People who will tell you the truth. If you want to succeed, you need to have a core group of friends, family, a mentor, partner, or colleagues who will be honest with you, no matter how difficult the conversation. Do not surround yourself with yes men or women. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with what they say to you but listening to other points of view is extremely important.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love, and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Christianne Klein. Klein is an Emmy® and Edward R. Murrow award-winning network television anchor, host, and founder of Truth Fairy, Inc. (www.TruthFairyInc.com), the nation’s premier communications, media training, and on-camera kinesics training firm trusted by Fortune 100 companies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in Southern California and raised throughout the state. My brother is five years younger, so for years, it was just my mom, my dad, and me. I was a creative, goal-oriented child who would create puppets for a ”puppet show” or write, direct other kids, and perform plays and musical numbers for our very understanding relatives and neighbors. (laughs)
I come from a long line of strong women. My grandmother is in the Baseball Hall of Fame from playing with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, made famous in the movie, “A League of Their Own”. I was the only girl in a class of 20 boys in kindergarten and first grade. At 5 years old, it didn’t occur to me that this was unusual, so it allowed me to be in a female leadership role from a very young age.
My mother also wanted to make sure I was assertive in a class full of boys. When I was in kindergarten, she started encouraging me to take small steps to make my voice heard. At fast-food restaurants, she would give me money, and wait slightly to the side as I would stand in line to try to order my own meal. The cashier would ignore me, and other people would pass by to order. I would have to speak up to show that I was also ready. She would always watch and be there if there were any issues, but she knew it would be empowering to do it on my own. Our experiences when we’re young can have a profound impact on our development.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
It was a natural progression. I spent two decades as a television news anchor and journalist, including ABC News and “Good Morning America”. When I decided to branch outside of news, people started asking me to place local and national stories for them because of my contacts. That led to the creation of our media company, Truth Fairy, Inc (TFI), and rapid growth in PR and Media Training. We quickly gained a reputation for making sure our clients were exceptionally well-trained before they went on TV or talked to the press so they wouldn’t be a “one and done” interview subject. I started sharing all that I knew about the media and then on-camera body language, which became our Comprehensive On-Camera Kinesics Training by Christianne Klein program. We started getting more and more referrals from large companies and executives who recognized how powerful and different our training is, and it’s continued to grow from there.
The pandemic has brought in an entirely new group of clients — remote and hybrid workers who must be on-camera for Zoom all the time, but are terrified, or feel that they aren’t as effective virtually as they are in person. We help them change that in one session. It’s transformational training. People are shocked when we show them how something as simple as adjusting your camera angles on video conferencing can make or break your career or interaction with your team.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve had too many to count! (laughs) I was a finalist for hosting the “Jeopardy!” Clue Crew, which I used to call the job that got away. But the most interesting story from the dawn of my career involved “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher”. My best friends and I LOVED that show in high school- we would stay up late to watch it or tape it and watch it the next day after school.
Fast forward a few years later. I graduated from Wellesley College and just started a career as an evening news anchor in Northern California when a frequent guest of the show passed my name along to producers. I was 23 years old. After a grueling interview process, they asked me to be on the show with Kevin Nealon (actor and SNL), Michelle Phillips (actress and Mamas and the Papas), and Jay McGraw (author and Dr. Phil’s son) for an upcoming episode. I expected to be dropped as a guest up until the moment we started taping. There’s a moment in that episode where Bill is introducing all of us and mentions how young Jay McGraw is for a guest. I could feel the blood draining from my face. We were the same age! I just prayed he wouldn’t ask how old I was on camera. He didn’t, they never knew how young I was, and they asked me back for another show again the same day. The next time I was on Bill Maher was with Alec Baldwin which was… an experience. But that’s another story. (laughs)
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I love to learn and I’m inquisitive. I’m truly interested in learning about people, listening to their stories, and finding out what makes different people tick. I wouldn’t have any of my media and on-camera kinesics knowledge if I wasn’t obsessively asking questions during my television career. When I was starting out, I had the pleasure of working with people who were around during the golden age of television. They’ve long since passed, but they had information about how different movements would be perceived and how to appear authoritative and confident. They taught me how to connect via the camera. This was invaluable for me, especially wanting to project gravitas next to my experienced colleagues. These skills aren’t taught to anchors today, so it’s a dying art that I’m happy to pass along to people who never thought they were going to have to be on-camera. We work with a TON of remote and hybrid workers and executives who need those kinesics skills for their Zoom calls.
