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  • Mon, 7, Mar, 2016 - 5:00:AM

International Women's Week: Jane Hastings on sexism, swimming and the bright future

Five Women. Five Questions. Five Days.

Who: Jane Hastings, the CEO of NZME.

Why: Her CV is one of the most impressive you’ll read anywhere – there have been big jobs all across the globe, from Managing Director at Tequila Asia, to General Manager Group Sales, Marketing and International Business at SKYCITY Entertainment Group. In recent years, she’s overseen the merger of the The Radio Network, The New Zealand Herald and GrabOne to form NZME., which makes her one of the most powerful people in New Zealand media.

It’s by my own design that I find myself in Jane Hastings’ office one January morning clutching a sheet of paper on which I’ve scribbled five questions.

I’m full of regret over the ‘light bulb’ moment I had at the end of last year. I thought taking five inspirational Kiwi women and asking each of them five questions was an interesting concept. We’d find out what makes each of them tick. And although not all the questions would be the same, perhaps themes would emerge. Perhaps these women would help to unlock the secret to success. Or perhaps success isn’t quite what we believe or imagine it to be.

I’ve barely pulled up a chair in Hastings’ office and already I’ve got a dozen more questions buzzing around in my brain. It could be that my head’s spinning at the sheer expanse of the impressive new NZME. headquarters in central Auckland, which Hastings presides over from the second floor. But most likely it’s that as the CEO of one of New Zealand’s largest media companies, Hastings is one of the most powerful people in the business. She’s one of the captains trusted to guide journalists like me through these choppy seas of unprecedented change, AKA the digital first age of integration, and I’ve got five measly questions. Only five!

There’s no chance to ease in. I refer back to a Q&A in The New Zealand Herald in 2013, almost a year after she’d been appointed as the chief executive of the Radio Network before then going on to oversee the merger that formed NZME. In it, Hastings said she discounted sexism in the corporate world from the beginning. And if ever she felt she was being treated differently because of her gender, she’d confront it and laugh it off. I want to hear a specific example and did she really mean ‘laugh it off?’ As in LOL, laugh it off?

“Gosh, a specific example? In my generation, it exists every day. It doesn’t come up on occasion. It’s actually the way the world still works,” says Hastings. “And when I say laugh it off; you have got to go, ‘Why is this person thinking this way? What age are they? What demographic are they from? What culture are they from? And, how do I manage it?’ There’s no hard and fast rule.”

But I want specifics. And Hastings is reading my mind. “I’m trying to give you a specific answer,” she says. “In Australia, I was the only female in an all male board. Blokey jokes. Bloke this, bloke that. They go for drinks, you don’t go.”

So what about those blokey jokes? I know I’m deviating away from my five-question script, but how does she deal with them? “I appeal to the human side. As an example, there is a demographic, where you go ‘Wow, would you want your daughter to hear that?’ That certainly brings things to a point. But it’s not a rare occurrence; it’s a regular occurrence. And you’ve got to know the individual you’re dealing with and apply a comment back in a way that makes them think about it.”

Hastings is right. I’ve been in the workforce for 20 plus years - almost all of that time in the media industry - and in my experience newsrooms aren’t known for polite conversation. Sexism isn’t something that pops up now and then, it’s always there. It’s in the background lingering quietly and it’s also in your face. You pick your battles. Sometimes someone’s felt the full force of my wrath, but there are times when I’ve asked myself: A) Was this fool born in the 1920s? And B) Is he from planet Mars? If the answer to both questions is yes, then I’ve managed a laugh. It’s a reaction that stems both from frustration and patronising sympathy for the perpetrator. Does it make it right? Absolutely not! But I do hear where Hastings is coming from on this one.

I’m also keen to hear her take on the debate that flared up last year when Newstalk ZB host Rachel Smalley reacted to John Campbell’s appointment at RNZ, claiming a “near-monopoly of white male broadcasters who shape our day, who direct our news agenda, who influence our opinions and perspectives”. RNZ’s Carol Hirschfeld hit back, saying Smalley’s take was “muddled” and even “patronising”.

Hastings begins by saying she thinks Smalley’s comments were taken out of context and then adds that she doesn’t think it’s a “male-female thing”.

“I don’t want this to sound cliché but I do believe that in running a company, particularly in media, you are choosing the best person for the job. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to put a whole list of names up and track popularity and how they perform for each audience. The results often determine the outcome.

“The key talent pool is quite small. The reason they’re going to get the jobs is because they’ve got the audiences, they’ve got the ratings. They’ve got the experience. They’ve got the professionalism. As a media operator, my responsibility is to create the opportunity.”

