Skip to content
Ideas Diversity is essential

UK marketing leaders share career advice at Essence London ahead of International Women's Day

Ali Reed

Power poses in the loo before big meetings, writing TTGLOAF (try to give less of a f**k) on Post-It Notes, and rebranding ‘networking’ as ‘meeting nice people for a chat who you can learn something new from’.

These are just some of the methods senior women use to manage their everyday working lives.

Ahead of International Women’s Day 2020, we asked Google’s EMEA Head of Media, The Financial Times’ Global Marketing Director B2C, and L’Oréal’s Media Director as well as Essence’s EMEA Head of Media Planning and Global Head of Legal, for an honest take on their career journeys and for their tips for getting to the top as a woman.

‘Should I stay or should I go?’

Is it better to have a variety of companies on your CV or remain at a company for several years to show your loyalty? Fiona Spooner, Global Marketing Director at the Financial Times and Emily Henderson, Head of Media at Google both expressed anxiety over not having worked at more companies, having both tenured with the FT and Google for more than 10 years respectively. 'Will people see my CV lacking the courage to go somewhere else? Do I look like I haven’t tried my hand at new things? Will my loyalty be seen as a negative?,' asked Spooner.

'I’ve wondered that too,' agreed Henderson. 'Will I be rewarded for long service or will I be seen as one dimensional?'

Although having the ‘correct’ number of employers on your CV can be a common worry, continual learning and stepping into the unknown within the same company can often be just as challenging (and rewarding when you nail it) as starting a new position elsewhere. Regardless of whether you stay at a company or move elsewhere, as long as you are learning and diversifying, you’ll be respected by future bosses.

Having a family and a career

It’s been drilled into us since school, but the pressure to achieve perfectionism is perhaps greater in today’s social media age than at any other time. This can put career-focused women who also want a family under significant pressure.

'You can have it all, just not all at the same time,' mused Shrina Shah, Global Head of Legal at Essence - a piece of advice given as she became a mother whilst leading a legal team at another company. “Accept that you may need to be flexible. I sometimes miss bedtimes - and that’s ok - just like sometimes it’s ok to miss a meeting for a school assembly. It's about balance and making sure you ask for and accept support - both at home and work - to manage it all.”

Further advice is not to hide the fact you’re a working mum: 'I used to pretend I didn’t have a child and was really proud when people I spoke to didn’t realise I was a mum. Which in hindsight is a ridiculous thing to want people to think, but at the time it felt like a badge of honour,' said Spooner, adding “being a working mum is something to celebrate, not keep hidden.”

Our leaders were in universal agreement of the importance of building allies at work to lean on, as well as accepting support when it’s offered. Don’t try to take it all on by yourself.

Embrace networking and self-promotion

The media industry has never been shy of a name drop or an awards show - which comes easier to some than to others. But getting on in your career does take a degree of networking and self-promotion, even if you dislike the idea.

'Ugh, I hate it! Those terms make me want to vomit,' exclaimed Clare Chapman, Head of Media Planning, EMEA at Essence. “I’ve had to totally rebrand both of those ideas into ‘meeting nice people for a chat’, and ‘making sure I get credit for the awesome work I’ve done’.” That small change in thinking has enabled Chapman to embrace both self-promotion and networking, and turn them to her advantage. 

For Henderson, despite 'being an introvert,' she has learned the value of self-promotion.

'I lived with New Yorkers for 10 years, so I had a lot of practice watching others!” she said, adding “coming to the UK was an eye-opener, as the British certainly approach it in a very different way”. 

Chapman’s advice is to embrace the idea of self-promotion as early as possible in your career: 'I think it would have opened more doors for me in a quicker time frame [if I had].'

Play where you can win and recognise inner strengths

As with everything in life, it pays to have perspective in your career. It’s all too easy to be self-critical, but objectively realising your strengths is a skill to learn. Embrace feedback, it’s your friend. At the same time acknowledge that you’ll never be the finished package and don’t be afraid to ask questions or admit you don’t know it all. 

Spooner advises 'Don’t take everything too seriously and you’ll be happier in the long run. Write TTGLOAF (try to give less of a f**k) on a Post-It Note and remember we’re not saving lives. Yes, take pride in your work, but accept you have weakness too and that makes you human.'

'Balance is so important because having a stressful job - although rewarding in the main -  can really take its toll. There are loads of ways to get a release - personally I play netball and book weekends away,' said Gayle Noah, Head of Media at L’Oréal.

Finally, regardless of how confident people may appear, everyone needs to channel their inner courage in different situations. 'When I need to psych myself up for a big or difficult conversation, I lock myself in the loo and do power poses,' Noah confessed.

So, what does it take to get to the top?

Despite all the wisdom, no matter how much you plan, there is no tried and tested route to the top or identikit leader personality or situation. So if like our panelists you’re either with or without children, extrovert or introvert, like to be direct or prefer to be less confrontational, the one commonality they share is being open and honest, authentic and vulnerable.