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Deborah Roberts on Authenticity

By Deborah Roberts

First Job

My very first job was at McDonald’s. My nine-year old daughter gets a kick out of this because of the idea that mom worked in a fast food place and wore a little McDonald’s hat. What I carried away from that experience was a strong work ethic. I was so proud to be earning my own money and able to buy some of my own things. I was also in a position to meet the public and I took it to heart.

Proudest Moments

My proudest professional accomplishment has to be the year I won an Emmy award for reporting a heartwrenching story from Ethiopia. I was so thrilled to go back to Africa. I had been once before to report on the Rwanda genocide, a sad and heartbreaking experience. But this was an uplifting story about an Ethiopian-American woman going back in search of a mother that she had left behind as a child. It was a beautiful, heartwarming story, something that meant a lot to me, to travel to Africa on this hopeful note and meet the Ethiopian people in the village where she lived.

But that accomplishment goes hand in hand with another, coincidentally also in Africa. Just over a year ago I traveled to Namibia to report on the crisis of HIV/AIDS orphans. This was a story I championed and convinced my boss to do for 20/20. He eventually decided that I was right, that it was something we should do. That was a major, major sense of accomplishment, because it was something that come from my heart and something I felt passionately that we should do as a network.

Toughening Up

I have learned tenacity. Many years ago, while reporting in local television, I had a boss yell at me. Later, an anchor at the station yelled at me, telling me that my copy “stunk”. Yet I was somehow strengthened by those negative experiences. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be stronger, and I wanted to make sure that no one wasa going to defeat me in a career that I really wanted. If anything I came back fighting. I came back stronger and became a much better writer and a better reporter on the air because I wanted to prove them wrong.

The Roots

I think that I bring a little touch of myself and my roots to my work. I come from a large family in small town Georgia. Nine kids in all. I am able to take lessons of patience, compassion and tolerance from that background. I connect very well with subjects I’m about to interview because of my southern upbringing and warm spirit.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons with navigating in a large family so interpersonal skills come a little bit easier to me. I draw from my cultural background, my family; I draw from all kinds of things in my past. That makes me a better professional.

Women and Men

Generally, I suppose women do lead somewhat differently than men. Women often carry a sense of intuition and perhaps a sense of connection into a situation. We are better multi-taskers and better at looking at the broader picture. I almost hate to use the word emotional because I think it’s used as a negative with women, but women can check in with their heart as well as their head when making decisions and that actually makes us stronger leaders and managers and bosses.

I think there is an implication that women need to be more like men, and the suggestion is that we need to be tougher and that as women we tend to be more emotional and soft with our decision making. So many times women make the mistake of thinking we need to come across like a tough, hard-as-nails kind of person, almost devoid of feminism or anything that might speak of warmth. They think that makes us a more competent professional, when I think in the end that sometimes hurts us.

I don’t know that anyone tells us to behave like men, but I think that there is a this sort of unspoken message in at least corporate America and a lot of the business world that we need to be more like men. More and more I think that is changing and we are recognizing that we can be who we are and all that means is being a woman and still being effective. Not only sometimes intellectually superior to others but also great decision makers and great managers and great bosses.

Authentic by Nature

So much of the world almost dictates that we try to put up this veneer, especially in the very competitive environment of the business world. I think it almost encourages us to be someone other than who we are so we can walk past obstacles and get past difficult situations. But when we recognize that we can be tough and aggressive and assertive and ambitious yet still be wonderfully warm caring spirits, if that is indeed who we are, it frees us to do what we want and to do it well.