Women’s Leadership Accelerator FAQ

Applications and Selection

Who is the Women’s Leadership Accelerator aimed at?

The accelerator is designed for practitioners working in digital journalism, including freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent journalists, who are pushing innovation and making positive change in the industry. We’re looking for women who not only have an understanding of the digital journalism landscape but who are helping to advance it in innovative ways. Applicants should have experience managing people or projects and be committed to further developing their skills. Innovation means different things in different markets, and we consider that when reviewing applications.

Should I apply?

Yes! A key sentiment we have heard from the extremely talented and qualified people in previous programs is they were initially unsure if they had the expertise to apply. As you can see from the profiles of those who joined us in past programs, we support people who have a wide range of experience and skills. If you are passionate about leading change in newsrooms and the journalism community, we highly encourage you to apply. We designed the application to help you think through the challenges you’re facing and to give us a well-rounded picture of your skill set so we can tailor aspects of the program to your needs, even if you’ve taken a nontraditional path.

When will I hear back about my application?

You will receive a confirmation email when you submit your application. All applicants will receive a response from us on the status of your application ahead of the announcement of each year’s cohort.

How does ONA determine who is selected for the accelerator?

ONA staff works with a review committee composed of a mix of industry leaders and past program participants to select candidates. We strive for a diverse cohort, and we will factor in potential, need and diversity across ethnicity, age, geography, technology platforms and skill sets. We’re looking for women from a range of disciplines, including startups, digital-only, legacy media and blended newsrooms, broadcast and technology companies.

Reviewers must disclose any conflict of interest during the selection process and, in that case, recuse themselves from reviewing any applications.

Does the challenge I propose have to be a work problem?

The challenge doesn’t have to be a problem at all — we are also open to helping you with your aspirational goals. One of the most unique aspects of the Women’s Leadership Accelerator is that it provides practical advice and gives participants tools to better understand themselves and how they work with others. In the same spirit, feel free to pick a challenge specific to your work or personal development.

Some examples of previous challenges addressed by the cohort include:

  • Creating workflows to collaborate across desks on special news projects
  • Building a new digital team inside a legacy media organization
  • Getting buy-in on projects designed for emerging social platforms
  • Setting benchmarks for success for a new media startup
  • Changing organizational culture to include more diverse voices in leadership
  • Practical solutions to dealing with colleagues who are actively blocking projects

What are you looking for in an example of changemaking?

Sharing an example of how you have actively been working to create change in your organization and/or across the industry gives ONA staff and the review committee a unique window into how you envision the future of journalism. This example could include published work/a project done in an innovative way or be in the form of an initiative meant to drive positive change in your organization/the industry at large. If the example involved the work of a team, please be sure to focus on how you individually contributed.

Importantly: We know that sometimes traditional, published journalism serves as a great example of changemaking – but we also know that innovative and changemaking work can be done beyond published bylines and publicly-visible initiatives. In asking for this example of changemaking, we hope to create a space for you to highlight any example, published or not, which helps to give the committee a full picture of your leadership approach and thought process.

We encourage you to think about the example you share and how you explain your role in the context of your larger application. Does this example complement your professional experience or give us insights into something that is not captured by your work history? Does it show how you inspire others, shepherd ideas or solve problems?

Who should write the recommendation letter?

The recommendation letter gives reviewers insights into how you’ve worked with people and projects as you lead change. You should ask an employer, professional colleague or business partner who knows you and your work well to outline your demonstrated leadership ability.

Based on feedback from past applicants, we highly encourage you to start by seeking your letter of recommendation early, as this can be one of the more time-consuming aspects of the application.

There is a field in the application form (Submittable) which allows applicants to ask for a recommendation letter from a reference by entering the reference’s email address into the form. References will receive a notification from Submittable to submit their letter of recommendation. We strongly encourage you let your reference know to expect this email invitation so it doesn’t get lost in their inbox or spam folder.

References must be submitted by the end of the application period, before the deadline in order for your application to be considered complete.

Is it a firm application deadline?

Yes. We’ve had a lot of interest in this program and to be fair to the applicants who apply on time, we won’t be accepting late applications and we won’t be extending the deadline. So be sure to get your materials in on time! Pro-tip: Be sure to give your references enough advance notice so that you get your recommendation letter submitted in time to meet the deadline.


Is the accelerator open to international applicants?

Yes! The program is open to English-speaking participants from around the world. Selected applicants are responsible for ensuring all necessary travel documents are valid and effective for travel to the in-person elements of the program. Any information ONA provides around travel is shared merely as a courtesy. Please check with the appropriate consulate/embassy and stay up to date on the rules for travel and entry for your country and the United States.

Can I apply if I am a non-binary person?

Yes! While the Women’s Leadership Accelerator is aimed at advancing women in digital journalism, we understand that gender identity and gender expression are personal and wide-ranging. If you are a non-binary person and are interested in applying, we welcome your application. We are also available to talk more about the accelerator if additional information about the dynamic of the program is helpful to make your decision. You may contact us at accelerator@journalists.org.

Can I apply to both ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator and Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media?

