Why Kate White Prefers To Work With Women
11:30 am, October 4th | by Laura Donovan
Millenials don’t always impress previous generations. We rely on our parents more than we should, we whine, and worst of all, we refuse to shut up about our plight. But you know what? Former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Kate White thinks we’re awesome. She says we’re gutsy, assertive, energizing, and most of all grateful. While she argues there’s sometimes a disconnect between us and more seasoned employees, she admires our spunk. That’s why her new book, “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know” is a must-have for young workers. Here’s what she told us about the nonfiction work, why she has always enjoyed having female colleagues, and how we can be live up to our professional potential.
So what was it like to run Cosmo, and how do you think the magazine has changed since the tech boom and rise of social media?
It was a fabulous job. For me what was particularly good was, as much as I enjoyed being an editor for Redbook and McCall’s, I always felt a little bit like I was acting the part as opposed to fully engaged in it. I knew I was doing a good job but I felt like it was not quite the right fit for me. I actually went to a career counselor when I was the editor of Redbook and said I just felt like it wasn’t quite “it” for me but I loved running a magazine and thought maybe it was time for me to make a change. She told me to try to ask myself what was missing. Before I could ever really get around to coming to terms with what wasn’t working for me, I was called into my boss’s office and told I was the editor of Cosmo. About two months after I got there, I was having so much fun and realized I was finally at a magazine that was a good fit for me. I loved the fun, I loved the over-the-top quality of some of the things we did, the people that came to Cosmo…it just had a lot of fun risk-takers there. It was an exhilarating place to work. It made me also see just how important fit was and that what was bothering me at the other magazines didn’t have to do with magazines, just that they were the wrong magazines for me personally. I loved editing a magazine that needed to be humorous toward readers and edgy. I loved that.
In terms of how it has shifted, it excited me to see we were such a leader in terms of tablet sales because it showed me this was a magazine that was going to continue to thrive. It’s just that some readers, and perhaps the majority one day, will experience it on other platforms — maybe mobile or tablets. They are still going to want their Cosmo, they just may want it in different ways. A few years ago, I was willing to say to myself I wasn’t sure what was going to happen to magazines but as we saw these numbers coming in for digital it became clear consumers and readers want their Cosmo. We saw the legs Cosmo had in terms of books and started Cosmo Books. We sold over a million and a half books and that just tells you there is a real key to the brand.
In your book you talk about “bitch envy.” Can you explain what that is for someone who doesn’t have your book?
I just used it as a phrase that I keep up with because I think there are times when we find ourselves really annoyed with somebody, maybe another woman. There’s something she’s doing that really bugs us. The knee-jerk reaction may be to categorize her as a “bitch.” I think some of the time we’re feeling annoyed because she’s something we know we should be doing, that maybe she went for the project or raised her hand for the project that you knew you wanted but weren’t sure at that moment to go for it. I think when we’re first starting out we’re really afraid of being annoying to bosses or overstepping our bounds. So you’re annoyed because you realized you should have done it, or she talks about her accomplishments. It’s not that she’s a bitch, it’s that she’s smart and gutsy and went for what she wanted.
Would you say sometimes it’s easier to work with men? Vice versa?
I’ve had great experiences with both men and women and I’ve just been lucky to have such great bosses. I went to a party in May and one of the great pleasures for me is having so many great people I used to work with, both men and women. I do think in the workplace it’s possible to be met with a total psycho. And sometimes you meet someone who just rub you the wrong way because you’re just not a good personality fit. It may be somebody that reminds you of a sibling you never quite got along with. And then there are sometimes people who as bosses are jerks, or co-workers. I’ve been lucky because I haven’t met many of them. There has been an equal number of men and women for me. I’ve never in my work life felt like I wished I worked with more men than women. I loved working with women and I think that’s why I stayed in women’s magazines too. I actually had an experience in the 70s, because you asked me how things have changed, and I was working at a magazine that was a Sunday supplement. My boss left to become the editor of GQ. He said to me, “you know, Kate,” they promoted me to run the magazine while they searched for a replacement. I thought it was great and I got a little taste of what it was like to be the boss. And I loved that. It didn’t scare me. I felt in a sense being the boss was exhilarating. This made me see that gee, I’d really love to do it. When they hired someone for a job, my former boss told me, “Look Kate I’ll tell you right now, but I would deny this in a court of law, but you didn’t get the job because you’re a woman.” And in the ’70s, you knew that stuff happened. I just said to myself, “You know what? I’m going back to women’s magazines. I’m going to go to a place where I don’t have to worry about this.” For me, working with women has just been such a wonderful thing.
Right, but do you ever think with more women in the workplace they try to tear each other down because they’re competing?
I certainly know women who have told me they have been have been undermined by other women and felt that in some ways maybe because it was a little more underground and that it was harder in some cases to deal with. It could seem a little more ruthless. Maybe guy to guy it’s a little more out in the open and you know what you’re dealing with, but I just never felt undermined in any big way by another women. I hear stories like that but just have not had that personally. You know I’d say the only time…I had a peer in my early thirties pull some stuff but it seemed like I’d just run up against a barracuda in the workplace, it didn’t seem like it happened because she was a woman.
