Being surrounded by so many women on the National Mall would lead to Baldwin’s “Oprah aha moment”.
“I knew then that I wanted to dedicate the next chapter of my career to supporting and celebrating women. What followed was #metoo, TimesUp, the 2018 mid-term elections… Collectives of women were dominating the headlines. I noticed more women, across the board, were engaged in politics, issues, America, than I’d seen in my 20 years in journalism.”
She calls this phenomenon the “huddle”, a word the Oxford dictionary defines as a way ‘to gather closely together, usually because of cold or fear’. Except Baldwin wanted to give the word more power and legitimacy, which she does in her first book, HUDDLE: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power.
“Standing in the MIDDLE of half a million people for the Women’s March. It was EMOTIONAL journalistic whiplash.”
Exploring the collective action undertaken by women in recent years, the book features conversations with pioneers like Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem and Billie Jean King and trailblazers like Stacey Abrams and Ava DuVernay, focusing on the everyday bonds that women can strengthen to solve problems and enact meaningful change.
It’s been a labour of love and a source of her focus, particularly since leaving CNN in April, where she started as a freelancer in 2008. She’s described the network as a workplace sometimes driven by male ego.
Can Baldwin recall a particular huddle during her time at CNN that profoundly impacted her career? “I tell this story in the book. It was 2018 and a major hurricane was brewing off the Carolina coastline. At the same time, at CNN it was ‘Make You Matter’ week. This is where our parent company showed its appreciation and investment in us by hosting workshops and guest speakers to promote our professional development.
“The very day that Hurricane Florence was about to make landfall, I was a guest speaker at a featured event ‘Breakfast with Brooke Baldwin’. My friend, and fellow CNN huddler, Alisyn Camerota had been tapped to interview me in a room of about a hundred, mostly women, employees. What no one in the room knew was that later that afternoon I would not be hosting my own show. The first mega-hurricane of the year would be churning toward the Carolinas and our three primetime anchors (who all happen to be male) would be hosting my show for me, from various locations along the beach. I would instead spend the afternoon alone in my office, angry that I was not given the opportunity to cover this national emergency on my own show.
“I wanted to BLURT out: ‘Being a woman in this profession isn’t always FAIR, even 20 years in! You work hard, you’re kind, and you STILL don’t get to do it all!’”
“So, I sat there at this Make You Matter breakfast not feeling like I mattered as much as I would have liked. I swallowed my disappointment and fielded all kinds of questions about my career and what it’s like to be a woman in a still male-dominated profession. I wanted to blurt out: ‘Being a woman in this profession isn’t always fair, even 20 years in! You work hard, you’re kind, and you still don’t get to do it all!’ But I held my fire.
“After the Q&A, I went straight to Alisyn’s office, and we huddled. I threw myself on the couch in her office and we talked candidly about our jobs, our salaries and our desire for a sense of fulfilment in our careers. And at the end of our 20-minute conversation, I left her office with more hope and enough gumption to ask for what I wanted.
“That afternoon, as the TVs around the studio flashed a three-box split screen of those three guys reporting live from the hurricane zone, I marched the 15 paces across the newsroom and into my boss’s office. I laid it out plain and simple: ‘I want to be there. Why did you send the boys?’ ‘Because they were banging down my door and being a pain in my ass,’ he said. ‘Well, I am more than happy to be a pain in your ass,’ I returned, not missing a beat. My boss smirked and replied, ‘I appreciate you coming in here. Duly noted. Next time.’
“Later that year, CNN submitted my work for a Peabody Award. I’ve NEVER forgotten how powerful Alisyn’s small act of ENCOURAGEMENT was for me.”
“True to his word, a month later my boss sent me to Florida to cover what would be the biggest hurricane of the season and one of the most important assignments of my career. And, later that year, CNN submitted my work for a Peabody Award. I’ve never forgotten how powerful Alisyn’s small act of encouragement was for me.
“For me, this is one of the ironic benefits of working in a male-dominated field. It has given me the opportunity to hone my huddle skills, to become more perceptive about how I can help other women and become less guarded about my own vulnerabilities in the workplace. Even if it’s a man’s world we’re working in, the huddle is the silver lining.”
BROOKE’S WORKING WISDOM
What’s your secret weapon to get you through life?
I have two: meditation first thing in the morning for 20 minutes before even looking at my phone, and then moving my body every single day. My practice most often is Taryn Toomey’s The Class.
Who do you turn to for advice?
I have a council of wise women – I turn to them and my husband. I also journal when I need to gut-check myself.
Where do you go for inspiration?
Nature is my church.
What can women learn from men?
How to speak up, think more selfishly (I mean that in the best way), and advocate for themselves.
What can men learn from women?
How to listen, multi-task and be a bit more selfless.
ALL of Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman (I had the poem taped on my wall for all four years at university and it still speaks to me today). Also, I don’t know who said this but: “Empowered women empower women.”
Which women inspire you?
Oprah, Brené Brown, Stacey Abrams, Michelle Obama, Alicia Garza, MJ Rodriguez, Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, the 19 Black women judges I profiled in HUDDLE, Shannon Watts, the women at Reese Witherspoon’s company Hello Sunshine…
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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