How Chicas Poderosas is spreading its message of empowering women innovators in newsrooms

journalism / Article

Above: The organizers of Chicas Poderosas FIU, courtesy of Chicas Poderosas.

Chicas Poderosas on Vimeo courtesy of Abanico Films.

Barbara Corbellini Duarte, a multimedia journalist at the South Florida Sun Sentinel, is an organizer of Chicas Poderosas FIU, a two-day conference sponsored by Knight Foundation in April at Florida International University.

When I decided to organize the first Chicas Poderosas FIU as a way of empowering students, I didn’t know I would be the one who would leave feeling empowered.

Chicas Poderosas seeks to help move women into the vanguard of innovation in newsrooms, providing training and support to help them move into leadership roles. Women don’t always realize how much pressure society imposes on them until behaviors that inhibit this are already ingrained. At least that was my case.

I’ve never wanted to be rescued, but pop culture, media and society have always told me that was my role to play since very early on. While boys have hundreds of superheroes role models, girls are often stuck with damsel-in-distress princesses, girlfriends and wives being rescued over and over. Slowly, those messages create insecurities, developing into such behaviors as apprehensiveness about negotiating salaries at work or taking a seat at the business table.

Nearly 200 students and media professionals attended the three-day Chicas Poderosas FIU mediathon. Courtesy of Abanico Films.

So I immediately identified with the story Mariana Santos, Knight Innovator in Residence at FIU, told us about how she started Chicas Poderosas in 2013 to empower women in newsrooms throughout the Americas who often doubt themselves too much. This self-doubt is not natural or biological. It’s imposed on every woman with every stereotypical movie, book and altered photograph we put out there.

Santos talked to us at the Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Center for the Advancement of Women in Communication, where six of us recent graduates – Constanza Gallardo, Oliana Torres, Miriam Valverde, Maria Centeno and Dorilys Miralles – were doing a fellowship. She challenged us to organize the first Chicas Poderosas FIU, and we accepted the challenge in a heartbeat.

We put together an agenda that reflected issues we would have liked to have talked about while we were in college: salary negotiation, beating your insecurities, having work/life balance, being a minority in a newsroom or one of the few women in the photo department.

The first day of the Chicas Poderosas FIU mediathon featured a “Star Wars” light saber class. Courtesy of Abanico Films

We chose a theme for the event, “I am more than what you see,” because women are often judged for their looks. When we’re young, people often think of us as “just a pretty face,” and at the same time, we are not allowed to get old. We get judged by our wrinkles and white hair, and society expects us to look young forever.

Nearly 200 media professionals and students attended the three-day mediathon, which took place in three locations: Univision’s Doral newsroom, FIU’s Miami Beach Urban Studios and The LAB Miami.  

We gave students shirts, and asked them to write on them a word that described themelves by completing the sentence “I am.” “A Jedi,” “powerful,” “alternative,” “sound” and “me” were some of the words they wrote.

From the beginning of Chicas Poderosas FIU, the speakers created an atmosphere where people felt comfortable enough to share personal experiences and even cry. That only shows how much women are craving these conversations.

We also had sessions on the intersection of innovation and technology, since that’s part of the Chicas motto. We had panels on virtual reality, podcasting and radio, building a digital portfolio and social media.

We wanted the students to interact with each other. So we offered light sabers and a self-defense workshop. Both those activities had a deeper meaning to us, because as women, we are often told that “Star Wars” swords and wrestling are not for us. So it was just amazing to watch all those young women debunk those stereotypes and rock Jedi. They also learned how to escape a random attack during a Brazilian jujitsu workshop.

The event left an indelible mark on all. “I am more than what you see” was and is clearly overdue as evidenced by the women who came together to find empowerment through community, learning that they’re not alone in the struggle to discard societal norms of women in media.

“Chicas Poderosas is about giving women voice, building community, supporting each other, collaborating and becoming stronger as a result,” Santos says. “We are planning to expand Chicas globally and create a greater network among regions, giving all chicas a network to support each other worldwide. Together we will change the face of media, one woman at a time.”

Follow Barbara Corbellini Duarte on Twitter @babicorb.

On the third day of the conference, students went out to the streets of Wynwood to work on stories about gentrification. They presented their videos, photos and radio wraps by the end of the day.  Courtesy of Abanico Films.

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