When Monica Rozenfeld graduated from Rutgers in 2007, she left with a degree in journalism and mass media and a dream of making it in her field.
What she lacked was confidence – and a confidant.
“I was too nervous to take a journalism job,” said Rozenfeld. “People were saying ‘Print is dead. Nobody is paying.’ There were opportunities I didn’t take.”
Nine years and a few wrong turns later, she is working as an associate editor and giving another Rutgers graduate the sounding board she never had through the university’s new Gloria Steinem Media Mentoring Program.
The program was launched in September by Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) and the School of Communication and Information (SCI) in conjunction with the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies. The proposed Steinem chair will focus on the creative and complex ways information technology and new media are reshaping culture and power relationships. Fundraisers are optimistic they will reach $3.5M goal to finance this position and recruit someone to fill it by the 2016-17 academic year.
The Steinem mentoring program links 20 recent Rutgers alumnae with 20 female media professionals. Mentees are no more than one to five years out of college and must have six months to a year of experience in media, journalism or information technology. Mentors are producers, filmmakers, journalists, CEOs and executive editors who volunteer to guide women a few years their junior as they navigate job expectations, office politics, career choices and networking opportunities.
“What could be more appropriate to Gloria Steinem’s legacy than helping to advance the next generation of women and minority media leaders?” said Alison Bernstein, IWL director and mentorship co-founder.
The nine-month pilot program, which organizers hope to extend, is funded by a $35,000 grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation and addresses the underrepresentation of women and minorities in leadership, production and creative roles across all media and information technology platforms. How large is the gender gap? According to The Women’s Media Center 2015 report on the Status of Women in the U.S. Media, men received 62 percent of byline and other credit in print, Internet, TV and wire news in 2014 and represented 70 percent of all Twitter employees.
Steinem mentors like Rozenfeld and mentees like Abira Sengupta are changing those statistics.
As associate editor of The Institute – a membership publication for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology – Rozenfeld covers everything from developments in cybersecurity to wearable technology. The Institute is circulated to 430,000 IEEE members, only 10 percent of which are women.
“It’s very empowering now to be a woman in technology. Learn to code, learn technical writing, and you will have your choice of job,” she said. “I never would have thought about working in technology when I graduated. Now I don’t plan to leave.”
Rozenfeld’s three years of experience with IEEE made her an ideal mentor for fellow IEEE employee and Rutgers alumna Sengupta, who graduated in 2011 with a degree in journalism and media studies. Sengupta joined the nonprofit organization’s Piscataway office in July, writing society and chapter news for the Solid-State Circuits Society’s (SSCS) Circuits magazine. The magazine news editor and society administrator also handles social media, website and member communications for SSCS.
As a new employee, she was eager to find support from another woman a few rungs above her.
“Even after coming here I felt a little lost,” said Sengupta. “But Monica made me feel more secure, and let me know this is the right place and the right fit for me.”
Tionni Warren, a 2012 Rutgers graduate with a bachelor’s in journalism and media studies, was tired of watching production assistants at her TV jobs advance while she was passed over. She’d just wrapped up a production assistant job and was regrouping when she applied for the Steinem mentorship.
“It seemed like a good thing to talk to another woman about what I was going through,” said Warren, who has since become a PA at MTV’s Teen Mom 2. “I wanted to know: Am I making the right impression? Is there anything more I can do to keep moving up in the business?”
Her mentor, Taryn Sauthoff, is assuring her mentee of her worth, while expanding Warren’s professional network.
“The main thing I can do is introduce her to people who can get her to where she wants to be in her career,” said Sauthoff, 2006 Rutgers alumna who also majored in journalism and media studies and works as a senior producer at Comedy Central. “At the core you have to be smart and driven, but you have to know people along the way to get your resume to the top of the pile.”
Both pairs said they have become contemporaries, regularly meeting for lunch or coffee to share ideas, discuss career strategies or offer each other encouragement.
“What I like about our pairing is she is only six years older than me,” Warren said. “It didn’t feel like I was meeting with an intimidating senior person in the company. It felt like a big sister who I could have girl-to-girl conversations with.”
Those conversations include knowing when and how to ask for a promotion or raise, how to balance work and personal life or handle gender politics in the workplace.
Rachel Bernstein is the woman responsible for making these pairings and monitoring their progress. The 2015 SCI alumna, who majored in journalism and media studies and minored in women and gender studies, was named program coordinator for the Steinem mentoring program in June.
As a recent graduate perusing a career in the field of media and journalism, Rachel said she is keenly aware how important it is to be connected with female role models.
“I’m around successful women every day,” she said. “It shows that I can be the director of an institute. I can grow to be where I want to be because I see these women doing it. It’s different to be around these women rather than looking in from the outside.”
For media inquiries contact Lisa Intrabartola at firstname.lastname@example.org.