My perfectionism is something I struggle with in life, but in business, it’s instrumental to my success. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about specific training for clients, how to tailor the training to their issues, and different ways to pitch my clients to the press. Part of me wishes that I could turn it off, but I know it’s one of the main reasons I am who I am today.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
I think it’s difficult for women leaders because they’re often led to believe that their unique qualities are a problem. Too assertive, you’re a bitch. Too smart, you’re a know-it-all. Have a family and put them first, you’re lazy. Have a family and you’re ambitious, you’re uncaring. Those immediate judgments come from both men and women who feel you’re a threat or didn’t make the same choices in life. Being a strong woman is a double-edged sword.
I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to be true to who you are- if you’re assertive, smart, and ambitious, embrace it. There is no benefit trying to fit into someone else’s box.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I have an amazing group of core female friends and colleagues from my days in TV news. We ALL have stories. In the TV News business, much of that fear is from other women perceiving you as a threat.
Katie Couric is facing a lot of heat because of her new memoir, “Going There”. In it, she essentially admits horrible behavior towards her female colleagues to “protect” her turf. This isn’t new, nor is she alone.
When I was hired as an anchor at one job, I was told to darken my hair because a star anchor didn’t want a young blonde anchor on the show. She wanted to be the only blonde. It seemed silly, but I did it. I changed my hair color — my appearance — so I would fit in and make sure powerful women weren’t threatened by me. I just wanted to “fix it”. This was just one of a series of seemingly minor changes that chipped away parts of my identity. I was asked to deepen my voice, to not emote, to only wear “approved” clothes, to change my name. To make sure I was showing enough sex appeal for men, but not too much to turn off women. Don’t show too much empathy for people you interview, but don’t look cold. Show your intelligence, but don’t look too smart or you’ll intimidate the person you’re interviewing. Share some of your personal story to connect with viewers, but not too much. Show you’re professional but relatable. To constantly change small parts of you that individually don’t matter, but the whole could create a new person.
Just be yourself, but be anything but your true self.
I think a lot of women do variations of this all the time. We make small changes until we must fight to get back to our core self. I wanted to be a great team player and stand out for my abilities. In that situation, it’s a delicate balancing act. You want to excel at your career, but you don’t want to be perceived as a threat.
Couric admitted what we ALL know. That behavior exists. It still exists. And it’s toxic to your soul and business in general. Couric was at the pinnacle of the TV News business, but she admits using her power to harm other strong women.
Has it happened to me? Yes. But I’ve also been blessed with kindness by strong women.
When I was an intern at KCRA in Sacramento, just starting out in the business, an anchor named Dierdre Fitzpatrick made it a point to help me polish my standups on-camera. She was very kind to me early in my career. I wanted to follow her example and help other strong women. Some of my closest female relationships are women I mentored who grew into incredible journalists and businesswomen. There is room for everyone at the table, and I really wish as a society we spent more time finding ways to work together.
