at the same time it is one of those things where you look at it and you go, like, “Oh yeah, who makes all of the hotel reservations?” Or who’s the one who figured out like, you know, what the dentist appointment schedule was or whatever those kinds of things are. And I think—I think you’re right. It’s like that—it’s like that figuring out, like, how do you balance those things? And how do you talk about about them? And how do, you know, hopefully over time shift them in ways that feel good for everybody involved? And not feel like, you know, it’s this constant source of tension.
JL Well I think it’s being honest too. So I think it’s really important, you know, as you were describing to know that that’s sort of how you manage your life, or those are the things that are in it, and I think if you know that then at least you can have an honest [KL yeah] conversation about it.
NG That’s so true and it’s so hard. It’s I mean even in like great relationships where there’s open communication and trust like it’s hard to say the things that really scare you.
KL It totally is. [chuckles] It really is. So [sighs] when we talk about this it—it really makes me think about, you know, learning to ask for help and we talk about asking for help and just kind of being ok with that. Who do you ask for help?
NG I ask so many people for help. I think first and foremost I ask Sophia, our CEO here, for help when I feel uncertain about how to solve for something, or how to like I think it’s such a fun thing to be at the startup scrappy stage of, you know, we started out with ten people when I got here, maybe even eight, and now we’re 17 people and we’ve, you know, we’ve more than doubled and that’s so exciting and then I have amazing friends, and I think there is something so special about having community that I’m really sort of acutely aware of right now because when you move across the country you really see—most of my community is in New York still. The women that I talk to all the time now it’s on a text thread rather than over a meal or over breakfast or coffee or a drink. Or at least not as often. But I think having just even like that text thread of—I have a circle of friends who we just sort of like free and direct discourse just like spill all of our updates and our questions and our rants. And that’s amazing. And that’s a place where I feel I can turn for help. And I have another circle of friends where it’s something similar, but we do like a Friday text thread of like a rosebud and thorn, you know? Something that like you—you’re really excited about as well as something that’s like blossoming and something that’s hard. And that structure is really nice and it feels a little silly to say it out loud that my friends and I communicate in this way but when, you know, life priorities and distance separate you, it’s so nice to know that you’re just sort of staying close to people, and able to find a framework in which you can talk about like the really real stuff.
KL Oh my god.
SWB The rosebud and the thorn is something that—
JL I love that!
SWB Like I’ll be thinking about that [NG laughs] for awhile—
KL That’s so great.
JL That’s so great!
SWB So, Neha, before we wrap up, is there anything happening at Girlboss that you really want our listeners to know about?
NG The most important, exciting thing that we have upcoming is the Girlboss Rally in LA on April 28th. We are—we unfortunately just sold out of tickets today but you can go to girlbossrally.com and you can get digital access, you can get all of the video, and see all of these amazing speakers from Bozoma St. John to Gwyneth Paltrow to Janet Mock to Paola Mendoza to Sarah Sophie Flicker to Jen Gotch, just like really incredible women that I’m so excited to gather together, to really pick their brains and get inspiration, but also follow that inspiration up with real, actionable advice so that we can all learn something from people who have done incredible things.
SWB Well, thank you so much for being on the show today.
NG Thank you for having me—
KL Yeah, thank you.
NG This was really fun [music fades in, fades out].
JL So for new listeners, joining us on Season 2, something that we love to do at the end of the show is end with our Fuck Yeah of the Week, which is where we look at something that makes us say, “Hey, fuck yeah!” Hey, Sara, what’s this week’s Fuck Yeah?
SWB This week we are saying, “Fuck yeah,” to building more inclusive language into our vocabularies. So, so often when we were recording the podcast during our first season, we would just be chatting along, and suddenly, you know, I might say something like, “Hey, guys!” And one of the things we talked about was how “guys” can feel alienating to people who, you know, aren’t guys. And it’s such a common thing that is said—I mean it’s said so often in all kinds of contexts, and some people don’t mind it, some women don’t mind it, some really do. And what we decided is like for our podcast because we want to make sure people feel welcome listening to it that we just cut that stuff out. And that’s a hard habit to break.
