Author, entrepreneur and Women Who founder Otegha Uwagba is kick-starting a new conversation around work and the unavoidable facet of the Black female experience
This interview was originally published in 2018.
‘Being a woman in the workplace is inherently different to being a man and it is necessary for the world to reflect that,’ says 27-year-old Otegha Uwagba, founder of Women Who, a platform that connects and supports creative working women through its website, events and podcast. ‘It is important for women to have a place to share resources, experiences and ideas. The question is, how can we overcome obstacles together and learn from others?’ After leaving a career in advertising, Otegha Uwagba wrote Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women, a career guide that became a Sunday Times bestseller.
And next month, Uwagba is set to explore interracial dynamics. Moved by this era-defining moment of history – that is, George Floyd’s brutal murder and the scrutiny of institutional racism that followed after, Uwagba’s latest book, Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods, is a powerful personal essay that reflects on racism, whiteness and the mental labour required of Black people to navigate the two. Here, she shares her career lessons…
‘Use your experiences and character traits as an asset’
I’m good with people − I’m not afraid to go to events where I don’t know anyone and strike up conversations. Some people find networking difficult though, so at Women Who we run panel discussions, workshops and events to support women who need it. Face-to-face interaction is vital in the digital age.
‘Networking means being interested in other people’
Networking with a capital ‘N’ sounds intimidating but really it’s just about being curious and interested in other people. We need to change the mindset around networking − it’s not all about what you might get out of a situation, it’s a chance to learn from other people and make friends.
Behaviour that is deemed acceptable when men display it is often not looked on as favourably for women. But that’s no reason not to use traits such as negotiation skills, self-promotion and assertiveness. Every experience − good or bad − is an opportunity to learn. The years I spent working in advertising gave me a real leg up. It helped me to understand branding and how to communicate with an audience − even creative industries still need to be run like a business. Being exposed to the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals helped me to harness the skills I use today.
‘Prepare for rejection’
Not everyone’s going to cheer for you, so be prepared for rejection and learn how to move past it. That’s the best advice my mum ever gave me. Even the most successful people in the world get rejected. Stay focused.
‘Change course when things don’t go to plan.
I was playing this game with a friend recently, talking about all the jobs we had interviewed for but didn’t get. I was rejected for a role straight out of university and was devastated at the time. I got through to the final 75 of a big graduate scheme but I ballsed up the interview. A friend landed a place on the same scheme and now has a great career, but making a direct comparison today, I know it wouldn’t have been right for me. Things turned out fine in the end.
‘Know your brand’
Building a personal brand is important and something anyone can do. I think it’s a question of really paying attention to how you are perceived and the messages you give out. Also, look at your presentation of your social-media accounts, personal website and LinkedIn. Try to evaluate yourself from somebody else’s perspective; what would they find if they were Googling you?
‘When making big career decisions, ensure you’re doing it for the right reasons, not because it’s what other people are doing. Think about what makes you happy − a pay rise, being creative, working on interesting projects. There’s a temptation to think that self-employment is the way forward because entrepreneurism is timely. It works for me, but not everyone enjoys it − your choices need to come from within.’
*’Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods’ by Otegha Uwagba, is available to buy from 12th November 2020*