Firuze talks about being a young woman in the world of advertising.
Recently I found myself in a conundrum. The small agency I’d joined had tripled in size over three months and there was still a 6:1 ratio of men to women. Challenging enough to make yourself heard I’m sure, but what’s even more of a challenge? Being under 30 too.
Enterprising young women who are hard working are able to excel above their peers, but it’s not an easy road. Those who are older than you in the same career put you down by saying “I don’t know what you do, can’t be what I’m doing”, refusing to believe you could have excelled quickly. You are very easily stereotyped and your influence downplayed. It’s frustrating, but can be overcome.
As a 26 year old woman I’ve found it difficult to be heard. In the same way with siblings, I’d be seen as the youngest and, even when someone younger came in, I’d still be considered young.
There came a certain turning point (when I decided to write this) that I realised I probably hadn’t been doing myself any favours.
1. Taking on the little tasks
As a small agency it meant that we all had to pull our weight. This meant that if the printer broke I went to fix it, which means I now fix it whenever it’s broken. What? Why? When did I become an overpaid handyman?
I understand how some people want to be considered helpful but it’s worth realising that fixing a printer for someone else to get on with their work could make it seem like you don’t have any valuable work. It puts their work in a more serious category than yours, even though you’re probably just multitasking like a pro. It isn’t just printers either, it’s when you take time out of your day to help others who, frankly, are just as qualified to do it for themselves. Taking on every little shitty task is NOT going to prove you’re essential.
2. The boss’ PA
I’ve always believed that having a good relationship with your boss is crucial. You should be on the same team and they should act as your sponsor, supporting you and putting you forward. While my boss is all these things (but sometimes requiring a nudge) I found myself becoming the stereotypical PA.
I would make coffee for my boss without him having to ask. Sometimes I’d protest and do it in a huff, sometimes I’d say I was making myself one too, but it came to a point where I fetched his coffee knowing he would want one. What?? Why? When did I become an overpaid barista?
I decided that if I had to make us both coffee I’d use it as an opportunity to sit down and tell him the projects I want more responsibility on, or the skills I felt passionate about and wanted to excel in. This would be much healthier and would act as a regular, but miniature, check in.
However, I’ll still do a tea run for the whole office if it’s my round – after all, I’d expect the same.
3. Dress to impress
A tough one. I suppose this is one which I make an effort not to fail in. As I’m considerably short I make sure I wear heels everyday, I power dress for important meetings, make sure I’m at least showered with a considered wardrobe every day, and try not to show too much flesh in the places I would normally show on a Friday night. No one is saying that you can’t dress how you like, or that you have to be aware of what men will think of your outfit (in fact this shouldn’t even be about men but how you present yourself as a whole), but if it makes you feel confident and it’s appropriate, wear it and don’t give a damn.
The final lesson. If you’ve already attempted to be taken seriously at your job but perceptions simply won’t budge,move. Starting fresh in a new workplace where the first thing people can judge you on is your CV, job title and work is just one way of restarting a perception. Sometimes people get stuck in their ways of thinking, so you have to make sure they’re thinking the right thing about you – only you have the ability to do that.
Words by Firuze French