As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, I wanted to take a moment to appreciate the opportunities I have been given in an industry traditionally not known for its female-friendly workplaces. Today in 2021, there are organisations in place to encourage more women to set up agencies (I’m thinking of The Agency Collective) and initiatives by associations like The Alliance of Independent Agencies to promote diversity in the agency world. But I rather suspect there were no such organisations or initiatives back in 1987 when Fiona, our CEO, took the leap of faith to set-up what is now known as jellybean.
As someone who started their career in the 90’s and worked in a number of agencies prior to jellybean, I have seen things change hugely over the years. I shan’t be naming names but suffice to say that my previous workplaces (although not all!) weren’t exactly female-friendly. With no women on the board and very much an old-boys patriarchal take on the world, they were not unusual for the time. Fast forward to the 21st century, June 2001 to be precise, when as a single mother with an 18-month-old son, I joined a female led-agency as an account manager on a maternity cover contract (yes you guessed it – that would be jellybean).
I was only supposed to be here for a year tops covering a colleague’s maternity leave, but nearly twenty years later here I am. So why is that? Well, from the day I joined there was no question of a glass ceiling. jellybean is and always has been a meritocracy, where if you work hard and do well you can go anywhere. I am living proof of this, as now I sit on the leadership team as MD. Indeed, having been here for so long I sometimes have to remind myself that jellybean isn’t the norm. Most agencies aren’t set up by a woman and don’t have a female dominated team (currently 19 out of 24). Indeed, it’s fair to say some women struggle even to be heard (quite literally in the case of a friend of mine who was mentored to talk in a lower voice when addressing the C-suite) and don’t get the recognition, reward, or career progression they deserve, a fact highlighted by today’s news stories around the pension gap.
Without getting all Instagram inspirational quotes typed over a sunset, I do believe that when women support women, in what (outside of jellybean) can still be a male dominated world, we can do amazing things. Motherhood is often seen as one of the main reasons why women don’t reach their professional potential, but motherhood teaches multi-tasking, patience, prioritization, negotiation, and many more crucial skills which can be transferred to the workplace. Juggling a family doesn’t have to hold you back, with the right support network it can drive you forward. Whilst when it comes to women in positions of power, I would hope that the old adage ‘Its nice to be important, but more important to be nice’ holds true and that woman can continue to support others coming up the ladder.
Of course, I wouldn’t want you to think we don’t value the whole bean team, including our fabulous contingent of men, who have bravely chosen to work with so many women. The message of feminism is that women should be treated the same as men and although this isn’t necessarily the case in all walks of life, I am proud to say it is at jellybean. Of course, the last word must go to Fiona, the founder of jellybean, and initiator of true girl power, well before the Spice Girls coined it! Without her setting up jellybean 34 years ago who knows where my career might or might not have taken me and the same can be said for many others.