2021 Women’s Leadership Accelerator FAQ

What is the Women’s Leadership Accelerator?

The Women’s Leadership Accelerator is an intensive program aimed squarely at advancing women and female identified people in digital journalism. Additionally, ONA shares some of the lessons from the Women’s Leadership Accelerator through other programming that the organization offers throughout the year, including ONA Local meetups, ONA’s annual conference and training in partnership with other organizations.

The Women’s Leadership Accelerator kicks off with a week of fully virtual tailored, immersive programming for 26 promising women leaders March 22-26, 2021. ONA provides support and coaching to participants throughout the year; the program culminates with a workshop at ONA’s annual conference.

In addition to learning leadership skills and tools for navigating change, participants focus on a challenge specific to their careers, whether an obstacle to overcome or an aspirational goal to achieve, either within their organizations or as an independent project.

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

Yes! We adapt lessons from the Accelerator to other forms, including trainings and events. We’ll announce more ways you can connect throughout the year. Be sure to sign up for the ONA Weekly newsletter to get updates.

ONA has provided free intensive workshops and events in Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and New York aimed at women interested in developing their leadership skills. New in 2020, the Women’s Leadership Accelerator created a summer series featuring 4 virtual events highlighting important topics such as career advice, entrepreneurship and women working in product. We also shared lessons from the Women’s Leadership Accelerator at ONA’s annual conference in sessions at ONA20, ONA19 and ONA18.

Additionally, you can connect with women from the Women’s Leadership Accelerator by signing up for free digital coaching session on digitalwomenleaders.com. Over 60 women offer free mentoring sessions, including Jennifer Mizgata, who runs ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator.

If you’re interested in partnerships to support the program, please contact ONA Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer Jessica Strelitz at jessica@journalists.org.

Who is the 2021 Women’s Leadership Accelerator aimed at?

The Accelerator is designed for practitioners working in digital media, including freelancers, entrepreneurs and independent journalists, who are pushing innovation in digital media. This means 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 leadership experience, which can mean 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 women 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 Women’s Leadership Accelerator and Academy programs, we support women who have a wide range of experience and skills. If you are passionate about leading change in the newsroom, 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 skillset so we can tailor aspects of the program to your needs, even if you’ve taken an untraditional path.

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 that they are “so thankful to have this community of amazing and inspiring women.”

What are the important dates in the application and selection process?

  • Applications open: Oct. 28, 2020
  • Applications close: Nov. 30, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Participants announced: March 10, 2021
  • Women’s Leadership Accelerator intensive week (virtual): March 22-26, 2021
  • Up to three online training sessions: April – October 2021
  • Closing Workshop: October 2021

What are the estimated costs to participants?

Thanks to the generous support of lead funder, the Dow Jones Foundation, and support from other funders and sponsors, the Women’s Leadership Accelerator training is tuition-free.

Registration to ONA’s annual conference is included with the Accelerator.

When will I hear back about my application?

You will receive a confirmation email when you submit your application. You will hear from us on the status of your application in February or March 2021.

How does ONA determine who is selected for the Accelerator?

ONA staff works with a review committee comprised of a mix of industry leaders and past program participants to select candidates. As in past years, 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.)

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

Most importantly: We want you to be present.

That not only means being online for the duration of the Accelerator programming during the kickoff week and for the workshop during ONA’s conference, but it also means taking a break from work to be fully engaged during the program March 22-26. There will also be a full day, closing workshop in October that all cohort members will attend.

Has COVID-19 changed the program structure for the 2021 Women’s Leadership Accelerator?

In 2021, we’ll offer the Women’s Leadership Accelerator fully online for the first time to account for the ongoing conditions due to COVID-19.

