A dear friend and colleague’s recent experience inspired the topic of this article. She made an exciting and bold decision to transition to a full-time freelance career. In the process of her resignation though, she was told she can not work in her industry for at least a year as part of the “non-compete” (untrue, and really just an intimidation tactic) amongst other negative reactions.
First, I was sad to hear that this exciting moment in her career was being tainted, but it also got me thinking- Why the hostility? Why did her boss (who is also a female) not congratulate her on this bold move and wish her luck? Why did she not see the value in this new development? A new ally in the murky waters of PR…this reminded me of instances of my own and stories I have heard from colleagues along the way.
So here I am on the topic of supporting and celebrating our professional colleagues, especially amongst women. While fashion PR is a female-dominated profession - and I am speaking mostly from this point of view - this principle should and can be applied to men and pretty much any professional environment.
Fashion publicists come under extra scrutiny for being cutthroat, competitive and just plain mean. This perception comes from reality TV and also our peers. When Meredith Lepore wrote an article for The Grindstone, asking the question "Are Women in PR Just Grown up Mean Girls?, she found that "the overwhelming consensus from PR professionals seemed to be that it was the people that worked in fashion PR that were creating this not so positive impression of the industry as a whole."
Healthy competition is a welcome and motivating driver, but it is important not to see each other as enemies or obstacles. It is a disservice to all of us if we do not reach out and say go on, be independent, grow, learn, be successful and if there is an opportunity for me to help you, I am going to do it, I am going to support you.
I am certainly not saying we all have to be best friends...what I am saying is look at these women as resources, allies, esteemed colleagues who you can learn from or perhaps who can learn something from you.
As Selena Rezvani wrote in her Washington Post article, “Perhaps women who reach top leadership levels suffer a form of sexism amnesia. They may forget what it’s like to be junior, to have little sway, and to be underestimated as a young woman. When they finally do get to the top, they adopt the mindset of those around them and gloss over their past struggles. Even harsher is the sink-or-swim school of thought whose club motto is, “I was treated like dirt on my way up, so you should be too.” An interesting and probably very true sentiment.
When women fail to support each other in the workplace it hinders our professional development and that of our industry. Just think- How much more could we accomplish if we stood by each other and broke down the walls of inequality in the workplace together rather than push each other away and try to climb those walls alone?
I have had incredible female mentors and bosses throughout my career who have invested time and effort in my professional growth and development. Almost all of the positions I have held were direct results of recommendations made by a former female boss. I appreciate that continued support even more now that I am an independent publicist. Those same old old bosses, co-workers, acquaintances continue to share recommendations and referrals for which I am grateful. For these women it is natural to offer guidance, support, advice and compassion. The example that these colleagues set influence the way I value my professional relationships. So it seems, support begets support begets support.
How to Begin
I am generally optimistic about where our industry is heading. However, given the seemingly consistent occurrence of woman on woman crime, I think this is an important topic to continue discussing if not for the small goal of “checking” ourselves. So what do we do? How do we change this dynamic?
Pretty much every article on how to be successful in business stresses the importance of your network. Identify potential allies and build relationships with colleagues in and out of your industry, with senior level professionals, contemporaries and even your juniors. Invest in the right relationships for your growth but also be open to serving as a resource for someone else. The road to mean girl salvation goes both ways.
I see inspiring examples of this type of support every day. I see it when my PR meet-up gets together to share stories about our respective work and life in general. I see it when I can connect one great professional woman with another for job opportunities or collaboration, and I see it when an agency president sends business to a freelance colleague of mine.
Create Space for Conversation
Penny Herscher, in her article for the Huffington Post, suggests "...to get the women in your organization together to acknowledge that you are a group, you are within the same culture, dealing with same...issues. You can bring in a speaker to name the elephant in the room and catalyze the discussion -- bring in a dynamic speaker from the outside or a senior woman from your organization….Getting the discussion out in the open will raise awareness and a sense of responsibility in most people to help each other..."
I think Penny hits it right on the head when she says “getting the discussion out in the open will raise awareness and a sense of responsibility.” Keeping this topic top of mind and part of a consistent dialogue is a big step in creating a shift in this dynamic. Talk about it with your friends, colleagues, and even here within the PR Couture community. Of course, the easiest and most direct way to contribute to a more collaborative and supportive industry is to enact something we all learned in grade school, lead by example.
I'd love to learn about how you experience and create opportunities for mutual support in your industry and community. Let's build it together.
Photo Credit: Mario AV