published Friday, February 28th, 2014

Making an impact: Connie Chung's advice to women in workforce: Act more like men

Connie Chung, center, meets a group of women at a VIP meet and greet Thursday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Chung was here to speak at Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute dinner. Pictured clockwise from left are Nasera Souidi, Janet Brown, and Sherri Zink.
Connie Chung, center, meets a group of women at a VIP meet and greet Thursday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Chung was here to speak at Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute dinner. Pictured clockwise from left are Nasera Souidi, Janet Brown, and Sherri Zink.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Women should act like men if they want to get ahead at work.

Tell a dirty joke. Be willing to say something stupid. Brag a little.

That's the advice of former television anchor Connie Chung, who spoke to a group of 750 at the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's ninth annual Impact Dinner on Thursday night.

Chung, 67, was the second woman to co-anchor a major television newscast, following Barbara Walters. The Emmy and Peabody Award winner worked for CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN before pulling out of the spotlight in 1991 to raise her son with talk show host husband Maury Povich.

She said she made it in the fast-paced, competitive and male-dominated news business because she learned to be one of the boys.

"Men are very happy to declare their success," she said in an interview with the Times Free Press. "But women focus on the team. ... Sometimes you've got to tell the boss you did it."

"Have a sense of humor. You offend them before they offend you. If you tell them a gross joke that they can't imagine, they become like little girls," Chung said.

She disarmed men with sharp wit and what her husband calls her "potty mouth," she said.

Too often, women don't stick together at work because they are vying for the few top female slots at a business.

"Women are hard on other women," she said. "It's criminal."

Instead, female co-workers should stick together, mentor one another and help make room for more women at the top, she added.

"We need to find mentors that will say these are the pigs, these guys will hit on you and this guy can mentor you," she said.

And when she started out her career in the 1960s, there were a lot of men who posed a threat. Sexual harassment was rampant. Some acted like characters straight out of "Mad Men," Chung said.

"Lecherous men," she called them. "It was one giant joke."

Ronelle Sellers, a member of CWLI who helped plan the event, said the dinner was the largest the women's development organization had ever had. Last year attendance was 495.

CWLI, which was founded by a handful of influential Chattanooga businesswomen, offers mentoring programs, training in finance and networking opportunities for women in the region.

"We are thrilled to have such a pioneer in her industry to share her leadership lessons," said Lesley Berryhill, managing director at CWLI.

When Chung first entered the room during the pre-dinner reception at the Chattanooga Convention Center, people erupted in applause. Her husband, Povich, was mingling with the crowd.

Chung, who had bronchitis, nursed her cough with a cup of hot tea and greeted a mass of people.

Her 18-year-old son will be leaving for college this fall, and she said she's thinking about what her next move will be.

She doesn't regret her choice to leave news and keep an "eagle eye" on her boy.

"After I finish crying, I'll figure it out," she said.

Contact staff writer Joan McClane at jmcclane@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601.

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