JL It’s so hard! We all say it quite often. I say, “Hey guys,” a bunch and it’s also hard to be like, “Hey, do you know you just said ‘hey guys’?” to your friend because you don’t want to constantly correct someone, either. But because we’re all working on this, it’s something that, you know, we—we’ve tried to get more comfortable being like, “Oh! You just said that.” And I think it’s really helpful to do that, especially in a place where, you know, I trust both of you and I know that you know when I say things I don’t—I’m never trying to be noninclusive. And so something one day we were recording and I was saying something, I think I was explaining a Fuck Yeah, and I said, “Yeah, I’m going to go tab-crazy about this.” And I kept talking and talking and then I hear Sara sort of breathe and she’s like, “Hey, Jenn?” And I was like, “Oh no!” And, you know, she had brought up that I had said crazy and—and crazy can also be one of those words that I’m trying to move away from. And I hadn’t really thought too much about that and I think, again, because it’s something that’s so in my vocabulary right now. I’m crazy about that! But, you know, there’s plenty of times where, you know, I’ve used “crazy” to describe things and I was like, “Oh, why would I not say that?” was my initial reaction. And I think I got a little bit defensive at first. I didn’t say that, but just inside I felt like, “Oh no, you know, like why wouldn’t I say this?” And then Sara suggested instead using “tab wild.” And the thing about it was “wild” is such a more exciting word than crazy that this vocab swap was like super awesome! I was like, “Oh yeah, wild! Let’s go wild!” Like you know, like I wouldn’t want to be like, [sings] “Let’s go wild! Let’s get nuts.” But [laughs] you know swapping wild for crazy just sounded so much better, so it’s where I began to be more open to the idea, if switching things in my vocabulary means that, you know, the world is my oyster.
KL Yeah. I think it’s like—it’s just that—it’s figuring out what—what do you actually mean and is there a really good word that you can use instead that’s not ableist or that is more inclusive? And I think just being able to pay attention to that and, like you said, Jenn, feeling like we’re in a group of people that we know we can practice this more is so important and there’s nothing quite like hearing yourself recorded over and over again [laughter] to realize that it’s something you need to be more aware of, and pay attention to, and I love that we’re doing this.
SWB I mean it becomes like a default filler word, sometimes, you know?
SWB And I think like for me I remember a few years ago when I was editing a magazine I was really uncomfortable with like the singular “they.” Like saying, “they” as a singular person instead of “he” or “she,” and I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. And I can understand feeling that way about pretty much any kind of language change, because it feels uncomfortable at first like, nobody likes change, everybody likes things how they are, right? [Laughing] Honestly, that’s—that’s—people are creatures of habit. So if you have a habit to say things a certain way or see things a certain way, at first you can bristle. And it took me longer than I want to admit to get comfortable with the singular “they.” By the time we had Stevie on last season, who is non-binary and uses “they” as their pronoun, I was on board for sure [mm hmm] but just hearing them talk about it too reminded me like, “Oh yeah, like this really matters for people.” And if it matters for people, then it matters for me on the show. I want to model that behavior out to the world.
JL And as you mentioned, I mean we are lucky, we have editing, we can look through this. I would, you know, I would never step someone in a large group or crowd and be like, “Hey, actually! You just said this.” But I think it’s, you know, pulling someone maybe aside after. If I notice someone at work is saying something a lot then maybe I want to be like, “Oh, just so you know,” or you know I’m in a Slack group for design systems and they have one of the automatic things that if someone writes “Hey guys” it’ll have a Slack message popup that says, “We use inclusive language language here. How about something like ’Hey, folks?’” And I like something like that because the message is written really friendly and it’s not like pointing out anyone’s wrongdoings, it’s just, “Oh here’s something you probably didn’t consider. Let’s all start considering this more.”
SWB And I think it also it also all depends on context, situation, language, the severity of something, like I think there are definitely times where in a group setting if somebody says something egregious [KL yeah] it might be important to call them out publicly because it might be important to publicly state, “This is not acceptable here.” [Mm hmm] And other times it’s like there’s a slip and they just need a quiet nudge and—and I think it really depends. But I think when it comes to doing, you know, if you’re going to put a podcast out into the world, and if you’re going to say like, “Yeah, this is a feminist podcast,” then like fuckin’ live it. So we have to make sure that we’re really thinking about that carefully and—and, you know, continuing to get better, and I definitely think of this as something that like we have not fixed. It’s a thing that we are aware of, and working on, and like figuring out … what else is out there? Like what other stuff is out there that we haven’t realized yet, you know, could be alienating some people and what are we going to do about it?
KL Yeah, so that’s we’re really excited because we thought we would add a new segment to the show, and we’re calling it Vocab Swap. So we’re going to keep tabs on how we’re sort of doing with this over the season, and we’re going to look for new ways um to learn how we can just expand our inclusive, and just practice it a lot more, and find new ways to—to do that.
SWB Yeah! So I think for our very first Vocab Swaps we’re really talking about “guys” and “crazy” and taking note when those words are coming out of our mouths and thinking about why we’re using them, and whether they are appropriate, and who they might be hurting.
KL And that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Neha Gandhi for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please make sure to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your podcasts. Your support helps us spread the word. And don’t miss our new biweekly newsletter, “I Love That”! Head to noyougoshow.com/ilovethat to sign up. See you all next week! [Music fades in, plays for 30 seconds, fades out to end.]