Breaking the rules has always paid off for Kate White '72.
Back in the first grade in Glens Falls, N.Y., White just couldn't bring herself to write down the story her teacher was dictating in front of the class. So she wrote her own story about her grandfather instead-and the teacher loved it.
Nearly twenty years later, as a junior writer at Glamour magazine trying to beak into feature writing, White decided she didn't want to write the same short, how-to stories that all the young writers were expected to produce. She wanted to write personal essays about her life as a single, twenty-something living in a tenement building, searching for love and trying to establish a career in the toughest city in the world.
So she wrote one, turned it in to the editors, and waited for a response. They loved it, they told her, and they wanted White to write more of them.
And now that she's been named editor-in-chief of Redbook, one of the nation's most successful women's magazine, White is not about to change her style. In fact, she's copyrighting it. This May, Warner Books will publish Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead, But Gutsy Girls Do, by Kate White.
“When they're growing up, women are encouraged to be good girls,” says White. “We're told to follow the rules, be patient, and smile modestly when we accomplish something. That might work in school, but it doesn't work in
the real world, where the people who make it often make their own rules, ask for what they want, and toot their own horn.”
White argues that the so-called “good girls” might make good managers but they don't become the leaders of companies. Those leaders, she says, are often rule-breakers. “Where a good girl might just follow her boss's instructions, a gutsy girl might try something more imaginative. As Senator Barbara Milkuski says, `It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.' If you ask permission, chances are you are going to get denied.”
White's strategy has carried her from the Orville Street News, a newspaper she founded and published for her block as a child, to the top of the magazine publishing world. She held the top editorial post at Child, a parenting magazine, Working Woman, and McCall's before moving to Redbook, and she has left her mark everywhere she has been.
When she arrived at Child, White found a magazine geared toward young people who could afford to spend their weekends in the Hamptons and send their kids to summer camp. White set out to make the magazine more democratic, focusing on the baby boomers who weren't yet making more than $100,000 a year but who needed help raising their children nevertheless. White decided to publish articles that dealt with the most basic of parenting questions-Why do parents let their guard down when hiring full-time, child care help? How can you best deal with your child's temper tantrums and your own sleep deprivation?
Moving to Working Woman in the mid-1980s, White found a magazine that offered excellent career and management strategies but, in her opinion, was too proper and uptight. “The magazine was kind of like the navy blue suits working women wore in the '70s, with the white shirt and floppy tie around the neck,” White recalls. “I tried to loosen it up. I wanted to put Working Woman in a bold, red jacket instead of that safe blue suit.”
The transformation didn't go unnoticed, and soon White had moved to McCall's, a general interest women's
magazine with readers ranging in age from twenty to sixty. Under White, McCall's ran articles that helped women make smart decisions about their health, their families, and their lives.
At Redbook, she is happy to report that her days of transforming magazines have temporarily ceased. White says Redbook underwent a transformation four years ago and is now a sexy, compelling magazine geared toward married women with young kids. She loves the focus and doesn't want to change it.
“Our reader has lots of concerns her kids, her husband, her work-and most of the time she puts herself low on the priority list,” White says. `Redbook wants to be her magazine. We don't want to be a how-to guide; rather our goal is to be a delicious read and provide information on the issues that women face today.
“I think the readers really feel empowered by this kind of information,” White says.
For her part, White has never had trouble feeling empowered. When she transferred to Union from a small, Catholic, women's college in 1970, the first year women were admitted to the College, White remembers feeling, “Anything's possible.” Two years later, when she was named one of Glamour magazine's “Top Ten College Women” in the country, winning a trip to Europe and a spot in the cover of the magazine, she'd proven her instincts had been right
“I've had the luxury of working at certain magazines when they fit me and the period of my life I was experiencing,” says White, who now juggles her career with raising her two children, Haylay, 5, and Hunter, 7, and squeezing in time with her husband, news anchor Brad Holbrook.
“I was at Glamour when I first graduated,” she says, “Mademoiselle as a more sophisticated single woman in New York, Child just after I had my first baby, and Working Woman when I thought my career was really starting to take shape. I may now be a bit old for Redbook,” White adds with a laugh, “but certainly not in spirit.”