From academia to admin to ‘appy birthday to agency

When I lounged around my student house reading Shakespeare for my English literature degree, there was no plan. The real post-uni world felt a million miles away. When it snuck up I was blindsided. Cue me bumbling around in an admin job for a year answering phones, filing and swearing under my breath a lot.

After that, I landed an editorial role with a globally recognised greeting card company. I worked my way up from editor to editorial manager in five years. Despite what people thought, I wasn’t just writing “happy birthday” for all that time. There were complex layers of planning, consumer insights and creative nous needed for new ranges, new ideas and to capture the words that would really resonate with people. I loved it.

But I was restless.

I knew that the way people consumed content was changing. So I set my sights on moving into digital marketing. It felt like a monumental leap to make at that time. With determination, some creative thinking and a pinch of chancing my arm, I set out on a spree of job applications having figured out my relevant skill set:

  • Leadership and mentoring
  • Creativity
  • Developing a writing team
  • Crafting copy for different audiences and tones of voice
  • Working to briefs tailored to specific audiences
  • Using consumer insights to develop new ideas
  • Digging into sales data and analysing the sentiment of bestsellers to understand trends and key themes

It landed me my first agency role as a Senior Content Campaign Manager. I was given some huge accounts to try navigate, all while learning brand new things about the complexities of the digital multichannel environment. I was learning everything from scratch. I’ll be honest – I was a deer in headlights for the first few months before things started to make sense. I’ve specialised in content and SEO specifically, which has brought together creativity and techy stuff which for years I’d assumed was way out of my league.

But fast-forward nearly 10 years –  and I’m the Director of Digital Marketing at GOLD79.

I’ve faced many challenges, had to break through many barriers and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’ve learned A LOT.

Here are my top takeaways:


Talking tech isn’t just for men

My first agency role, there was a team of approx. 20 people in SEO. One was female.

According to Moz, men still outnumber women in SEO by 2 – 1. (1) Many times I’ve been the only woman chatting SEO in an all male environment and had to push past how daunting it’s felt, to challenge and assert the points I needed to make. In the past I’ve been spoken over, spoken down to and ignored.

But I know I’m an expert in what I do. Persistence has paid off even though it’s been exhausting at times and I’ve met the bad end of burnout many times, because I’ve had to work twice as hard to get half as far.

The tide is turning slowly, and I can see some female voices finally getting the airtime they deserve in science and tech. There are more advocates out there too, recognising the benefits of these different voices and helping elevate them. Which brings me to my next point…


Representation matters

I’m a woman of colour. My family is very working class. I grew up not seeing anyone like me on TV or in magazines or leadership roles. I didn’t know what I could do because there weren’t any examples out there for me.

You can’t be what you can’t see. One of the things that has spurred me on to keep achieving in my life is some vague hope that I could help forge a path, however small, that might make the journey easier for others.

There is so much strength in having diversity across all industries. It adds depth to what we do, it brings unique perspectives, experiences and different ways of thinking into the mix. One study stated that diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time. (2)  

Also, please never underestimate how much it means to people to have relatable role models, especially in leadership positions.


Soft skills don’t exist. Human skills do

Look at the description for a tech job vs one for a creative job. Take note of the language. Who do you picture in that role? When people talk about “soft skills” they mean things like empathy, communication, team work. Without realising, many of us equate “soft skills” with a feminine energy. It’s unconscious bias. Reframing it to be more about “human skills” means it’s a set of standards we all adhere to. Everyone deserves to be heard and everyone needs the skills to listen. Human skills are so important for creating a really inclusive culture. They’re not gender specific and people shouldn’t be typecast based on this.


Take up space and don’t apologise for it

When I work with my teams, especially females across various roles and levels within a business I see a lot of hedging phrasing in their comms. “Can I just…” “sorry  to bother you…” “If that’s ok?”. I’ve said every one of these or written them in emails and I know that I’ve sometimes undermined myself because of it.

Top tip – you don’t need to apologise for doing your job, or skirt around a request or feel like asserting your point of view is an inconvenience. I don’t mean be rude. But you can be direct and respectful without having to feel like you’ve stepped out of line.

Challenge the status quo

Just because it’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t mean it’s the way it should always be done. We’re in an industry that thrives on innovation and it’s necessary to help progress the way we work. But there are still people who struggle to step beyond their comfort zones. If you can see a way to make change for the better, with a process or system – put your thoughts out there. Your opinion matters, your thoughts are valid, you can make a difference.


Advocate for others

Not everyone is outspoken and confident. We all know louder people tend to hold court more in a meeting. Be the bridge if you can. A couple of things I try to do:

  • If someone is spoken over, take a moment to loop back for them when it feels natural to do so: “one sec, I think xxxxx has a point to make – what was it that you wanted to say?”
  • If someone hasn’t spoken up in a meeting but you can sense they’re nervous to do so: “Before we move on, xxxxx was there anything you wanted to add?” which also gives them the out if they don’t have anything.


It isn’t always easy but it’s worth it

It goes beyond tech. All marginalised groups face barriers they need to breakthrough and of course women are a part of this. We also need to help facilitate others to break through, because it is hard and it is draining and it doesn’t need to be. Growth relies on people pushing boundaries.

Advocate for others, challenge your own pre-conceptions and misconceptions, elevate people who need a helping hand and see the value of diversity.

It’s easy for me to get lost in the pace of the day-to-day and forget what it’s taken to get to where I am. I’m not the finished article, I’ll still keep pushing and growing and learning. But it’s taken a lot to get here and I’m gonna continue to try my hardest to bring other people up with me.


My parting note, for anyone trying their best to overcome challenges that arise because of who you are or where you come from – don’t be afraid to speak up and hold space. You’ve got this.



1 Moz

2 Diverse teams make better decisions Cloverpop