CNN's Lisa Ling Says Women Make Better Bosses

Lisa Ling
Photo: Courtesy

Lisa Ling has long been one of the most compelling journalists on television. And while she first catapulted to national recognition after joining ABC’s The View as a co-host in 1999, she’s worked around the world for outlets like National Geographic, the Oprah Winfrey Network, and now CNN, where she’s hosted This is Life with Lisa Ling for five seasons. Ling has traveled the world covering challenging and often heart-wrenching subjects, from the conditions inside U.S. prisons to child trafficking in Ghana to the drug war in Colombia.

Yesterday, prior to the debut of “Sisterhood of Leaders,” a digital short film that examines the power of women working together, as part of #LeadLikeAWoman, an initiative of Ralph Lauren Fragrances in partnership with Women in Film, Ling caught up with InStyle about being a woman in the workplace, the #MeToo movement, and the pressures of getting dressed for TV. As a self-identified “die-hard feminist” and the head of a show that employs approximately 65% women, Ling is an astute guide for our present moment. See what she has to say about it, below.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

On working with inspiring women:
“I’ve worked with so many extraordinary women; it’s hard to put my finger on just a few. The opportunity to spend time with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and Meredith Vieira and watch how they work has been invaluable to me.

“I’m the face of our show This is Life, but the backbone of the show is the women of Part2 Pictures, the producers. They’re some of the hardest-working women in the business; I’m in awe of them and I wish they were able to receive the kind of accolades that I do.”

On the difference between men and women’s working styles:
“I work with some very sensitive men on our show, but, generally, women are so much more communicative than men are. Women are also far more understanding of personal issues, because we’ve all been there and we walk in each other’s shoes.

“I also think women are better managers, because they’re more sensitive to the fuller picture of someone’s life. I don’t want to generalize, but I’ve definitely felt that when I work for exclusively male executives, they think more about the bottom line. And I’ve observed, in my almost 30 years in this field, that when workers feel like someone is listening to them and is sensitive to their concerns and needs, it actually incentivizes them to work harder. It goes beyond being just a job.”

On her connection to the #MeToo movement:
“The fact that we’re having a conversation about sexual harassment is very new. These are things that we never talked about five years ago. I’ve experienced sexual harassment and felt pressure to have dinner with a male executive or take a meeting outside of the office. I’ve always loathed that, but when you’re a young person in this industry, sometimes you feel like you have to because it might lead to a job that you want so badly.

“So I’m sensitive to what legions of women have experienced over the years vis-à-vis sexual harassment. And while it was not right, it was, for a long time, an accepted part of the culture. No one got in trouble for it. Now, moving forward, we are talking about what’s acceptable and what’s not. That’s a huge first step.”

On talking to her team about sexual harassment:
“We have to have these kinds of conversations on our show. We have a combination of men and women; we’re out in the field; we’re all friends; things get loose; and we’re sharing a lot of intimate moments together, because it’s just us out there, away from our families. I can take a joke as well as anyone and I don’t want people to feel inhibited about being playful. But it’s really important and incumbent on us to get to know our colleagues’ boundaries and respect them. When I’m in the field, I make it part of our conversation during meals with regularity.

“Quite honestly, guys are scared right now. I have a couple of men on my team who feel afraid to say anything. I get that. As someone who has been sexually harassed in the past, I don’t hold grudges. I’m still repulsed by the fact that it happened, but it was an accepted part of our culture. So I will give those people a pass for now. But moving forward, we know what is acceptable behavior and what is not. If you violate that, then you deserve to suffer the consequences, whether you're a man or a woman.”

On getting dressed for television:
“If you watch This is Life, it looks like I’m wearing the same outfit in different colors every episode, which I like. I have 10 different jean jackets that look fairly similar; a bunch of the same V-neck T-shirts; and cargo pants, which aren’t as hot as jeans. Everything is very neutral. The Gap generously provides clothes for me.

“This has been really liberating after spending three years at The View, where I had to have makeup put on me every day and what I wore really, really mattered. Sometimes when I would watch myself on The View I would be like, ‘That's not me.’ And I could have talked about something that I was really, really proud of, but inevitably most of the emails that I would get would be about what I was wearing.

On This is Life, our call time might be 5:30 in the morning, but I’m there at 5:20. I don’t take a lot of time to get ready."

And her abbreviated beauty routine:
“I put my own makeup on in the morning. I line my eyes, wear some mascara and a little blush and, of course, I shape my eyebrows a little bit, but that’s it. I don’t wear lipstick or anything like that. I don’t blowdry my hair; I just get out of the shower, towel-dry it, and go. Sometimes we even have to wait to start an interview because my hair is still wet. I barely look at myself after that and I never re-apply my makeup during the day.

“I wish more people could work this way. I wish that, as a culture, we didn't feel like we had to care as much about what we look like. Now of course, I don’t want to be an eyesore or wear something dorky. But I stick to neutrals. I want people to absorb what I’m talking about and what I’m reporting on. My work has always been about the work.”

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