Every woman has a story about when they were unfairly labelled; when they were told they were too meek, too confident, too proud, too shy, too something. As one of the most equally represented agencies in the city, with a continued and vested interest in empowering the women who work here, we wanted to share their stories.
This International Women’s Day, to take a stand against labels and celebrate the fierce and fabulous women of bandstand, we created a raw, honest series of portraits where each woman brandished her ‘label’ and told us how she’d turned it into something positive.
Sensitivity in the workplace always gets negatively labelled but I think in our industry that’s crazy, because we have to be empathetic and compassionate to make real, honest work. At times I do need to calm the fuck down, but that’s okay. I’m enthusiastic and excited and passionate about what I do. Client service can feel like the cold, robotic side of the business, but gut feel and intuition is the exciting part of what I do – it’s how I know I’m good at my job. It’s my differentiator.
I was feeling really ill with tonsillitis one day, so I put on some makeup to look a bit less tired and brave the office. The thing is, I don’t ever really wear makeup. When I was younger, I was challenged not to wear makeup one day and I realised that I liked my face like that. I’ve had to work hard on my self-esteem and feeling confident about not having to wear makeup is a big part of that. I’m not saying that makeup is bad, it’s just the decision I made and is something that’s very personal to me. So when my boss at the time turned round and said, “Oh you look nice. You should wear makeup more often,” I just kind of thought, “Yeah, you should be quiet more often.”
To be honest, I feel like I have to be over-assertive and really stand my ground to make sure that my points get heard and taken as seriously as everyone else’s. Because of that I definitely get the ‘bossy’ label thrown my way a bit. It’s not meant in a cruel way, but I don’t ever hear men being called bossy.
I don’t know what it is about being soft-spoken and polite that confuses some people. I genuinely feel like asking for things nicely gets me further in my job and I don’t think someone would tell a man he’s too nice. And just because I am polite, doesn’t mean I’m a yes-person or a pushover or screwing someone over. I’m doing my job well, so I refuse to be a twat. What am I going to do – stop smiling?
My parents raised me and my sister to believe we could truly do or be anything. But I am definitely a little shy. It’s just my nature. People think I’m calm all the time because I don’t rant or shout when I’m stressed, which is a weird kind of pressure to have on my shoulders, and yet people sometimes think I’m snobby or something’s wrong because I don’t walk around with a massive grin on my face. Nothing’s wrong. I just don’t want to smile on request.
I’ll never forget – as a junior – being asked on Friday evening to come in and work that weekend. I said I could do Sunday but that Saturday was my birthday. My CD just looked at me, totally bemused, and said, “But you have a birthday every year.” I did the work and still had my party, which was a bit of a personal triumph and became my benchmark. I’ll work my arse off, but I’m going to have a life outside of work. End of story.
Some people don’t seem to like it when you’re confident; I think they presume you have it all sorted and life is easy for you. But I’ve worked really hard to build my confidence, so when people assume I’m made of stone and quietly tear me down because of it, it can hurt. I just have to remind myself that it’s their problem, not mine.
Something I get told a-a-a-l-l the time is how young I look. I think it’s meant to be a compliment, but it means I’m often patronised and underestimated. When I was starting out in my first internship, all of my decisions would be picked over and questioned, but never my male colleague’s ones. Looking youthful can feel a bit like a curse when people always defer to the man in the room. It literally stops me doing my job and it just kind of makes me think, am I not enough?
Working in New York for a long time made me realise how cut-throat this industry can be, but then it also gave me my two mentors who both “made it” without compromising who they were. I’ve always said I don’t buy in to the mean-girl mentality. I’m all about leaders who lead with kindness; being an empath and a team player. So yeah, integrity is a huge part of my values. Being kind doesn’t mean I’m weak.
When I was younger I used to hate how naïve and emotional I was. Like, I used to bully myself about it all the time. I think it’s something that’s drilled into all of us, especially girls, growing up. My parents would say: Be strong, life is tough. But then I grew up and discovered that naivety is such a distinct quality to have. The best, weirdest, bravest, most creative ideas I have are from tapping into that abstract state. Yeah, being open is scary and I’ve obviously learned to be aware of that, but I’ve also really learned the value in keeping my guard down at work.
I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do after I realised the world of banking wasn’t for me (long story), and ended up in a branding agency as a French translator. I met my first mentor there, who saw in me what I couldn’t, and she coached and encouraged me into an exciting role there. My next female boss was more comfortable with silos and refused to give me the freedom and opportunities I wanted. I’ll never forget her shutting me down with, “You need to walk before you can run.” It was a real wakeup call that not every woman believes in female empowerment but also amazing motivation for me to succeed in spite of her.
The funny thing is, some of the worst, scathing comments I’ve ever had have been from other women. I used to work in sales and I’ll never forget one girl trying to embarrass me in front of the whole office by yelling really loudly about how much makeup I had in my handbag. She wanted everyone to laugh at me, but the guys just thought she was completely out of order. It’s frustrating, because how are we ever going to progress if we insist on tearing each other down? It’s one of the reasons I’ve always tried to maintain a can-do attitude and empower the women around me.
I’ve always been a quiet person. Throughout school and at uni, and even when I was looking for a job, people would always say, “It’d be better if you spoke up more and were more confident.” It’s like being quiet is seen as a bad thing. I think being quiet becomes shorthand for being shy, and in my job, being uncreative. So yeah, it can definitely be a hinderance. People assume you have limited potential; that as a quiet person, I should have quiet ideas. It’s been good to prove people wrong and to be a quiet person who’s made a lot of loud work.
I suppose I am a perfectionist because I like things being done properly (or not at all). So yes. I’ll voice out correction and improvement. But since when was that a bad thing? If that makes me a princess then fine, I’m cool with that.
I once had a job where it was very corporate; you know, suited and booted every day. The majority of boards to who we were presenting were older men. As a woman, I was often talked over and felt practically invisible in meetings, even though I was leading the account. The clients routinely called us “the girls”. I was speaking about this to my boss and he suggested that wearing heels might be a good way of adding some presence. I know it came from a good place, and that he was trying to help, but it just felt like such a superficial way of dealing with the issue.