What Nikole Hannah-Jones’s choice can teach you about your career
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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Canada gets a new governor-general, renting clothing may not be a sustainable way to shop, and Nikole Hannah-Jones provides a career lesson for the ages. Have a great Wednesday.
– Valuing being valued. Those of us who have been tracking the story of Nikole Hannah-Jones and her potential professorship at the University of North Carolina got a surprise yesterday: Hannah-Jones announced that she had accepted a tenured position at Howard University, not UNC.
For the detailed version of what happened, there’s plenty of blow-by-blow coverage to catch up on—or read Hannah-Jones’s statement. The (probably over-) simplified version is that Hannah-Jones was offered a teaching position at UNC, but her application for tenure was initially denied due to the influence of a conservative white board member. Eventually, the board voted to approve tenure, but by then the damage was done, says Hannah-Jones, a star investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer for her work on the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project on America’s history of slavery.
“At some point when you have proven yourself and fought your way into institutions that were not built for you, when you’ve proven you can compete and excel at the highest level, you have to decide that you are done forcing yourself in,” she writes in her statement.
Hannah-Jones announced that she was declining the revised UNC offer and would instead become the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at Howard University. (Also joining the faculty: fellow MacArthur genius grant recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates.)
The emotion in Hannah-Jones’s statement reads, at best, as bittersweet. The cost of her struggle is crystal clear. Still, this resolution certainly seems like a triumphant moment for Hannah-Jones.
There are losers in this outcome, though. No doubt the students and faculty of UNC who supported Hannah-Jones feel betrayed by their university, which will bear this stain for years to come. In addition to the wounds to its current community, UNC will certainly miss out on some brilliant would-be students and faculty, who, like Hannah-Jones, will look at what happened and choose an academic home where they feel more supported.
For the rest of us, perhaps there’s a wider career lesson here: Value those who value you. We often hear about the importance of taking a job that makes you feel uncomfortable. And, yes, discomfort can be good—it can push you and help you grow. But it can just as easily be toxic, creating an atmosphere where you never win or get the sponsorship you need.
Even after getting the UNC position with the tenure she earned, Hannah-Jones chose the job where she felt valued and supported. Hopefully none of us will have to endure such a grueling public ordeal in our careers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from her example.
The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe.
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