It’s what led to the name Truth Fairy, Inc. My clients expect that I will be honest with them. I will hold your hand, and walk you through the fire, but I’m going to tell you the truth about how you can be better and closer to your authentic self.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
First, have empathy for the person who feels uneasy, even if you think it’s unwarranted. You can’t do anything until you understand why they feel uneasy. In my on-camera kinesics training, we call it “the dance”. We need to have the self-awareness and understanding of kinesics (body language) so that we can anticipate the unease and make a shift to meet the moment. Ask yourself: why are they uneasy? Do they feel intimidated? Is it because they feel threatened by your success? Is your message not relaying properly? I think humor and kinesics (body language) are so important.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
As a society, we need to lose the scarcity mindset where we’re all competing for some minuscule piece of the pie. There are plenty of seats at the table, but that mindset leads to judgment and unhealthy competition. The most powerful women I know ALL support each other. We aren’t competing. We know that we each have unique gifts in this world and contribute in different ways.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
Yes — several. The most ridiculous situation was working as a television anchor past my due date with my daughter. I was having horrible contractions live on air! My producer was amazing, and we worked out signals in case my water broke when we were live on set. I would try to wait until I was off camera in the video portion of the script to wince in pain. In my earpiece, he would ask if it was time and if I had to leave the studio to give birth. I would give him a thumbs up to show I was ok and keep reading. It was absolutely insane.
The most uncomfortable situations I’m still processing years later. I faced sexual harassment early in my career, and each time was very different. The first time, a female manager saw how I was being treated and reported it. I justified the other manager’s behavior to myself thinking, if he doesn’t touch me, I can handle it, no matter how miserable I am. I felt trapped. Another time, I did report it to a female colleague, and she cautioned me not to tell anyone else, that it could hurt my career. I don’t know any woman who has been sexually harassed that hasn’t received this advice from someone: don’t report it. It could hurt you or your career. I know this person didn’t mean to cause me harm or distress with that advice. It came from a place of protection, but it creates a chilling effect and allows the behavior and culture to continue. For me, those experiences shaped me in another way. For years, I became completely protective and avoidant.
I worked at ABC News as an anchor and correspondent based in New York. There have been several accusations against men that I worked with there for sexual harassment and assault. The women who have been harassed and abused are incredibly brave for sharing their stories, and they aren’t alone.
Almost immediately upon arrival at ABC, other women told me, “don’t be alone with this person in their office” or “this person will REALLY like you, so I would avoid him”. These men were — and are — in positions of power, and to protect myself I avoided any meetings that weren’t arranged by my superiors. In any one-on-one meeting, I tried to make sure the door to the office was open. My male colleagues could easily close the door in a meeting to talk privately and build a relationship, but I was afraid. I was concerned for my personal safety and the appearance of what a closed-door would look like and newsroom gossip. When you don’t feel safe meeting with superiors it has a detrimental impact on your career. No one should feel that way- and it took courageous women and victims coming forward for me to realize that toxicity impacted all of us in some way.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Early in my career, I was judged almost exclusively on my looks, and my intelligence was seen as an aberration. People would regularly introduce me in ways that I can identify now as condescending, but it wasn’t intended that way. “Meet Christianne, she’s blonde, but she’s really smart. She went to Wellesley.” My education was a way for people to break the ice- you can trust her because she’s bright. I see these types of descriptors for women all the time, but rarely men.
Some challenges extend to advancing your career. Personally, I don’t know of any man who has been afraid to be in a meeting with their superiors because they may be sexually harassed. I know it exists, but it’s far more common for women to feel that way.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
Yes, this is a universal struggle. Men feel this as well, but there seems to be an added pressure for women to “have it all”, and it’s extremely difficult. I have tremendous empathy for my friends who are single parents trying to juggle work and parenting responsibilities. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t want to give their child a better life and we all worry about the long-term cost. Are we there enough? Are we present? I’m very lucky to have a supportive husband and partner to create our thriving PR and training firm. We work together to make sure one of us is always available for our daughter. We have a system now that really works well for us, but it took time to get there. She knows she’s the priority for mommy and daddy.
What was a tipping point that pushed you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
There were a few experiences that led to a “tipping point”. As I mentioned, in my last job as a news anchor I worked past my due date so I could maximize my time with my daughter. Our station group, Nexstar, didn’t have paid parental leave, and even with insurance, we only got a small percentage of my salary while I was on maternity leave. We were very fortunate that we could afford that hit. So many people I worked with couldn’t and had to make a nightmare choice between family and work. Often, women aren’t even aware of their company’s family leave policy until they need to use it. If we don’t speak up and share our experiences, we can’t change the system.