It leads nicely on to what is officially my third question, which in a nutshell goes something like this – has journalism gone to hell in a handbasket?

I ask this because as the so-called digital race heats up, there seems to have been a mass exodus of senior journalists in newsrooms across the country. Also, my Facebook feed is littered with posts from the old guard lamenting the good old days and predicting journalism's death by click bait, poor grammar and typos.

It would almost appear to be an industry on its knees and that certainly doesn’t send much of a message to the young and eager graduates leaving our journalism schools. So as an industry leader how can Hastings ensure that what she’s helping to create is a world just as enticing and exciting as it was when I took my first job in 1995?

She explains that we’re now dealing with three key generations who all access their media in very different ways – the traditionalists, the mixed media lot and the digital age. “If you want to stay in that traditional space and not change, well count your days. It’s pretty simple,” she says in such a matter of fact way, I find myself suddenly sitting up straight.

Hastings believes that it’s her job to arm her workforce with people who can work across those platforms and who can prepare themselves for the digital landscape that lies before us. “And yeah, it’s a lot more work, but actually in five to 10 years time, that will simplify,” she says.

Her niece is studying journalism in Australia so it’s a conversation she’s used to having. She could try pointing her in a different direction – medicine maybe? But no, it’s quite the opposite. “I think it is the most exciting time. When people say there are no current affair shows, the great thing – well in New Zealand anyway – is that there are funding opportunities. You’ve got NZ on Air, you’ve got the Film Commission. There are low cost platforms. And we have the number eight-wire mentality to pull things together.

“If you’re a self motivated individual who is really passionate about a particular area, you can make it happen. Before it was much harder to get your idea through. I think it’s getting easier not harder. There’s never been a better time – companies like ourselves and the rest of the industry, we’re searching for those people who have those ideas and have those capabilities and want to do new things, I think there’s a lot more opportunity and I’d absolutely be backing a community in this space.”

I could sit all day talking to Hastings about this stuff. Her insights are fascinating. But I look down at my notes and remember I’m only meant to be asking five questions. Oops. Ok, here’s an easy one – what are your professional and personal goals for 2016?

Her answer to the first part is as expected. It’s been a massive past 12 months for NZME. and now Hastings just wants to “make it hum”. But I’d not quite expected her answer to the second part of the question, especially not when you link it back to my earlier analogy about Hastings being one of the captains navigating rough seas of change.

“My personal goal is to learn to swim.”

Did the big boss at NZME. just admit she can’t swim? I don’t need to spell it out, but these seas are pretty choppy out here, and she can’t swim? She also doesn’t need me to tell her that Mark Weldon – the skipper over at MediaWorks, my boss when I’m not working on freelance pieces like this, and one of her biggest competitors – well, he’s a former Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer.

How on earth did she not learn to swim? “I grew up in a family where we didn’t go to swimming lessons,” she replies. “I mean I can swim. I just can’t do laps.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised at that. Maybe it’s because Hastings seems like someone who can do anything. And I guess she is, because she’s now taking lessons and clearly not afraid of a challenge. I reckon by the end of this year she’ll be caning it in the pool. The big question is will she be swimming laps faster than Weldon? It all remains to be seen.

I’ve enjoyed my chat with Hastings. But I have failed miserably with the five-question concept, which means I really should just ditch my final one. I can’t though. It’s the one question that I will ask every one of the interviewees – can you pinpoint a time in your career when you were your happiest?

It might seem like a bit of a silly throwaway question. But I thought it might be telling because no one’s going to say, ‘When I worked as a waitress earning well below minimum wage’. Or maybe they will. I’ll give it a whirl.

Hastings tells me she’s had many happy moments throughout her career and that she’s only ever left a job when she’s been really fulfilled and ready for the next challenge.

“I don’t have a happiest moment, I feel like every role I’ve progressed from and to, they’ve all been great and happy moments.”

But you can see she really wants to answer this question well, because she’s still thinking. Perhaps it will make it easier if she thinks about a job that made her really unhappy? There must have been a few of those?

She shoots an ‘Are you mad?’ glance my way. And yeah, I should’ve known better. “I’ve not left jobs because I’m unhappy. I’ve left because new opportunities have brought new development and new challenge. I’m just a big believer it’s about not letting yourself get to that point. You have choice.”

Where was the dynamic, straight-talking Hastings when I entered the media industry in 1995? Actually, forget 20-something years ago, it’s exactly what I needed to hear today in 2016. We all have a choice. It’s up to you.

TAGGED IN

  • Jane Hastings /
  • International Women's Day /
  • International Women's Week /
  • NZME /
  • Media /
  • Sexism /
  • Digital /
  • Swimming /
  • Choice /
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