Posts in THOUGHTS
365(ISH) DAYS LATER: MAKING YOUR IDEAS HAPPEN
 
 
Lightbulb Moment
 

This article was originally published on It's Nice That.

I’ll be honest: when I initially wrote and self-published Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women just under a year ago, I had no idea what I was doing. Surrounded by DIY zine culture, and looking for a way to make Women Who – the creative community I was about to launch – stand out, playing to my strengths by writing something seemed like the obvious thing to do. So I did, creating a travel-sized career guide for working women with an initial print run of 250 copies, which to my astonishment sold out in two days. Fears of being left with piles of unsold books abated, I eventually produced another run – yet even when a kind stranger DM-ed me on Instagram saying she had a friend in publishing she thought I “ought to meet”, the penny didn’t drop that I was onto something.

Fast-forward a few months, and said friend is now my editor (Michelle Kane, publishing and PR director at 4th Estate), and I have the luxury of one of the world’s best publishing imprints in my corner. In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it feels like testament to the power of community – and social media – that my scrappy self-published endeavour landed me a proper book deal (and a new lick of paint in the process). For version 2.0, as well as adding a few additional chapters, I decided to cast my net a little wider when it came to advice. Contributors to the book now include fellow 4th Estate authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Anna Jones, as well as The Gentlewoman’s editor-in-chief Penny Martin and artist Quentin Jones (to name a few) – essentially a wish-list of women I’ve long admired from afar, and was lucky enough to persuade to share their career insights with me.

Over the past 12 months, Women Who has gone from a one-woman machine to… well, it’s still a one-woman machine, although the generosity and warmth of the community that’s sprung up around it often makes it feel like it’s much bigger than just me. Since it’s launch last July, I’ve hosted events and workshops with the likes of Kate Moross, Camille Walala, and Pip Jamieson, where we’ve covered everything from how to set your rates as a freelancer, to how to protect your creative work. I’ve thrown huge parties, such as the 170-strong International Women’s Day social I hosted with print designer Kelly Anna, and more intimate gatherings, like a recent ten-person field trip to the V&A Museum’s new Balenciaga retrospective. Hundreds of emails, conversations, late nights, book edits, and design tweaks later, here’s what I’ve learned about work, creativity, and making your ideas happen.

 

NOTHING WILL WORK UNLESS YOU DO (ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE SELF-EMPLOYED)

After a talk I gave about Women Who a while back, a woman in the audience asked me whether I’d encountered any common traits among the women I’ve met and worked with over the past year. I often think when people ask this question (or at least when I do) it’s in the vague hope of a Da Vinci-esque code that once cracked, will fast-track their careers and put them on the road to riches – but the truth is there is literally no secret route to success, besides working really bloody hard. The main trait the creative women I’ve met through Women Who have in common is simply that they’ve put in the hours – and not over a few days or weeks, but for months and years on end. Real sustained success doesn’t happen as a result of stunting on Instagram. In order to succeed, you need to do the work. Sorry about that!

 

NO WOMAN IS AN ISLAND

I’m very independent and tend to want to figure things out on my own, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Recently, I was suffering from a serious mental block on an ostensibly simple task, and it had gotten to the point where I wasn’t able to focus on anything else because I was so obsessed with this one problem. Eventually I had the good sense to email a few friends to get their opinions, and ended up exchanging a few emails with one friend in particular. She didn’t deliver the answer on a plate per se, but our conversation gave me a fresh perspective on my problem that definitely led me there. My advice? Don’t be afraid to open up your creative process to others – you don’t always have to go it alone.

 

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

Every single time I’ve gone against my gut instinct when it comes to decision-making, I’ve regretted it. Your intuition is a powerful thing – don’t ignore it, ever.

 

REMEMBER YOUR VALUES

If you always endeavour to do the thing that you think is of genuine value to yourself and to others – whether creatively, professionally or socially – you can’t go wrong. For me, the politically explosive events of the past 18 months have highlighted just how important values are in a world that increasingly seems to be run by people who are devoid of any, and have reminded me of how indivisible wider social and political issues are from the day-to-day hustle of being a working woman.

 
THE MAKINGS OF A MODERN CAREER GUIDE
 
 
Little Black Book Otegha Uwagba
 

This article was originally published on Indie Thinking.

When it comes to career guidance, there’s certainly no shortage of books on the subject on offer. Rummage through the ‘careers’ section of any bookstore, and you’ll undoubtedly be confronted by an array of workplace manifestos urging you to ‘lean in’ and simply ‘think yourself rich’, perched next to volumes promising a 4-hour week, whilst exhorting you to ‘fail better’.

