Advice to my younger self: Suki Thompson on speaking out and being fearless

In honour of International Women's Day, Suki Thompson, the chief executive of Oystercatchers, shares eight pieces of advice she would tell her younger self.

Suki Thompson: do something new every day
Suki Thompson: do something new every day

International Women’s Day dates back to the early 20th century when women all over the US and Europe protested against abhorrent work conditions and rallied for the right to vote, hold public office, and work.

Life is different for many of us now, but I was alarmed to discover at our recent Oystercatchers Club event that in Campaign’s 2015 A List of the 418 people listed only 79 (19 per cent) were women. Men in a chief marketing officer role, we learnt last year, earned on average 75 per cent more than women and, according to the Women’s Equality Party, around 1.2 million women in the UK suffer domestic abuse every year.

At Wacl we have a pledge to ‘Speak Out’, so I hosted a breakfast for UK agencies to meet the newly formed Women’s Equality Party [WEP] a few weeks ago. The aim was to see how we could work together to help push gender parity across our business and beyond. We have had an amazing response. In just four days Cheil created a campaign for the WEP to highlight the rise in rape and sexual violence against women in the capital. Work is breaking from McCann next week to highlight equal pay, and there is much more from many other agencies on its way.

I am committed to women’s leadership, equality and empowerment and I love to mentor women, particularly young female entrepreneurs. One question I am often asked is; "what advice would you give to your younger self?" As we celebrate International Women’s Day, these are my suggestions:

Understand your own super strength

At school you are taught to work hard at the things you don’t do well to become an ‘all rounded’ good person. Stop that! Understand what you do brilliantly and spend 90 per cent of your time honing that skill. Use the rest of the time to find people around you to fill in the gaps and learn a few general skills to keep you on track! 

Do something new every day

As children, we’re naturally curious – it’s how we grow and learn – but by the time we start school that sense of wonder starts to escape. Make time for curiosity, try new things and make sure you plan and vision your world in the future – I like sticking pictures of my dreams and aspirations on the inside of my wardrobe! But whatever it is, make sure you try something new every day.   

Only work with inspirational leaders

There is nothing like working for or learning from inspirational leaders. Historically, business used carrots and sticks to get performance out of people. Working with role models, mentors and chief executives can help us learn how to become leaders who can inspire performance in people (or not as the case may be!). Choose the people you work for just as carefully as you do the company and brands.   

Hone your leadership skills at every opportunity

I love Ronan Dunne’s mantra. As a chief executive, he is ‘chief cheerleader and chief story teller’. It’s worth remembering this all through your life. No matter what level you are at, it will help motivate people around you and telling stories is a great skill to have. 

Practice making decisions

Make small decisions on a regular basis so that when the big challenges come, you know how to be decisive.  Role play the pros and cons. And embrace imperfect information. There are only a few times in your life when you make truly monumental decisions, but the more you practice, the more likely you are to get the outcome you want.

Work and live in a different country

I loved living and working in Asia – it was at times (and still is) infuriating, challenging and demanding. Our world is global: not only will you gain some of the best experiences of your life, you’ll also equip yourself with understanding what makes people really tick.

Be classy

Almost everyone knows how to join an organisation, but very few know how to leave!

Be fearless – what's the worst that can happen?

To be diagnosed with cancer once could seem unfortunate but twice seems rather careless! But both times it gave me enormous perspective on just how precious our life is. Too often I have not done things because I was afraid of the outcome, but in almost every instance the thought is always worse than the reality. What is the worst that can happen? If everything does goes wrong, you can always laugh about it with your girlfriends over a G&T and start again. 

Suki Thompson is the chief executive and co-founder of Oystercatchers

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