As the hard-hitting face hammering politicians as they worm their way out of curly questions, two-time Walkley Award winning journalist Leigh Sales is one fierce force.
Not allowing her X chromosome to get in the way of becoming the best Australian interviewer, Sales is also paving the way to empowering women.
Battling gender stereotypes in a male-dominated sphere (where all of her bosses except one have been men) is something the veteran journalist believes helped her blossom and thrive in the face of cut-throat politicians – something many would find intimidating.
“The politicians are quite conscious not to be seen to belittle me or treat me differently,” Sales told The CEO Magazine . “Generally, the people I’m interviewing act the same with me as they would a man.”
“For me, it’s important to show the actual work is smart and thoughtful and heavily prepared and that I know my stuff so I’m not just a pretty face,” – Leigh Sales
The spotlight attached to drilling high-profile figures – many on bad days – is not easy when social media is rife. To combat backlash, the mother-of-two emphasises the importance of preparation and listening – something that makes her relentless in her field.
“I spend an hour getting made up every day. I guess it’s a given on TV that you’re going to be made up,” Sales says. “For me, it’s important to show the actual work is smart and thoughtful and heavily prepared and that I know my stuff so I’m not just a pretty face.
“It’s actually backed up by doing the work.”
Whether it’s working around guests’ honorifics, which don’t always cognate the same view, to selling her skills, gender obstacles continue to pepper the media industry. Despite having more women at the table in senior roles, the challenge of juggling work-life balance persists.
The question that makes many working mothers’ blood boil is something Sales encouraged the audience at The Leadership Institute’s powerful Women in Leadership Summit to embrace.
Sharing the tips and tricks behind leading a powerful career parallel to raising a family is something the veteran reporter says is important in inspiring other women. Indeed, the problem is men in senior positions are rarely if ever asked the same question.
“You should ask. I think the thing is we need to ask men more,” Sales says. “Men often don’t quite get the question. I think they view it as; ‘As a dad, how do you remain engaged with your kids?’ – where any woman you ask that question of would literally pull out a laminated card.”
“We are much more conscious to have women at the table, but it remains a difficult problem. It’s still very blokey – there is still a huge way to go,” – Sales
The much-admired journalist makes her career look effortless but the mental load of managing two young children (aged four and six) and a senior role creates significant obstacles.
“The way I manage it is by throwing money at the problem and getting people to help me,” Sales told The CEO Magazine . “There’s an inbuilt assumption and bias to believe women are the ones doing that and we still have these old-fashioned attitudes that you’ve got to be keeping a nice house.
“Whereas for men, the automatic response is someone else is doing that responsibility. The reality too, even though I say it’s an assumption, is women do carry the bulk of the home load.
“The thing that would force me out of my current job is not the lack of support in the workplace – because there is a lot – but the inability to juggle my home responsibilities.”
In the male-heavy industry, Sales said she was lucky all of her bosses gave her opportunities to excel in her career and persuaded her to do things outside her level of expertise.
“The bosses you have can be very influential,” she says. “I’ve had fantastic male bosses who have wanted to help nurture me, I’ve been very lucky in that regard.
“I’ve come through in an era where people are more conscious they need to get more women in the same roles so I think I’ve benefitted from that. If I’d come through 25 years ago, I wouldn’t necessarily be in the same boat”
Despite more women appearing in senior media roles, gender diversity continues to be a significant hurdle to overcome.
“We are much more conscious to have women at the table, but it remains a difficult problem,” Sales says. “It’s still very blokey – there is still a huge way to go.”