Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, we hope you’re enjoying a peaceful day off from work today. Since most of you are getting a much needed chance to unwind, we we’d like to take a moment to offer some food for thought.
We hear a lot about the importance of women helping women. And on our career paths and in the workplace, where we consistently face gender-based discrimination - however veiled or overt it may be - it is particularly essential that we commit to understanding and supporting each other.
But what does this camaraderie look like? Gwen Ifill, a trailblazing journalist who passed away last month, shows us just that.
When we learned of Ifill’s death, we were deeply saddened, touched, and inspired. Like the vast majority of you, we did not know her personally. Yet we’d watched her hold her own in conversations and spheres largely dominated by men. We’d seen her do the difficult work of reporting with brilliance, precision and grace.
And after her death, we learned that in addition to paving the way for many black female journalists, Ifill took the time to personally mentor and build friendships with so many others in her field.
“She was a trailblazer for women and journalists of color and she was also a mentor to me,” NBC News Correspondent Kirsten Welker said in an NBC News article. “When I first arrived in Washington, D.C. — a novice to covering national politics — she carved out time from her busy schedule to have dinner with me. She gave me advice and answered my flurry of questions about how to succeed here.
“I was so touched that she would take so much time to invest in my growth,” Welk continued. “I will never forget that or the indelible mark she has left on journalism. She was simply the best.”
In the same NBC News piece, Michel Martin, weekend host of All Things Considered, reflected on her relationship with Ifill: “I've know Gwen for most of my adult life and thus most of my professional life — which is why I have a hard time conceiving of being a grown black woman without her in the world, and being a journalist without her in somebody's newsroom. She was everything: a great journalist, a constant friend, an amazing godmother.”
Yamiche Alcindor of The New York Times told NBC News, “Gwen mentored me and was someone I could turn to for advice both as a journalist covering politics and as a black woman navigating newsrooms. She would take the time to watch me on TV and give me feedback even though she had so much of her own work to do [...] I'll miss her dearly as she taught me so much about being strong, being tough and taking the time to help out journalists younger than me.”
The article includes dozens of such statements, revealing that Ifill’s motivations extended well beyond her own career. She took the time to foster a sense of community and encouragement for those who were seeking it (and perhaps even for those who were not) - and she inspired countless other women to follow in her footsteps, even in the face of adversity.
Most of us are not widely recognized by the public. It’s easy to feel like our words and actions can’t possibly make as big as an impact as Ifill’s have. But we can assure you that every woman you do take the time to connect with, whether or not professionally, will appreciate and recognize how it made her feel - and will be all the more inclined to pay it forward and offer her own support to the other women in her life.
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