IWD 2019: Sister, can I tell you one thing?
International Women’s Day. A day for us to celebrate the achievements of women. A day for us to focus on the progress we want to see. A day for us to reflect on how far we have come.
Together and as individuals, there’s no denying the progress we have made. Progress has helped women into positions of power, it has helped women achieve in areas they never thought possible and most of all, it has helped women to have choices.
It’s true, we still have a way to go. That’s why we need to make sure it is part of the conversation today and throughout the other 364 days of the year. It is the best way for us to drive understanding and, ultimately, change where we need it most.
But progress isn’t always about standing up to the patriarchy or becoming Prime Minister (although we do love how Jacinda has shaken up the political landscape as a new, working-mum). Sometimes it is just about reframing the way you look at something or changing your behaviours to support yourself and your fellow sisters everywhere.
We want to start the conversation by looking at what we can do to change how we experience this world. All the lessons we have learnt to date and the changes we can make in 2019.
We are surrounded every day by strong women here at Pead, so we asked: what advice would you give to your former self?
Never be sorry for who you are - Gemma Parry, Head of Content
Looking back at the woman I used to be and the woman standing here today, the change is astounding. Today, I am a strong, confident feminist who speaks her mind. The feminist part isn’t new, I’ve always believed in equality; what’s different is the fact that I’m not sorry about it.
My advice to my younger self? Never be sorry for who you are.
As a woman, I had always felt apologetic for who I am. In work, life and love. I’m sorry I’m too loud, too quiet, too clever, not clever enough.
In work I would watch men walk into meetings, tell clients exactly what they thought, shake hands and have a laugh afterwards. I would envy their ability to be so frank and bold, and not be judged for it. Meanwhile, I would send emails with a plethora of soft, apologetic words such as ‘just’, ‘so sorry’ and ‘that would be great’.
A few years into my career things started to change. I would read emails from male clients or colleagues and notice the stark differences in the way we wrote. I was writing as though I was sorry for emailing, sorry for telling the truth and sorry for asking questions. And deep down, that wasn’t who I really was.
I started to count how many times I said ‘just’ in an email to avoid sounding rude or harsh. And I started taking that word out. Yeah, it was scary at first, and hard to resist the urge to throw in an emoji, but eventually it felt right.
Over time, this self-awareness started to feed into other parts of my career and life. I started recognising how much I was holding back my thoughts and beliefs, simply because I didn’t want to offend anyone. Saying no was one of the biggest things. I didn’t realise how much extra work I was taking on, or how many things I would do that I didn’t believe in, because I wanted to please people. That’s when I made a conscious decision to be unapologetically myself.
It’s not always an easy ride and, like everyone, I want people to like me. But here’s something they don’t teach you in school – people don’t dislike you for not putting an emoji in an email or for disagreeing with them. It all comes down to tact and respect. It’s not about bringing other people down to make a point, it’s about being honest, being yourself and being aware of the people and the situation.
After years of hiding my tattoos in job interviews in case ‘they think I’m reckless’, I realised that it’s not about whether a company wouldn’t hire me for having tattoos, it’s about whether I would want to work for a company that doesn’t allow me to be myself.
Today I am, loud, proud, covered in tattoos and working for a company that respects me and my values. I am surrounded by fierce women who support me in my career, and I am one of them. Now it’s my turn to teach the young women coming into our agency that we WANT them to speak up and shine in their own, beautiful way.
Don’t see other women as competition - Deborah Pead, CEO
There are so many things that I could have done differently. As we age, we trade youthful skin for experience and, although sometimes I think it's a little unfair, I know that the value of looking back is a privilege.
More and more, I have realised just how strong the sisterhood is when we stand together. I have realised how much power women can have when they join forces. And most of all, I have realised that the only way women will get ahead is if we all work together.
My advice to my younger self? Don’t see other women as competition.
I think we can be much too competitive. In our careers, friendships and families – we sometimes see other women as a challenge to our own success rather than as a valuable support network. I have been guilty of this myself and I know I am not alone.
Have we grabbed the wrong end of the women’s rights stick and aspired to be like men – rather than like other women? Or do we have a biological need to be the best?
Regardless, it is a small way of thinking and we need to reframe it if we want to better the balance.
I’m embarrassed that I ever considered other women as a threat. Not only because it goes against what I now consider a core value, but I am also sad that I didn’t experience the joy and strength that comes from nurturing the sisterhood sooner.
