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Earning It: Joann S. Lublin on How Women Succeed

Topics: Career Advice

As one of The Wall Street Journal’s earliest female reporters, its first female London bureau deputy chief, and current management news editor, veteran journalist Joann S. Lublin has achieved an impressive degree of glass ceiling breakage. Lublin’s achievements, which include winning a Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting in 2003, are particularly noteworthy considering print media’s troubles over the past decade.

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Image Credit: Morgan Sessions/Unsplash

Lublin’s vantage point is rare, and speaks to her business prowess as well as her skills as a journalist. Both make her a valuable resource for other female professionals, whether they work in media or not.

They also make her a fitting custodian of successful women’s stories, a role she recently fulfilled as author of Earning It (Harper Business, 2016). In this “in-the-trenches career guide,” Lublin chronicles the insights and experiences of 50-plus female leaders at the top of the corporate ladder, from General Motors CEO Mary Barra to Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih.

As Lublin’s career tome makes the rounds, PayScale had the chance to pick her brain on how to navigate some of the issues most important to female professionals today, from getting fair pay to redefining work-life balance to fighting imposter syndrome.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Two Leadership Traits: Resilience and Persistence

PayScalePublishers Weekly describes the women in your new book as “trailblazers” who have “succeeded in spite of sexism” and “showed great courage in the face of great odds.” The most obvious common denominator among the women you interviewed seems to be that they’re killing it professionally. What other patterns, characteristics, or struggles do these women have in common?

joann s. lublin
Courtesy of Joann s. Lublin

Lublin: Many of the women I interviewed exhibited two leadership traits: resilience and persistence. They are resilient despite professional and personal setbacks. And they are persistent about achieving key goals throughout their careers, even when they face obstacles.

PayScale: A wide range of other critics and reviewers have responded to Earning It. Fortune called the book “funny and informative for any aspiring executive.” Cosmo likened it to “being at the ultimate career conference,” and Working Mother warned readers to be “inspired and impressed.” Why did you write the book and who is it for?

Lublin: I wrote Earning It in order to help today’s generation of emerging female leaders achieve success in corporate America. I believe they will do so by learning lessons and insights about how to lead well from the current and recent generations of top executive women who spoke to me.

PayScaleWhen psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter syndrome” in 1978, they were giving a name to the tendency of some to self-identify as a fraud in spite of success, describing it as a “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Fast forward 40 years later and the imposter syndrome struggle remains very real. What practical advice can you give women about how to value themselves at work?

Lublin: One way to defuse imposter anxiety is by initially tackling a small-scale assignment. Another is to choose team members who will enable you to thrive and not undervalue you.

How Women at the Top Can Effect Change

PayScale: In a recent report about women in the workplace for The Wall Street Journal, you noted how the number of top-paying executive roles occupied by women at male-run S&P 500 companies has risen around 4 percentage points in the last 10 years, observing that, “Change is coming slowly, but corner offices are looking a bit less like exclusive boys’ clubs.” What kind of impact can women with executive-level power have on their organization and the other women in it?

Lublin: Women in executive-level roles can be vigilant monitors of whether male big brass fairly reward other women whose promotions represent a big step up. Too often, women still lag behind their male counterparts in compensation following their advancement and the gap doesn’t close for a while — if ever. Well-paid senior women should also pay it forward by mentoring, sponsoring, and showcasing their high-potential female staffers in and outside the firm.

PayScale: What are some practical pointers for women working to advance their careers at companies without other women at the helm?

  • Set expectations low and outperform.
  • Pursue “mission-impossible” assignments based on a calculated assessment of their risks and rewards.
  • Volunteer for cross-functional tasks that force you outside your comfort zone, in which male senior power brokers will notice your impact and agree to sponsor you.

How to Get Paid What You Deserve

PayScale: Navigating compensation is one of the most important issues both men and women face and one of the topics you address in your book. What are some effective practical strategies women can use to get paid fairly?


  • Do extensive homework before you pursue higher pay and learn whether your peers enjoy little known perks such as a subsidized long-distance commute. Maximize your research by tapping into your professional network for help.
  • Before accepting an executive position with a new employer, hire an attorney to negotiate your pay package. Alternatively, ask a compensation consultant about the industry’s pay practices and levels and where your new employer stacks up compared to its peers.
  • And, even if the role isn’t identical, find how much people at the same job level as you earn both in and outside of your company.

[Take PayScale’s Salary Survey today, and see how your pay stacks up.]

No Such Thing as Perfect Work-Life Balance

PayScale: Whether the goal is to grow a family or maintain a meaningful social calendar, striking an acceptable balance between career and personal life is a consistent challenge both men and women agree is worth fighting for. What are some ways you and other women have found the sweet spot for maximizing professional and personal potential?


  • Be realistic. Recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect work-life balance and instead devise acceptable trade-offs. One example could be deciding to start work very early so you won’t feel guilty about leaving the office in time to get home for dinner with your kids.
  • Seek out the right kind of support. Find a life partner as committed as you are to having a fulfilling professional and personal life — and is thus willing to take turns doing more than his or her fair share to achieve that goal. In some cases, that involves a stay-at-home dad.
  • Implement a system. Imitate Liz Smith, CEO of the Bloomin’ Brands restaurant chain. When Smith’s two sons were young, she devised a “time bank account” because she wanted to spend four hours with them every day. If she owed her children time due to work demands, she sometimes cancelled her morning meetings and stayed home with her boys.

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