Growing up in the 1990s powerful female icons were everywhere; women were making their way, in their own way, with their own rules.
I grew up believing that women were invincible.
But, as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain in ‘The Confidence Code’ girls are rewarded at school for good behaviour far more than boys and in adult life they are held back by the ingrained psychological effects of this. As Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor puts it: "If life were one long grade school, women would be the undisputed rulers of the world."
Unfortunately for me and other women like me, the advertising industry is nothing like grade school and as I came to learn this my confidence took a serious knock.
It took me a long time to realise that in our industry, being a good girl is not good enough. What’s more, when you consider that when women are viewed as nice, they are far less likely to be deemed competent, it’s no surprise that while today’s working women are better qualified than ever before, men still dominate the corporate world.
So how did I learn to prevent the good girl curse from holding me back? How did I rebuild my confidence?
It started with Engine’s ‘Better with Balance’ programme, an initiative that was implemented last year with a view to achieving a 50/50 split of male/female partners across the group by 2020. Alongside things like unconscious bias training, a new approach to maternity leave and 50/50 gender shortlists for senior roles, the programme involves a scheme designed to support women who are not yet at partnership level, but who have the potential to be.
As one of the fourteen women selected as part of the inaugural scheme, I benefited from bespoke training through Shine4Women, integration into an Engine-wide peer network, and a CEO sponsor from another agency within Engine.
The result? I’m not just a good girl anymore, and proud of it.
First, thanks to the incredible training delivered by the Shine4Women course (I could write an entire article on how life changing their style of coaching is) I realised my good girl behaviour was holding me back. I placed too much emphasis on trying to fall into line with what other people expected and not enough time working out things that were important to me.
I learnt I needed to listen to myself more and accept my ambition as not only a good thing, but something I should be focusing on. I also realised that over my career, I’d subconsciously learned to concentrate on tasks I could do well, so I could be told I was good. I’d become adept at hiding my problem areas.
Second then was taking time to face up to my weaknesses. Here the insight of an impartial but experienced sponsor was not only incredibly facilitating but also incredibly empowering. On Better with Balance we don’t get away with saying ‘that’s not for me’, we’ve all learnt how important it is to have a point of view, to own it and share it.
Because, ultimately, it’s this peer to peer contact that’s totally changed the game for us.
Recent research by Michelle Duguid of Cornell University shows that if women are struggling to make their own way in the workplace, they’re less likely to advocate or provide support and encouragement for other female peers. Honestly, I can understand why. Although I’ve always enjoyed nurturing up-and-coming talent, when initially faced with thirteen other high potential women from across Engine’s various businesses I was massively intimidated by their collective achievements and talents. I doubted whether I deserved a place on the programme.
But now after undergoing the training and sponsorship together, not only are we huge advocates for each other’s success, we also support, encourage and challenge to push ourselves even further—we even have our own whatsapp group!
So what’s my advice for the other ‘good girls’ out there? Taking time out to work out what is important to you and pushing for it is more fulfilling than hiding, waiting to be noticed.
With progressive organisations championing women at every level, the only way really is up, and we owe it to ourselves to help each other, lower the ladder and stand up to be counted. And that’s why Women Of Tomorrow is so important.
We need to show that we’re invincible just like those that blazed the trail before us. Madonna and Diana set the pace back in the 80s and 90s, and things have changed, but not enough, so in the words of Engine’s recent campaign for Women of Tomorrow it’s up to us to be the role models we always wanted.
Vicky Janaway is group account director at WCRS