"I had this slow realization," the CNN Newsroom anchor tells PEOPLE
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Brooke Baldwin

Throughout her new book, Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power, Brooke Baldwin writes about how she always dreamed of working at CNN. She even moved back in with her parents in Atlanta at 29 and took freelance reporting gigs until she could land a full-time job at the network.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that someone who worked their whole life to land their dream anchor job would leave the coveted position, which Baldwin, 43, announced in February she'd be doing.

"I had left a perfectly good job in Washington D.C. to try to fulfill my dream when the Great Recession hit in '08, '09. CNN was like, 'No, we're not even offering correspondent jobs.' And I was devastated," Baldwin recalls to PEOPLE. "I was barely working — I was working overnights twice a week at CNN International — and I had a Post-It [as a name plaque] outside of a temporary office. I just refused to give up."

But working on her new book Huddle — which focuses on what happens when women harness each other's power by coming together (in person or virtually!) — showed the CNN Newsroom anchor she might actually want to pursue a different path.

"I don't know if it was a combination of turning 40 or having done this job for a decade or it was being in the deep end with these women, interviewing them — it was different from my day job," Baldwin says. "A lot of the people come on my show, but you do these interviews, you're given four or five minutes [and then you] move on to the next."

Brooke Baldwin

Getting to speak with female industry leaders like director and producer Ava DuVernay, model and Kode with Klossy founder Karlie Kloss, soccer star Megan Rapinoe and activist Gloria Steinem about the importance of having a group of women to lean on prompted Baldwin to do some self-reflecting.

"Through these conversations, something in me started to awaken," she says. "I think it was through osmosis with these women and their courage. I had this slow realization: How can I hold space with these women and not be the bravest possible version of myself?"

Considering that question ultimately "led to a difficult place, where I'm leaving my home and my family of 13 years," Baldwin says.

She couldn't have gotten to this point in her career, though, without her own huddle. The veteran journalist has a group of current and former CNN colleagues, like Dana Bash, Alisyn Camerota, Jamie Gangel and Jen Hyde, whom she can always count on, as well as her best friend Aki and high school pals Allison and Kathryn. (Baldwin writes in her book that she began using the term "huddle" to refer to female collectives in June 2019, when she group-texted her three pals asking to "call a huddle" to discuss a "moment" she'd been going through with her husband James Fletcher.)

"I learned the power of the collective," Baldwin says. "Whether you can physically be together or you can Zoom together or FaceTime, or even have an epic text chain and feel seen and heard, that has been my saving grace these last couple of years. I would recommend leaning on other women who you feel safe with. Find your sister circle."

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Baldwin also advises finding a woman who, like executive producer Angie Massie did for her, "will throw down the ladder, to borrow a phrase from Megan Rapinoe." In her book, the news anchor details how Stacey Abrams did just that when she advocated for increased pay for a group of secretaries after being elected deputy city attorney in Atlanta at 29.

"She was working with all these women who were richly versed in the legislative history in Georgia, but were only able to make so much because they were salary-capped because of their education," Baldwin says of 47-year-old Abrams, who went on to run for governor of Georgia in 2018. "She was like, 'F this.' She went to the city and she was able to figure out ways for these ladies to go through an educational course so that their salary cap could raise."

Baldwin continues, "Find the Stacey Abrams in your workplace. They exist. Seek them out and be open with them about where you are and what you're looking for. See if it'll further their ladder down to you. Outside of power and access, women are each other's best resource."

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Reporting around the country for CNN showed Baldwin as much — hence why she wrote Huddle.

"There were a number of women on a national level who were making history, and I just couldn't cover them all in the way that I felt they deserved," she says of limited airtime on her show, CNN Newsroom. "I felt very passionately that I needed to carve out a space where I could tell their stories in a way that I literally couldn't in this warp-speed news environment. Huddles don't make the headlines; I had to tell the story of women."

As for what Baldwin hopes to do after leaving CNN, "I have not a plan," she admits. "I would love to be continuing off of my book work, just being in the deep end of storytelling. I think streaming networks are the wave of the future in terms of storytelling and working with a streamer or a doc … or Ellen DeGeneres. Their team called me a couple of weeks ago and had me guest host Ellen and that was amazing. Call me again!"

At the moment, Baldwin just has one long-term goal. "I'll have done my thing when I'm sitting at dinner and I hear a group of girls or women behind me, and I hear the word 'huddle' being used in conversation," she says. "That's when I'll know my work is done."

Huddle: How Women Unlock Their Collective Power is out now.