I’ve finally decided to put it out there, for all the women totally bossing it in a man’s world. It’s not easy, and every day can feel like a struggle, but it’s worth it for the small victories, for the shocked expressions when you totally nail something that would gain no reaction if it had been done by a man. Sucks for sure, but we need more of it to stamp out the caveman attitude.
The industry I work in is incredibly male-dominated, particularly at the top. And it’s very hard to come back after maternity leave. I’ve had four kids and every return to work has been absolutely terrible – but that’s a whole other blog. It’s always been this way. If you’ve ever watched the film What Women Want, it’s a pretty apt representation (and not a bad soundtrack). So I decided to write about it, as a celebration of all those of us juggling motherhood and a career, and everything we women get lumbered with. We all know having it all means doing it all, right?
My world of work
I work in digital marketing, formerly known as the wonderful world of advertising. I started out as a creative, copywriter in fact. As time and experience has passed, I’ve honed my skills to stay relevant as media and the way we consume it has moved so fast. And these days, I’m far more strategic. I know it sounds like a business-wank word that companies use to add extra zeros to the cost of their services, but really it’s about being organised, lateral thinking, forward planning and seeing the whole picture, using insight to find new, different, better ways of telling stories, shaping products and experiences. Which is why so many great strategists are women.
Just a few years ago, I was at a client meeting (with a huge mobile phone operator), with one of the ‘directors’ of the agency I worked for at that time. The meeting went really well, the clients were really receptive to me as the lead creative on their account and excited about the ideas we had to engage their customers.
After the meeting, while outside their swanky offices waiting for a cab. The director – male – said, out loud “That was great. You know, we really must get these guys out to Spearmints!” For those of you that don’t know, Spearmints, is an affectionate term, presumably used by the most loyal patrons, for a well known strip club called Spearmint Rhinos (hardly a flattering term for their dancers eh?). I did a double-take and a kind of ‘Wow you actually said that’ face. He looked at me in a kind of ‘And what?’ way. So I said “You realise a) I’m a woman and b) we are not in the eighties where people do business on the back of a beer mat. If you really want to undermine the genuine talent of your team and think that you’ll get more business out of these guys by taking them to a strip club, maybe I need a new job”. Sadly, this isn’t that unusual. Still.
Enough waffle – what do you actually do Cara?
I promise, that’s the only third person bit.
I’m currently a contractor, and have for the past 12 months, mostly working in SoshulMeedya (or Social Media for those who don’t fake an accent for clients). Last year I was Senior Community Manager for a Formula 1 team. So I’m double-dipping the male industry stereotypes. My predecessor was male, and by all accounts rubbish. I’m a self-confessed petrol-head and have worked for many automotive clients over the years. My favourite being Alfa Romeo – I actually got to go and throw all their cars around a race track to see how they really handled. My job needs pretty decent knowledge of the technical side of racing, the jargon they use in the pits and automotive generally. As well as the ability to take the ‘tone of voice’ of the brand I write for.
Community Manager basically means I manage, create and publish the social media channels for the team. For F1, a lot of this was live, so every race weekend, every practice, every qualifying, every race, I was there, tweeting my sweet ass off about what was going on with our cars and drivers.
It was tough, I won’t lie. F1 takes up 21 weekends of a year, and it meant having to be on a time zone I wasn’t in, as well as the one I was, long after my client, who was at the race, had drifted off in her posh hotel bed. For the races, I worked from home, as it meant being up sometimes from 1am.
When it’s not busy with a race, my job was more strategic, coming up with ideas for content we could create and put out, that would connect with fans of the sport and of the brand, planning an entire month’s content in advance, briefing designers to create stuff and getting it all scheduled to be posted at times I know people are online.
In my time on F1 – I created the single-most engaged-with posts on Twitter and Instagram, and managed to grow the community (that’s followers you and I) by thousands.
It’s pretty niche, not for many you might say. But I wasn’t an F1 expert when I started, by any means. I was subjected to it by my other half for sure, but my interest was more passive. That’s what makes a good strategist and creative, really knowing how to research, to find where fans hang out online, to see what interests them, to really learn the sport and the team and put stuff out there that people will like.