As a young woman trying to make my way in a creative field (advertising), I quickly found that these sorts of books contained little in the way of guidance for those who, like me, were just starting out – and crucially, they made few allowances for anyone whose definition of success didn’t align with their rather corporate narrative of corner offices and company credit cards. Nothing I found reflected the workplaces I was encountering, or career choices I was being faced with.

So, with Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, I set out to create something entirely different – specifically, a modern career guide that actually reflects the way workplaces are evolving, and could speak to a generation of women who are shunning traditional career paths, and rewriting the rules of the workplace as they do so. According to the Financial Times, 80% of the newly self-employed during the last UK recession were women, and nowhere more so than within the creative industries. But scan the bookshelves – or indeed the Internet – and you’ll find little to reflect this cultural and economic shift. There’s not much in the way of practical guidance for the generation of fiercely ambitious, entrepreneurial and creative women that I’m part of. So I decided to change that.

Unusually for a book of its sort, Little Black Book is devoid of personal commentary, which was a very deliberate decision. Most career guides tend to be full of commentary about the writer’s own lives and experiences, but more often than not those anecdotes pertain to a very specific set of circumstances and reading them can feel a bit like sifting for treasure, as you look for the pearls of wisdom directly relevant to your own experience. To be clear, my personal experiences are definitely still nestled within the pages of the book (trust me), but ultimately, Little Black Book isn’t about me – it’s about you, the reader. Containing only practical advice from start to finish, over the course of 128 short pages I cover everything creative women need to build successful and fulfilling self-made careers in the 21st century: from how to build a killer personal brand to negotiating payrises, via a crash course in networking like a pro, and tips for overcoming creative block.

How do I know it’ll connect? Simple – this is the book I wish I’d been given five years ago, and I’ve filled it with the things I wish I’d known when I was starting out: lessons I learned the hard way, and which I’m desperately hoping other women won’t have to. Then there’s everything I’ve learned from Women Who, the platform I created to support and inspire creative working women, which has mushroomed into a community encompassing thousands of women around the world. And of course, there’s the fact that Little Black Book features contributions from a host of trailblazing creative women sharing insights on how they approach their work, including acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adchie, Refinery29 cofounder Piera Gelardi, and The Gentlewoman’s Editor-in-Chief Penny Martin (to name just a few). My goal is for this compendium of essential wisdom and hard-won career insights to become an indispensable companion to women everywhere – because being a working woman is hard enough without going it alone.

 
2016: THE YEAR OF REALISING THINGS
 

Last month I half-jokingly tweeted about one of the most spot-on predictions about how this year would unfold having come from none other than Ms Kylie Jenner (stranger things...), and I obviously wasn’t the only one who found this fairly amusing - as the year has drawn to a close, the now infamous video clip of Ms Jenner’s unnervingly prescient prediction for 2016 has gained something of a second wind, and has been recirculated on social media in a slew of memes, GIFs and viral tweets. What was a fairly unremarkable pop culture moment even at the time probably wouldn’t have been worthy of resurrection were it not for the fact that – more so than any other year in recent memory – 2016 truly has felt like a year of ‘realising things’, of truths being uncovered, and of a whole host of momentous and life-changing events coming to fruition.

So, inspired by Kylie Jenner – something I never thought I'd write on this blog, but here we are – I’m sharing a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the past year... or to stretch this fairly laboured analogy to its logical conclusion, the Things I’ve Realised. Hopefully you'll find something here that will help make your working life that little bit easier, more productive, or fulfilling in 2017.

 

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Albeit sadly not one that I naturally possess in abundance – but I’m working on that! Learning to be patient, and to be comfortable working to other people’s schedules is something I’ve had a crash course in this year, particularly since becoming self-employed and launching Women Who. I’ve had to train myself to become (moderately) comfortable with just… waiting. Waiting for people to respond to emails, for people to make decisions, to get paid… the list is endless. Twelve months ago, an email left unanswered for longer than a few hours would have been a source of real anxiety (and frustration) for me, which I think might be a hangover from having started my career in the world of advertising, where things tend to move at lightening speed. Becoming more cognisant of the competing demands on other people’s time is a quality I’ve learned to embrace this year, and something that I hope to improve on in 2017.

