Good morning, Broadsheet readers. Today, we're headed to Iraq, where foreign news correspondent Holly Williams talks to us about the advantages of being a female journalist in the Middle East. As Williams reports on ISIS's continued efforts to take over Iraqi land, an all-women battalion of soldiers is ready to fight back. Stay safe and have a great weekend!
• Women defend Iraq's homeland. A battalion of 550 female fighters is taking up arms to protect Iraq’s Kurdish population from the Islamic militant group ISIS. “This is my duty, no matter if I am bearing a child or not,” one of the fighters told The New York Post. “If I am called to the front lines, I will go.” Another member of the battalion called it an "honor to be part of a modern Muslim country that allows women to defend the homeland." NYPost
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CBS News Foreign Correspondent Holly Williams: You don't have to pretend you're Superwoman
Last Friday, Holly Williams was the first network correspondent to reach the Kurdish stronghold of Erbil in northern Iraq. The Islamic militant group ISIS is working to take over Erbil, while Kurdish soldiers are fighting back on the ground. An Australia native based in Istanbul, Williams has spent her entire career in foreign news.
Given the travel commitment of the job, Williams is among a small but growing pool of women who are seeking out foreign news posts. In fact, Williams is one of three female CBS News correspondents to recently report from either Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine or Syria. On Wednesday, Williams talked to me from Erbil about the benefits of being a female journalist in the Middle East and how she stays connected with her four-year-old daughter back at home.
What are you reporting on today?
We just did a really interesting interview with the governor of the Nineveh province. He was running the province until he was literally chased out of town by ISIS and now he is sitting in Erbil feeling pretty powerless. He comes across as being a very good-hearted and well-intentioned man so it is a bit tragic. ISIS is only 30 miles away from us which feels weird at times because life here in Erbil feels very normal, and yet we are conscious that there are these violent Islamic extremists at our doorsteps. The security situation has been tighter. What ISIS appears to be doing is signaling out these religious minorities, the Yazidis, and it is terribly tragic. It's sad to see the destruction of the community.
Describe what it's like to be on the ground.
This part of Iraq is by far the safest place. The Kurdish fighters are considered to be the best fighters in Iraq. It is a good place to be as a journalist for an American news organization because people here have very warm feelings about America. As you drive toward the front lines and you are a mile or two from ISIS positions, you are aware that there could be dangers, but we are not in the business of taking crazy risks.
How do you feel reporting behind enemy lines as a woman?
Sometimes when you travel to more conservative parts of the Middle East, obviously you are going to get treated differently as a woman than as a man. I have never felt it is a disadvantage. If anything, it can sometimes be an advantage to be a foreign woman in this part of the world because people are disarmed by it. There is such a culture of hospitality in this part of the world and people often feel sympathetic to you as a woman so they go out of their way to help you. They are less suspicious of you because you are a woman. When you are in the more conservative places, as a foreigner, you have access to both the men and the women. As a male corespondent, you can only talk to the men.
Why do you think a majority of foreign correspondents are men?
I think the big issue is that the job takes up a lot of time. When we are on the road, we are working 18-hour days and you have to be ready to travel at a drop of a hat. You have to be ready to take the call when you are standing in the supermarket and grab a bag and run to the airport. For a lot of people that isn't possible or viable. I would suspect that is a problem for some women who don't find that compatible with having kids. I have one daughter and I am very lucky. When I am not traveling, I am home with her in Istanbul. I have been very lucky to have amazing childcare. I am actually flying out on Thursday so I can be there for her birthday.
What do you think is central to balancing your career with your family?
It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, you can't have work-life balance if you don't work for a company that buys into that idea. Companies have to understand that people have families and other priorities. There are so many males at my company that have the same issues that I do as a woman and as a mum. When I first had my daughter, I felt this desire to act like Superwoman and pretend that everything was the same and I think that you don't have to do that. It is okay not to do that. You have to remind your company and remind your bosses that you do have this whole other life and you do have other priorities. You don't have to put up this front that you're Superwoman. I feel like a lot of women feel compelled to do that and it's not helpful to other men or women to do that.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
• Want a masculine job? Act "manly" in the interview. Michigan State researchers found that women who describe themselves in traditionally masculine ways are seen as better fits for the job. This is particularly true when interviewing for management roles. Fortune
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• No Google, no I didn't. Emily McManus, the editor of Ted.com, yesterday tweeted out a screenshot of a slightly disturbing Google autocorrect. When the editor typed in "English major who taught herself calculus," the search engine suggested that she meant "English major who taught himself calculus." It's worth taking a look. Twitter
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[bs_quote title="Final Thought...." quote= "There is a voice inside you that will tell you that you are not good enough, prepared enough, or worthy enough to fulfill your dreams. Quiet that voice." " source="Elisa Jagerson, CEO and owner of engineering design firm Speck Design, shares with Fast Company the best advice she ever received."]