I grew up in the 80s. It was a pretty special time… I’m sure every girl had a poster of that topless man holding a baby, cried when they thought E.T. had died and owned at least one highly flammable neon shell suit. I’d play in the street until dark, drink the neighbour’s SodaStream and secretly cheat by peeling the stickers off my Rubik’s Cube. My love of all things creative was fuelled by the TV programme Hartbeat, and who wasn’t amused by some of the creations featured on The Gallery. It was a great era. Everything felt safe, warm and cosy. But looking back it was also a time when the Dads went out to work whilst the Mums stayed at home to stick Mr Men plasters onto our grazed knees when we fell off our chopper bikes.
Fast forward 30 years…
Recently I watched the musical ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ (for those who don’t know me, I’m a sucker for a man in uniform and an 80s movie!). As some of the female cast belted out ‘This is a man’s world’, it got me thinking about today’s design world – is it a man’s world too?
Incredibly only 11% of creative leaders in the UK are female. Hard to believe, I know. So why is this the case? Are the opportunities just not there? As a woman who is lucky enough to be a creative leader, I wanted to share my journey of how I got here. Unlike in the film, many of us don’t want saving. We want to stand on our own two feet, make it for ourselves, be heard and recognised on our own creative merits. Merits that should lift us up where we belong.
Where it all began
Throughout my life I’ve been influenced by many strong women. Starting at Home 18 years ago as a fresh-faced, keen (and slightly skinnier) designer, I couldn’t quite believe it when I got the job. I felt like I’d hit the big time – me, a young Bristolian girl from St George. All I could think was that Carol, our Founder (and Creative Director at the time), must have seen something in me. And hey, who was I to argue!
Over the years I’d watch her rip up the rule book with her off-the-wall, crazily-wild ideas – not giving clients what they thought they wanted, but what they actually needed, even if they didn’t know it. I was in awe of her bold, brash Geordie ways and the impact she had. It made me think differently and want to push myself to do stuff that really made a difference.
I’m proud to say that I’ve been one of Home’s Creative Directors for the past year, alongside Ben. When the idea of my new role was first suggested I felt honoured, but my feelings soon turned to self-doubt and nervousness. I began to question whether I was good enough. In such a densely male-populated industry I felt I had a lot to live up to. What if this Bristol lass couldn’t cut it? Then I thought, we always tell our clients to step out of their comfort zone and push their own boundaries, so that’s exactly what I did – I took my own advice and went for it. I realised it’s not about being like anyone else, I had to find my own style and believe that it was ok to be me.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Last month on the train a stranger said to me “life happens regardless, but it’s up to us if we want to take part”. So true… I completely agree – we need to grab every opportunity life gives us, stop waiting for shit to happen and take a risk now and then. After all, you never know, it might just pay off! If I had listened to my inner voice I would have run away from becoming Creative Director and probably kicked myself for it in the future.
One thing I’ve learnt in my short time as a leader is that it’s about seeing in others what they don’t always see in themselves. I love helping the team to believe in their own ability, watching them grow and create concepts I could only dream of. It’s great when you experience those ‘I wished I’d thought of that’ moments as they’re a sign of something truly amazing. Every day I’m honoured to lead and work with such brilliant people, both male and female.
My advice for those wanting to get up where they belong…
- Stay authentic.
- Do things you believe in.
- Stay relevant.
- Go with your gut.
- Stay curious.
- Never stop learning.
- Stay with it – if those good ideas are hiding, drink wine (lots!) and sleep on it. Hopefully they’ll come to you when and where you least expect them.
- Stay humble.
- Encourage shining lights (who remind you of you).
- Be brave.
And remember, even when you don’t believe in yourself, others do. Your future is not only built on your talents, but your attitude and determination and certainly not which bathroom you use!