 

START SOMEWHERE

The best way to make things happen is by putting them out into the world, and to realise that there will never be a ‘perfect’ time or an ideal set of circumstances for you to launch that idea, business or project that’s been at the back of your mind since forever. If you’ve talked about an idea more than three times, it’s time to act on it.

 

NOTHING WILL WORK UNLESS YOU DO*

After a talk I gave about Women Who last week, a woman in the audience asked me whether I’d encountered any common traits amongst the women I’ve met and worked with over the past 6 months. I often think when people ask this question (or at least when I do!) it’s in the vague hope that there’s some sort of secret sauce or Da Vinci-esque code that once cracked, will turbo charge careers and put them on the road to riches – but the truth is there is literally no secret route to success, besides working really bloody hard. The main trait that the creative women I’ve met through Women Who have in common is simply that they’ve put in the hours – and not over a few days or weeks, but for months and years on end. When I think about how much work I’ve put into Women Who’s relatively modest achievements thus far, my mind boggles at the colossal amount of work that has clearly gone into the careers and businesses of the successful women that I either know or admire from afar. But, it’s also incredibly motivating – a reminder that real, sustained success doesn't happen as a result of stunting on Instagram. In order to succeed, you need to do the work.

 

*Especially if you're self-employed!

 

NOT EVERYONE’S GONNA CLAP FOR YOU

This one’s a quote from my mum, one of the wisest women I know. Whether it’s a failed job interview or a rejected pitch – if you do creative work, you’re going to hear ‘no’ a lot. Not everyone’s going to like, appreciate, or be into whatever it is you’re doing. And that’s okay – rejection or disinterest, in all of their frustrating and disappointing guises, are things all creative people have to deal with, no matter how successful they are. The important thing is not to dwell on that for too long (or to take it too personally), and to focus on reaching the people who are into what you’re doing. They’re out there.

 

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

Every single time I’ve gone against my gut instinct when it comes to decision-making, I’ve regretted it. Your intuition is a powerful thing – don’t ignore it, ever.

 

REMEMBER YOUR VALUES

If you always endeavour to do the thing that you think is of genuine value to yourself and to others – whether creatively, professionally or socially – you can’t go wrong. For me, the politically explosive events of 2016 have highlighted how important values are in a world that increasingly seems to be run by people who are devoid of any, and have reminded me of how indivisible wider social and political issues are from the day-to-day hustle of being a working woman.

 

That’s it from me! What are the important lessons 2016 has taught you?

 
ON THE ELECTION
 
Hillary Rodham Clinton

The hours and days since Donald Trump won the US presidential election have for me, and for so many others, been full of a thousand tiny little heartbreaks. Waking up at 4am on Wednesday morning to find that the victory I'd begun to take for granted was suddenly in jeopardy, broke my heart. Seeing headlines juxtaposing the words ‘President’ with ‘Trump’ a few hours later, broke my heart. A video of a 103 year old Clinton supporter watching the results roll in, broke my heart. Watching the Obamas, gracious to the bitter end, having to welcome into their home a man who despises them and everything they stand for – that too broke my heart. The thousands of think pieces dissecting what Hillary should have done differently, what she could have done better. The circulation of news footage from eighteen months ago, when we’d all chortled at the prospect of a Trump presidency. This photo of Hillary gamely posing with a supporter who bumped into her during a private moment, only a day after her defeat. All of these moments, and so many others, have broken my heart in a way that, being relatively young, I hadn't yet had the misfortune to experience.

 

And, aware as I am that - being the white, wealthy, wife of a former US President - Hillary Clinton is someone who is unlikely to feel the sharp end of Trump’s policies first hand, I feel so sad for her still – the disappointment and frustration at the injustice of the situation must be immense. How she found it in her to deliver such a graceful and optimistic concession speech, and to provide comfort to so many in a time of turmoil remains a mystery to me. And haven't we all been there? We are all Hillary, in a way. Every single working woman has had her own Donald Trump. The guys who patronises her. The guy who gaslights her. The guy who interrupts her, and talks over her in meetings. The guy whose unchallenged access to circles of power and influence has given him a heightened sense of entitlement, and an unshakeable (and undeserved) sense of his own rectitude. "If anyone still doubts that the inexperienced man gets promoted ahead of the qualified woman, you can wake up now", Barbara Kingsolver wrote in the days leading up to the election, but sadly the nightmare continues. As someone who is both female and black, the disaster we now face feels twofold, given that I know there isn’t a single part of my identity Donald Trump doesn’t hold in utter contempt. Racism, as well as misogyny, is the beating undercurrent of the groundswell that carried Donald Trump all the way into the White House.