So what do you think is the future of magazines? Do you think eventually everything will be all digital? Will Cosmo not be in print anymore, just online?
Part of why I felt I was a good editor was that I never tried to see too far into the future. In fact when my new boss started we were going to do a presentation on what we were going to do the next year, and this was in October or so. I never made calls like that. I tried to assign the issues just as they came and on what I cared about at that moment, so it’s hard for me to look in the future that way, but I really do feel in my gut at least that print won’t go away. I can’t tell you the proportion, but every intern that comes in just prefers the print version so my guess is that there will be a certain percentage of readers that want that print version unless tech shifts and we have kids who never had print in their hands. As we raise kids who have no print in their lives, maybe we won’t have interns who say, “Yeah, I am going to want my print version.” So in the short term anyway, there will still be girls who want to get into the bathtub with Cosmo.
Yeah and you can’t do that with an iPad! Switching gears, do you think it can be harmful for a young woman who is green in her career to ask for a raise?
I don’t think it’s harmful if you’ve done a great fabulous job and are really kicking butt. If you’re doing a fabulous job and are looking at the end of the year and ask for a raise and your boss gets really seriously annoyed, you’re working with the wrong person because we’re in a culture where traditionally you’re rewarded with the raise system. Now let’s say you’re working with a company and it’s been clearly announced that they’re pulling back and can’t do that. If you go in arrogantly saying you’d like a raise and to be the one exception, that is going to annoy them. If you have nothing to show for it, if you as I’ve seen some women do, if you give them a big new assignment and they’re already asking for a raise, that could be problematic. But if you have worked on something as the year has gone by that has brought in money or be leveraged, you have every right as the raise time comes close to go to your boss and present your case. You have to go about it the right way, it’s got to be about the work and not about your need to buy a condo. It’s got to show an appreciation for the economy. You know you’re not going to get an 18 percent raise right now but I think that’s all really fine. If it isn’t, you’re working for a real jerk because you’re certainly entitled to ask. If the money isn’t there, you should be smart enough to negotiate. A title change could be something you leverage down the road as you go for the next job even though it could just be on a piece of paper right now.
So how do you respond to the argument that Gen Y is a bunch of entitled young employees who want everything handed to them and lack the ethic of previous generations?
I just find them so exhilarating and I love the women of Gen Y. I love their sense of “the world is my oyster and I’m going to go after it.” I just find it so thrilling. When I was in my twenties, I was that kind of girl in some ways but lacked a certain amount of nerve and I really love the nerve these girls have. I just helped a young woman get an internship. I didn’t know her but she was the daughter of a college friend of mine. This girl was so dazzling and I loved her from the moment I met her. I wanted to adopt her. I was so happy to help her get a job. She was an art major in college and sent me the most beautiful drawing she did. That to me is Gen Y at its greatest. Feisty, fearless, fabulous and full of gratitude. But I do think you come across, some, that maybe have been a little spoiled or coddled by their parents. I had a situation two years ago where a friend of mine asked me to help her daughter get an internship. It was embarrassing because the girl was MIA through a lot of the internship. She just I think had always had her mom open the door for her. She was always working in a situation where her mom was there and no one had the nerve to say, “Your daughter is a lard ass.” And so I think there is sometimes a sense of entitlement or what I’ve seen not wanting to do the grunt work. I had an intern once who asked me, “How do I find a job out of college and not be bored?” It’s like wow. You might just be bored in some entry level jobs and that’s the way it’s going to work. No one is going to make sure you’re happy or fully aroused, experiencing orgasms during your day. I think there’s a little bit of that but overall I just think it’s the most impressive group of women imaginable. I think they can improve by stepping back and assessing the other person’s needs. They have to make sure they are playing the situation right and not stepping in a land mine. A friend of mine was recently interviewing someone and she asked the candidate what she was looking for in the entry level job. The girl said, “Not to get the coffee.” She didn’t get the job even though she was the best candidate. My friend didn’t want to deal with attitude. So I think even though it’s just a small percentage that trip themselves up with this attitude, you need to make sure you’re not doing it inadvertently.
On one occasion, a job interviewee asked about celebrity coverage, even that was probably not the question that she was supposed to ask, it was more about her own curiosity than being a good job candidate, and at the end of the interview she said to the interviewer, ‘good answer.’ And it’s like, you’re kind of flipping roles here on me, you’re critiquing me.
People get nervous during job interviews, especially members of the Gen Y population (guilty!).
I know and I actually helped this girl later in her job search and I get it but you just have to be aware that people are different.
So how can Gen Y can overcome this? How do they know when they’ve crossed boundaries professionally?
Well one thing is to try and get out of your own skin, reduce anxiety, and just try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes a little bit. And that goes across the board…Really what’s the other person looking for? It’s not just the one thing you say that may seem too familiar or that, but it’s more the total package or it seeming too much like you. When you’re the person hiring, you want someone to fulfill your need, so the more you present yourself as someone who has something to offer that’s going to be the winning mix for your employer, the better your chances are.
This interview has been edited and condensed.