2022 Women’s Leadership Accelerator FAQ

The application period is closed. Applications for the 2023 cohort will open in September/October 2022.

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. 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 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 programs, we support women 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. Start your application.

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 2022.

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 a past digital project?

Sharing a past project 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?

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 to upload a PDF of your recommendation letter. If your recommender would prefer, they may send it directly to accelerator@journalists.org.

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 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 in May or June 2022. Travel requirements may change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. 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 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 2022 Academies are not eligible to participate in ONA’s Women’s Leadership 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.

What to expect if you’re selected

Will the 2022 Women’s Leadership Accelerator take place online or in-person?

In 2021, we hosted the first-ever fully virtual accelerator program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As conditions change moving into 2022, we are reassessing how to best serve our community, cohort and the mission of this program. We plan to gather the 2022 cohort virtually for an intensive workshop the week of March 28 and host an in-person workshop in Los Angeles in May or June.

Our experience in 2021 helped us learn how to deliver an outstanding learning experience and drive meaningful, lasting connections among members of the cohort, mentors and program leaders fully remotely. We’ll take the same care to develop a stellar experience for the 2022 cohort.

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 during the kickoff workshop in March, the in-person workshop in May or June and the closing workshop during ONA’s conference in September. It also means taking a break from work to be fully engaged for the time you’re with the cohort.

What health and safety measures is ONA implementing for the in-person program?

The safety and wellbeing of the ONA community is our top priority. We have a comprehensive safety protocol for in-person events that is informed by COVID-19 guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local public health developments, association-specific resources and consultation with events and public health experts. We’ll communicate specifics about what to expect with selected cohort members, speakers and mentors as we get closer to the in-person gathering in May or June 2022.

Do I need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in this program?

Yes — proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 is required for staff, cohort members, speakers and mentors to attend the in-person portions of the 2022 Women’s Leadership Accelerator. United States residents will need proof of vaccination from one of the three authorized Food and Drug Administration vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson/Janseen). Residents of other countries will need proof of vaccination from vaccines authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization.

For applicants, vaccine status does not need to be submitted with your application to the accelerator. We will reach out to cohort members ahead of the in-person gathering to collect proof of vaccination.

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. We will have limited scholarships available to assist with travel costs for the in-person workshop.

Registration to ONA’s annual conference is included with the accelerator. ONA22 will be held in Los Angeles in September 2022.

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. 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. Alumnae also share their insights with other women passionate about leading change in the annual session “Career Advice from the Women’s Leadership Accelerator” at ONA’s annual conference.

In November 2021, ONA is hosting a speaker series featuring four virtual events highlighting important topics inspired by the Women’s Leadership Accelerator, including advocating for your ideas and team, challenging the systems that contribute to imposter syndrome and career building. Additionally, you can connect with women from the Women’s Leadership Accelerator by signing up for a free digital coaching session on digitalwomenleaders.com.

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

Other questions? Contact Director of Programs Meghan Murphy at accelerator@journalists.org.

The Women’s Leadership Accelerator is supported by lead funder Dow Jones Foundation, with additional support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation, Alley, Otter.ai, Shindig.