2023 Women’s Leadership Accelerator FAQ

The application period for the 2023 Women’s Leadership Accelerator is now closed. All application materials were due by 11:59 p.m. EST (4:59 UTC) on Thursday, November 10, 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 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 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.

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 January or February 2023.

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 does serve 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 Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 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 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 April or May 2023 and again in August 2023. 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 2023 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 2023 Women’s Leadership Accelerator take place online or in-person?

In short, both! We will have a brief welcome meeting and initial individual coaching sessions virtually in March-April 2023, and then convene for two in-person gatherings; first in Chicago in April/May and then again in Philadelphia in August to coincide with ONA23, our annual conference.

In 2021, we hosted the first-ever fully virtual accelerator program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As conditions changed moving into 2022, we gathered the 2022 cohort both virtually for an intensive workshop in the spring and then for two more in-person workshops in Los Angeles, one in the summer and one in the fall to coincide with ONA22. Our experiences in 2021 and 2022 helped us learn how to deliver an outstanding learning experience and drive meaningful, lasting connections among members of the cohort, mentors and program leaders. We’ll take the same care to develop a stellar experience for the 2023 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 hello meeting and individual coaching sessions in March, the in-person workshop in April or May and the closing workshop during ONA’s conference in August. 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 April or May 2023. If you have specific questions about health and safety during the accelerator please contact Learning Director Kelsey Proud at accelerator@journalists.org.

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 2023 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.

Global availability and requirements for booster shots varies. We ask that you follow your local recommendations on getting booster shots before attending WLA23. For those residing in the U.S., here is the current CDC guidance on booster shots.

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 workshops in April/May in Chicago and in Philadelphia in August.

Registration to ONA’s annual conference is also included with the accelerator. ONA23 will be held in Philadelphia in August 2023.

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 session “Real Talk With The Women’s Leadership Accelerator” at ONA’s annual conference.

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 2022 Women’s Leadership Accelerator was supported by lead funder Dow Jones Foundation, with additional support from the John S. and James L. Knight FoundationInasmuch FoundationDotdash MeredithAlleyCanvaO’Brien Fellowship In Public Service JournalismDiederich College of Communication-Marquette University, the Tiffany Shackelford Foundation, and Otter.ai.  We seek funders for each new program. To learn more, contact ONA Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer Jessica Strelitz at jessica@journalists.org.