For many years I paid my bills working for complex financial services clients, banks, wealth managers, insurance companies. Not because I loved finance, but because I had honed a niche for myself that few people want to work in, and let’s face it, banks always have money to spend. And that’s why I’m generally never unemployed for long, because to be successful in the industry, it’s about keeping up with what’s new, where clients are spending their money, and making sure you can cut it in those areas.
The fragile male ego
I won’t pretend it’s easy, but when you know your worth and prove you can do a good job, you gain respect. A few years back, I was leading the content aspect of a project for a client in the UAE. There were certain, senior members of the clients’ team who wouldn’t even look me in the eye, let alone shake hands or take direction. Luckily the main client, the Head of Communication put all his trust in me, and told his team they had to do the same. By the end of the project, I’d seen most of them out of their dish-dashes and head-dresses and in their jeans. And Mr ‘I won’t even look at you’ was buying me coffee and asking for recommendations should he come to England.
It’s crap that we have to prove what we are paid to do, in a way that men don’t. But that’s the way it is. I take my smug moments when I can. Right now, I’m working for another motorsport client, and was bought in specifically to grow the business because of my experience on F1. So I’ve had to brush up on the World Rally Championships, World Endurance Championships and Formula E.
My first piece of work is now out there. You can watch it here. What you might not get unless you are a major WRC fan, is that each of the cars represents an element, because it’s all about raw elements, dirt, fire, air, water – and each of those cars has a claim to significant innovation fame in the sport – back in the day. I created this story, this idea and saw it brought to life, with a great team – but without that insight and technical knowledge, it would have bombed with the audience. It hasn’t though. Quite the opposite. It’s been featured and re-posted by the official WRC body themselves, and just a couple of days after being posted (with no actual paid advertising and promotion behind it) – it had been viewed over 250,000 times.
The moments of magic
I love that I can get under the skin of something complex and make it simple, cool, fun for people that are really into the subject. I love that I can have an idea for a video that tells a brand story, in a cool way, that’s picked up by the official body of the sport and seen by hundreds of thousands of people. That’s pretty cool, because at home I’m lucky if I can get one out of four kids to put their bloody shoes on.
But there are some real moments of smug-powerment (yep, I’m that much of a tosser, I just made up a word). A couple of weeks back, when working on this video and sitting with the guy who was pulling together all the footage we could use, explicitly he was looking for ‘spitting fire’. I told him he would probably find more usable stuff if he looked for ‘ALS’ or ‘Bang Bang’ as Anti-Lag Systems are what causes that combustion burn and flame. He looked at me blankly and asked what Anti-Lag was. I then had to explain it to him. Sure, it’s not every day lingo, but it feels good to know your shit in a male-dominated world. He was pretty blown away by it – so much so, I almost offered to explain the offside rule to him as well, but his male pride had already taken a knock.
Do it for yourself, for no one else
I get that this subject matter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And isn’t always mine either. I’ve worked on my fair share of shampoo brands and cleaning products. But the industry needs more women. It needs more mums. Don’t doubt what you can do. Go out there and grab it. I mean, you have squeezed an entire person out, no man can say that.
Sure, I still feel like I get judged for leaving early for parents’ evening, or taking time off to look after sick kids and I frequently get knocked back by female hirers who see me as a threat. But people judge, we know that more than any. Let them. I know I’m good at what I do. And I want more of you to have the confidence to do it too. We need you.
A good friend, on/off colleague and MOLO, Ali Hanan has founded a great movement called Creative Equals, specifically to redress the balance of women in the creative industries. There are some pretty compelling stats, and some great opportunities to bring mums back into the industry.
I want to give a massive high five to women overcoming the system and the stats to make all that bra-burning worth it. We salute you bad-ass women rocking it in the world of work. I want to empower more amazing ladies to get out there and do something for themselves – and if you’re a mum, there’s the added bonus of being an amazing role model for your kids.
Let’s all be that sassy welder from Flashdance. Only I’d have to jump off a bunkbed to get into a leotard and would need some serious spanx and an inhaler for the dance moves – but you know, the sentiment is there.
Mum to 4 gorgeous but exhausting munchkins ranging from 14 down to 11 months. But we have a full Sky package and all the Sports now so there shouldn’t be any more. I live in London, although I’m such a perpetual zombie thanks to baby #4 bucking my sleep training genius score, that I look more like London lives in me. I love my kids. But I also love wine. And gin. And Galaxy. You can follow my Blog and find me on Twitter