Yes. You can apply to either/both programs and participate in either/both. You can also participate in either/both programs during the same year or across different years. Please Note: This is a recent change for the program, effective August 2023.

Previously, ONA and Poynter offered very similar programs and coordinated during the selection process to pair participants with the cohort that would be a best fit for them. However, as the programs have continued to evolve, there is enough differentiation in the experiences to separate the application processes.

It will not be considered a positive or a negative for applicants to be participants or graduates of the opposite program while applying. For example, an accepted Poynter participant applying for ONA’s Leadership Accelerator will not be viewed more or less favorably in their application for the Accelerator having completed the Poynter program. This also is the case for ONA Women’s Leadership Accelerator participants applying for Poynter’s program.

How does this program differ from Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media?

ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator was born out of the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, which ONA and Poynter launched in 2015. The end of our original two-year partnership ensured that twice the training was available for women and non-binary individuals allowing both organizations to help meet demand.

ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator is a six-month, selective, intensive program that supercharges the leadership and management skills of women and non-binary leaders who are pushing innovation and changemaking in the journalism industry. Participants are often mid-career, mid-to-senior level, and have previous experience managing people and projects, either within an organization or as entrepreneurs/independents. The program helps participants focus on a challenge specific to their careers, advance their leadership skills and learn tools for navigating change. The six-month format aims to provide opportunities for building relationships among cohort members and repeated opportunities for connection, support and future-planning. The Accelerator changes its programming each year to meet the needs of those selected for the cohort, but, typically, it kicks off with a virtual meeting of the selected cohort in the spring, provides support and coaching to participants throughout the spring and summer, hosts an in-person workshop of tailored, immersive programming in early fall, and culminates with a forward-looking virtual workshop in late fall. There is one ONA Women’s Leadership Accelerator class per year, comprising approximately 26 cohort members.

Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media is a weeklong, in-depth program designed to help leaders with up to five years of management experience move to the next level in their careers. Each academy will include inspiring talks, hands-on activities, candid discussions and networking opportunities all focused on building leadership and management skills. Cohort members will create leadership development plans they can implement as they return to their organization, and they will receive one-on-one coaching after the academy to ensure personal success. An ideal candidate for Poynter’s program is a leader who wants to focus on problem-solving and building a toolbox of practical skills for effective management in day-to-day operations. There are three Poynter academy classes per year, each comprising approximately 30 cohort members.

What to expect if you’re selected

Does the Women’s Leadership Accelerator take place online or in-person?

In short, both! We will offer virtual coaching and training, and then convene for one in-person gathering.

What will I get out of the program as a participant?

The most valuable takeaways: A lifelong connection to a group of amazing women, an expanded network, tools to troubleshoot your biggest challenges at work and opportunities to push yourself farther in your career than ever before. Sound like a lot? It is.

Repeatedly, we’ve heard feedback from past participants that speak to the transformational change that has happened throughout the program, from increasing their confidence in themselves, to learning how to navigate management and pitch ideas more successfully, to taking control of their own narrative and using that as a guide for the future. Don’t just take our word for it — previous participants have called the program “an extraordinary, transformative experience,” “empowering and life altering” and said they are “so thankful to have this community of amazing and inspiring women.”

If I’m selected, what will be expected of me?

Most importantly: We want you to be present.

That means actively participating for the duration of the Women’s Leadership Accelerator programming. It also means taking a break from work to be fully engaged for the time you’re with the cohort, whether an hour or so at a time during shorter virtual sessions or for a couple of full days at the in-person workshop. Almost all program activities will take place during typical business hours (balanced as best as possible across U.S. timezones and other timezones of selected cohort members), Monday-Friday, with the exception of the September in-person workshop, which will include two weekend days of participation, in addition to travel time.

What are the estimated costs to participants?

Tuition for the ONA Women’s Leadership Accelerator for 2024 is $1,000 per participant. Payment of tuition to ONA is required, in-full, ahead of the public announcement of the members of the cohort. 

Tuition does not include travel and lodging. All travel and lodging expenses for the Women’s Leadership Accelerator program are the responsibility of each participant and/or that participant’s employer.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, limited support stipends may be available to assist with tuition or travel and lodging costs. However, please note that this assistance is not guaranteed for everyone who requests it, and, for those whose requests are granted, support will not exceed $500 per participant.

One free registration to the entire ONA24 conference will also be provided to all accepted 2024 Accelerator participants, a value of at least $350.

Beyond the Cohort

How can I connect with the Women’s Leadership Accelerator if I’m not in the cohort?

We adapt lessons from the accelerator to other ONA and community events throughout the year. Be sure to sign up for the ONA Weekly newsletter to get updates.

Additionally, you can connect with women from the Women’s Leadership Accelerator by signing up for a free digital coaching session on digitalwomenleaders.com.

Other questions? Contact Learning Director Kelsey Proud at accelerator@journalists.org.

The 2024 Women’s Leadership Accelerator is supported by lead funder Dow Jones Foundation with additional support from the Tiffany Shackelford Foundation and Ballard Spahr LLP. We seek funders for each new program. To learn more, contact ONA Head of Partnerships Hanaa Rifaey at hanaa@journalists.org.

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