Our program leads have been leading online workshops for years, and bring deep expertise to facilitating virtual trainings and fostering connections online. Additionally, Tran Ha has also helped redesign the JSK Fellowships at Stanford to go all virtual, and Jen Mizgata has redesigned many of ONA’s programs to go online-only, from a summer series hosted by the Women’s Leadership Accelerator, to annual conference workshops, as well as taking learnings from other cohort-based programs that have shifted online, including her own experience in a now-virtual MBA program this fall.

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 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 a past digital project?

Sharing a digital project you have worked on gives ONA staff and the review committee a unique window into how you think and an idea of how you’d like to develop in the future. The examples can be personal or work-related. We encourage you to think about the project 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?

How important is the recommendation letter?

The recommendation letter is a very important complement to the information you provide. It 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. There is a field in the application form to upload a PDF of your recommendation letter. If your recommender would prefer, they may send it directly to accelerator@journalists.org.

What distinguishes ONA’s Women’s Leadership Accelerator from Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media?

ONA and Poynter collaboratively designed the ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, which helped train, mentor and connect 53 women journalists in 2015 and 2016. This successful precursor to the current programs attracted strong applications from nearly 1,000 women at different stages of their careers. At the conclusion of the two-year partnership between Poynter and ONA, it became clear that the demand for quality leadership training for women in digital media warranted expansion.

We are thrilled that we have been able to increase the amount of trainings available by offering two distinct programs.

The Women’s Leadership Accelerator is a year-long, intensive program that supercharges the leadership and management skills of women who are pushing digital innovation. Participants focus on a challenge specific to their careers and learn leadership skills and tools for navigating change. The Accelerator is tuition-free and typically requires two in-person commitments during the year. It kicks off with a week of tailored, immersive programming in March , provides support and coaching to participants throughout the year and culminates with a workshop at ONA’s annual conference, which this year will occur Oct. 13-16, 2021 in Philadelphia. To account for the ongoing conditions due to COVID-19, the 2021 Accelerator will kick off with a fully virtual week of programming March 22-26, 2021, and is closely monitoring the option of an in-person meeting at ONA’s 2021 annual conference in October.

Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media is an in-depth program designed to help leaders at any career stage move to the next level. Each academy will include inspiring talks, hands-on activities, candid discussions and networking opportunities all focused on building women’s leadership and management skills. Cohort members will create practical leadership development plans they can implement as they return to the newsroom, and they will receive one-on-one coaching during and after the academy to ensure personal success.

Both programs seek to forge a new generation of women leaders with the skills, knowledge and support to rise to the highest levels of media leadership. ONA and Poynter are both committed to an open, candid learning environment, and building strong support systems. Participants will leave with a built-in support system for the future. We’ve seen this phenomena with all of our alumnae; it’s the cohort that makes this experience transformational

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

You can apply to both programs, but you can only participate in one. Applicants who have attended Poynter’s program in past years or who get accepted and plan to attend one of the 2021 Academies are not eligible to participate in the Accelerator program.

ONA and Poynter coordinate during the selection process and work to pair participants with the cohort that will be a best fit for them.

Is the Accelerator open to international applicants?

Yes! The program is open to English-speaking participants. For any travel connected to the Accelerator, participants will be responsible for their own passport and visa arrangements and may be asked to assist with other logistics.

Will time zones be considered when scheduling the intensive week of programming in March 2021?

This program is offered by ONA and its staff, which is headquartered in the United States. We will do our best to be mindful of different time zones for those selected for the cohort and will design our schedule to account for online learning styles. For international applicants, especially those in time zones opposite of Eastern Time working hours, applicants should be aware they need to have some flexibility to work around US time zones.

Can I apply if I identify as a non-binary person?

Yes! While the Women’s Leadership Accelerator is an intensive cohort-based program aimed at advancing women in digital journalism, we understand that gender identity and gender expression are personal and wide-ranging. If you identify as 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.

Is it a firm application deadline?

Absolutely. We’ve had a great response to 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 in time to meet the deadline.

Other questions? Contact Jennifer Mizgata at accelerator@journalists.org.