I usually try to keep Women Who as a fairly politically neutral space, although it doesn't come easily to me – those who know me well know I'm a very political person. An attempt at neutrality is why I chose to post my supportive message of Hillary the day of the election on my personal Instagram account instead of on Women Who’s, and it's why the few political posts I have made to date have been fairly neutral, galvanising political action in general as opposed to trying to sway the tide of opinion one way or another.

 

No more.

 

Everything is political when you're a woman, and Donald Trump is an enemy of women the world over - not just those in the USA. The only positive by-product of his win (and one which I’d trade in an instant) is that it’s made me more determined than ever for Women Who to be a platform that champions women everywhere, a force for good in a world that tries so hard to diminish our value. It’s shown me how far we still have to go. How much work there is still left to do. I'm here and ready for that fight.

 

Are you?

 
A READING LIST FOR THE FEMININE ECONOMY
 
Beyonce

The influence of women in the workplace, and more specifically the way women work, is a topic that – for obvious reasons – is never far from my mind. Whilst it’s tricky to talk about this without falling into the trap of making sweeping generalisations, in my experience I’ve found that there really are obvious differences in the ways men and women typically operate within the workplace, and certain defining characteristics about the way women approach their work. A few articles I’ve read recently have got me thinking more about how typically ‘feminine’ ways of thinking and working relate to the workplaces of the future, and the way work is changing - so of course I wanted to share them with you.

First up – a recent essay in the Financial Times, about the impact of women in the workplace, more specifically their impact on a company’s success. Highlights include the observation that:

 

Women are more likely to consider social, ethical and environmental effects of business…as a result, women are geared to address future customer demands better. Companies that encourage female participation will reap the rewards as environmentally friendly goods and services — as well as responsible business models — become more important to long-term corporate success.

 

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across the little nugget of information that women tend to have stronger ethical business principles than men, and are less willing to compromise their ethics in pursuit of success at work. It seems that when it comes to work, women have a different (...dare I say better?) values system. The article also goes on to address women’s contributions to the economy, noting that:

 

The British Chambers of Commerce noted that businesses run by women were more likely to launch a new product or service and to harness the benefits of technology to do so. It also found that women were nearly three times as likely to collaborate with research institutions than men. Increasing numbers of women in business will shift business models to be more responsive, customer-driven and tailor products and services to the expectations of future generations.

 

 Jennifer Armbrust's model of the Feminine Economy

Another interesting take on this subject that I turn to time and time again, is Jenn Armbrust’s model of the feminine economy (right), which I find very inspiring. She believes that business, and the way we work, is largely determined by a very ‘masculine’ set of ideals - so instead, she proposes a new set of values, based on 'feminine' principles, such as collaboration, sustainability and mindfulness. 

Be sure to check out her Proposals For The Feminine Economy too.

 

 

FURTHER READING:

The Female Economy - Harvard Business Review

Women In Business section - The Financial Times

 

P.S. Women Who will be exploring the topic of female entrepreneurs more in the near future. Stay tuned...

 
BEGINNINGS, ENDINGS, AND THE PROMISE OF A BLANK PAGE
 

So – September is upon us, which means it’s officially the end of summer, and the end of the slow summer days and hazy nights we’d all started getting used to. Despite no longer being at school, like many people I’m hard-wired to associate the month of September with fresh starts and new beginnings. I always get a little surge of motivation at this time of year, and a burst of excitement at what feels like a blank slate full of endless possibilities.

Back To School Women Who

Sure, I’m sad to see the end of summer – but there’s also a not-so-small part of me that’s really looking forward to the weeks and months ahead. The heat and humidity of summer tends to make my brain work more slowly than usual, and I feel like I spend most of my energy during the summer months just trying to stay cool. As the weather cools down, I find that I have more energy and find it easier to actually just think – and I’m looking forward to channelling that extra energy and clarity of thought into ideas and projects that have been floating around on the periphery of my to-do list all summer. Plus, my ‘new term’ ritual of buying new stationery and work supplies every September makes saying goodbye to summer a little bit sweeter (and hey, if you want to stretch your definition of ‘work supplies’ to justify buying yourself some new clothes, you’ll find no judgement here).

So, I’ve sharpened my pencils and decluttered my desk; bought myself a fresh Moleskine and set myself a few goals. Is there anything that can top the promise and potential of a blank page?

I’m not sure there is.