I also felt a tremendous amount of pressure to return to work and share the early days with my infant daughter via social media, photos, and video of our child on-air. Some of that I understood, but part of it felt intrusive. I cried for hours the night before I went back to work after maternity leave because I didn’t want to miss out on her first steps or her first words. I realized I wanted to make a change, but the tipping point was a year later. My daughter was born in February, which is a sweeps month. I had weeks of vacation time, but I couldn’t get one day off — her birthday — because it was sweeps. There was no work/life balance. No one would remember if I was on-air or not that day. I can’t tell you what stories we covered, but I can tell you that I wasn’t with my daughter on her first birthday and that killed me. I didn’t want to let my station down, and instead, I ended up letting myself down. Part of the sea change of the last two years is that women and employees are establishing those boundaries. Companies are changing how they treat employees, much of that driven by the workers themselves.
I truly believe everything happens for a reason. Leaving news and starting our communications and training firm has helped us create the rules for our family and find that balance.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
This is something that we discuss in our media and kinesics training all the time. Whether right or wrong, people immediately make assumptions based on your appearance. It’s why first impressions are so important. We don’t focus on beauty, but on making sure YOU feel confident, and part of building that confidence is feeling good about how you appear on those Zoom calls. Part of that is projecting authority through body language, or specific camera angles that we teach and lighting, but there’s so much more. I do share all my makeup tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years if that’s something our clients need (and I have a lot of magic tricks!) It is exceptionally important as a leader to project the confidence and care you would expect from your employees.
How is this similar or different for men?
Pre-pandemic, few were relying on Zoom calls and remote video conferencing, and men had an easier time. That’s changed with the increase of remote work and video conferencing. Now it’s similar for women and men with the added benefit of societal acceptance of makeup for women. You can’t hide from the camera, but there are tricks with angles, lighting, and yes, even some concealer. We train a lot of men who are executives and nervous about even asking about makeup for their Zoom calls. But it’s more universal now.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- People who will tell you the truth. If you want to succeed, you need to have a core group of friends, family, a mentor, partner, or colleagues who will be honest with you, no matter how difficult the conversation. Do not surround yourself with yes men or women. That doesn’t mean you always have to agree with what they say to you but listening to other points of view is extremely important.
- Confidence and a good sense of self. If you’re powerful or perceived as powerful, you will be a target at some point in your career. Knowing who you are and having a guiding compass for finding your center is key.
- Know your strengths, and your weaknesses. You may be an incredible visionary, but not great with accounting… or you may struggle with time management. Whatever it is, once you identify what you’re great at, and what you need help with, you can move on to number 4.
- Know how to identify your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Some of your colleagues or team members will be amazing organizers, or creative, some will be visionaries, some are great at the day-to-day minutia of a business. Being able to identify and place the right people in the right roles that you can trust is essential to any organization. This will also help you with your weaknesses.
- “Me” time. I’m terrible at this. Really, really terrible, but I try. We all carry stress in our bodies, and we can’t be at our best if we’re stressed or overworked. Pre-pandemic, I would get an occasional massage or scrub. Now I try to take a long bath with essential oils or meditate. When my three-year-old wants to hang out in the bathroom with mommy, I can’t say no (laughs), but my husband tries to keep her away for an hour so I can relax.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
There are so many incredible visionaries, women and men, that I would love to have a private meal with post-pandemic. Someone that I think is remarkably inspiring is P!nk (Alecia Beth Moore). For twenty years, she’s been true to who she is, and never looked or sounded like anyone else. If you’ve seen her perform, you know how incredibly athletic she is (how can anyone sing AND perform from aerial silks??) She has a unique voice, both vocally and as a songwriter, she’s spiritual, and most of all, she’s generous as a human and a mother (she donated 1 million dollars early in the pandemic to Covid relief). Her description of conversations with her daughter to build her self-esteem is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I would love to hear how she builds her brand, tour, and juggles being a mom, spouse, role model, and leader for her team.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.