Hindsight can’t change the past, but if we take action, its value can pay dividends for the future. That’s why I have worked so hard to build a business that encourages and supports all my colleagues on their journey. Enabling them to achieve excellence with the help of a great team of women (and men) has always been a part of our culture.
The thing I have learned is that other strong and able women are not competition, they are the ones that help us get ahead. Men won’t change things for us, but women can.
Recognise and celebrate your talents - Lucy Houghton, Account Executive
As one of the younger team members at Pead PR, you can be forgiven for questioning how much wisdom I really have to impart to my younger self. At 21, I know I have much to learn. Each day at Pead, I am surrounded by strong, intelligent women who are only too happy to share their insights with me. But, to embody my advice to my younger self, I too have something to share.
As women, we often downplay our talents. We don’t want to come across too cocky. We aren’t supposed to outshine the boys. And well, we probably aren’t really that good anyway right? Not a chance.
My advice to my younger self? Recognise and celebrate your talents.
Growing up, I truly believed I didn’t have a specific talent. I wasn’t top of my class, I never won a sports trophy and I wasn’t the star of our school production.
Little did I know I had great people skills and was a good communicator (both of which help me excel in PR every day). But these things just weren’t highlighted as valuable skills within the four walls of the classroom.
I think we are taught to constantly compare ourselves to others. If we get an A, then we tell ourselves that it wasn’t really that good compared to the person with an A+. When we start our first jobs and get feedback on our work, we assume that we are terrible employees. It’s not a useful way to experience the world.
It’s true that some of us need more assurance than others. But assurance alone isn’t enough, we need to be open to it. It starts with us saying thank you to a compliment, rather than rejecting it with an excuse. It starts with us taking an extra moment to feel proud of our achievements, rather than looking at what we haven’t yet mastered. And it starts with us truly believing that what we have to give is valuable.
Looking back, I regret not owning my talents. I would doubt my abilities and always question if what I had done was good enough. It impacted my confidence in so many areas of my life so, although it is not always easy, I now make a conscious effort to recognise a job well done in myself and in others.
At Pead, we have a bell that we ring to celebrate achievements in the office. From securing a great piece of coverage to winning a new client pitch; we are always celebrating the successes of our colleagues and it feels great. It might be just a small thing, but sometimes it is just enough to remind yourself that your talents aren’t just valid, but a gift.
Be the change you want to see - Fiona Hanlon, Senior Account Director
Agency life 25 years ago was a bastion of the old boy network. It was Mad Men minus the rose-tinted nostalgia and cool suits. In one agency I worked, they built a glass smoking-box around a team of middle-aged, male creatives, who chain-smoked all day and made inappropriate comments to women.
There were plenty of smart females around, but very few of them were really in positions to affect real change. And those pioneering women who were standing up and leading? Their style was male. We had not yet earned the right to lead like women.
My advice to my younger self? Be the change you want to see.
Looking at my 19-year-old daughter, I regret not being brave enough to ask for time off when she was born. Instead of accepting resignation as the only outcome when I became pregnant, I wish I could tell myself to be courageous and exercise my right to maternity leave. Maybe if I’d made a stand, it would have made it easier for my agency sisters when they were faced with the same choices? 20 years ago, I had only heard of one woman taking maternity leave. It was considered a brazen act of rebellion in the agency world and on return to work post-baby, your job (or rather your male boss) would offer zero flexibility.
Rightfully, we have now recognized the value of women’s contributions. More flexibility, changing models of work and better support are the biggest changes I have seen in agencies.
But we are far from done yet. International Women’s Day is not just a time to reflect on how far we have come with a series of back pats, but to strive for more. That is the message I tell my daughter who, despite growing up in a world different to when I began my career, will face her own barriers to gender parity.
So, I tell her to use polite rebellion to push closer towards women’s equality in the workforce.
I tell her to support other women because the sisterhood is so much more important than she probably realises.
And I tell her to lead like a girl – letting her warmth and honesty shine through.
There’s no denying that we have moved in the right direction since my early agency days.
There are now many smart women behind successful agencies (shameless plug for Deborah Pead & Sarah Munnik). These women don’t lead like men. Instead, they bring an unapologetically female style to their leadership that is inclusive, empathetic and has a backbone of integrity and honesty.
But we need to keep asking ourselves what else we can do for the sake of the sisterhood. What else can we do to affect change for the good of equality? And what else can we do so that women don’t ever have to choose between babies and boardrooms?