09.27.12

Former ‘Cosmopolitan’ Editor Kate White: Go Big, Ladies

The former magazine exec shares her secrets for career success in her new book “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This.” Daniel Gross takes notes.

There are New York media players. And then there’s Kate White: editor of five magazines, including Cosmopolitan, author of eight mystery/crime novels, and, now, the author of a third career-advice book. White stopped by our offices today to talk about I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. Check out the video below.

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Former 'Cosmo' editor's career advice.

Despite advancement—women at the top of companies like IBM, Pepsi, and Facebook—it has only come so far. “Just this week there was a photo of the Oval Office with his senior people, and it was like eight guys. “I do think women have made incredible inroads, but there is still an issue getting into certain top fields into the upper echelons.” Workplaces are still poor at accommodating working parents. “I wonder if the moms had to go home?”

White’s book is a common-sense guide to the ambitious young woman. In a hypercompetitive world, people have to be assertive. “Don’t worry about what your peers think.” Her advice: make it clear that you are going big, try to fix problems that nobody else has, and be willing to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented. Demonstrate competence by carrying out tasks, but ask for help when needed.

While they face challenges, women in the workforce have a much easier time than their mothers and grandmothers did in previous decades. But they do face significant disadvantages. Simply put, in many realms—from finance to politics—the networks tend to privilege men. And that’s why they have to be assertive in seeking out people who can help push their careers forward. “Women know that they need a mentor, and sometimes they’re too passive about it,” she said. “You may have to adopt that person.” Instead, women should look for people who will actively propel their careers—i.e., sponsors. While mentors provide advice, White notes, “sponsors open doors.”

White came up in the media world through women’s and fashion magazines. And it’s no surprise that, in addition to offering pointers on networking, she has some very detailed advice. Dress for the job you aspire to. Invest in a killer handbag and some shoes. “Most women you interact with professionally will notice your shoes.” And don’t wear a puffer coat.

What’s wrong with a puffer coat? “If you’re working for Apple, that’s OK,” White says. “Style does matter in certain fields. Even though people don’t articulate it, they react to someone coming in looking polished, and the puffer coat can make you look like the Michelin tire man, unfortunately.”