Last year I sat down with the News Director in the Herald’s Sydney office.
‘‘I don’t think this job is suited to me,’’ I told her. ‘‘My personality does not match the culture of the newsroom ... I am too nice.’’
It had been a month of dead ends. I wasn't getting as many stories as I wanted. And I was worried this might be because I wasn't as brash or assertive as some of those around me. I felt defeated, as though my desire to be liked was pulling me away from my goals as a journalist.
The News Director looked at me. ‘‘Well, I am nice,’’ she said, raising her eyebrow, with a knowing smile. The meaning was not lost on me: being nice is not at odds with success.
The anxiety I was feeling at the time is one that I think many people who might describe themselves as non-confrontational experience in the workplace - often women, but of course not only women.
Journalism, like many jobs, is one that would seem to reward the brazen and confident. But as I've discovered, with my own achievements in this job, these attributes are not something that should hold us back. That is, if you work diligently and hard, and embrace your "nice" attributes, you can still do well.
Last year I worked on a series of stories, videos and opinion pieces about the supply chain of Bangladesh clothes following the country’s worst industrial accident which killed over 1,000 workers. The work wasn’t easy but my colleague and I traced the clothing from its origin in Bangladesh to stores in Australia; examining the horrendous working conditions of workers who were employed to make garments for trusted Australian retail brands.
I began to see an obvious difference in the way my male colleague and I operated. While we were just as determined as each other, I would be more likely to try to get people onside, to be pleasant in getting my information, all while working furiously - but quietly.
My colleague, on the other hand, would dive right in, confidently asking the pointed questions in Bangladesh’s sweat shops.
But the different approaches worked as well as each other. I would get just as many results as he would. Together we won a Walkley award for the series, which was a credit to both journalistic methods.
Award-winning American author and journalist Joan Didion once said: "My only advantage as a reporter is that I am physically so small, so temperamentally unobtrusive and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests."
There are also many quiet achievers such as case workers, nurses and police who strive to succeed out of the spotlight. They are not only brilliant at what they do, but are humble in their approach.
I’m now working as the immigration reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. This is far away from my previous role as a music reporter in a world of reviews, sipping soy lattes with artists. It is a highly competitive round, and one where you have to push hard for information to report on complex and difficult issues. But it's still one you can succeed in without being brash or aggressive. You can do so by being diligent, determined and compassionate, which are just as important.
Back at my meeting with my news director, I think I knew the answer to my problem all along. If you’re confident in who you are, being "nice" will work to your advantage.
This is an excerpt from a speech delivered at the Attorney General Department Women's Network.