Ladies, Wine and Design is the brainchild of Jessica Walsh, and has grown into a worldwide movement. The ladies in question believe in the creative power of women and the need for equality in the tech and design industry, and want to see that reflected in the real world through mentorships and championing others’ work.
In August, Novoda helped host a Ladies, Wine and Design Newbies event, where first timers could be part of a LWD event in a more informal and small-scale environment than one of their major events. That night there were 10 new ladies joining us, and it proved to be a fantastic opportunity to talk life, kids and career, while also giving us all time to indulge in some cheese and wine - what’s not to love!
Inspired by the evening, three Novodans have taken the opportunity to share their own experiences as women working in the tech industry, answering questions they’re often posed in the quest to find work/life balance and reach their full professional potential.
When one of the ladies raised this question "Who in the room has kids?" there was silence. In this case, it was largely because we had a big younger generation in attendance, but it's not the first time that this happen, and I find that talking about babies and family life doesn't come easy in a professional and working environment.
Every time I go to meetups, conferences or simple pub chats with fellow coworkers, the same question always pops up: "How can I build a family without sacrificing my career?". And truth be told, after having a baby and building a family, I still ask myself that same question.
Recently, I've been taking some time thinking about how best to do everything you're expected to professionally, while also growing your personal life at the same time. Of course, everyone is different and every experience is different, but I think it boils down to the fact that it’s not just about you personally - it is about the community that surrounds you, it's about your parents and friends and colleagues and neighbours. In essence, everyone is in it together!
Being a parent is hard work, and you need a network around you. To be able to rely on the support of the company you work in, your friends and family, and everyone that you interact with you on a daily basis, is incredibly useful. As long as the understanding is there, everything else falls into place.
All the attendees of Ladies, Wine & Design Newbies exchanged glances, desperately hoping that someone had solved that enigma. Clearly, all of us, at some point in their careers, had struggled with their identity as a designer.
It’s unsurprising that this is an issue, given the ever-changing job roles that seem to be different from company to company. Similar job titles, such as UX designer / Product Designer can mean different responsibilities, and this is increasingly common in technology. For example, a Head of Design in a bootstrapped startup can be a completely different role at a multinational tech giant.
Traditionally, seniority is judged on the number of years experience in the field, which is measured against a linear narrative. This tends to begin after graduation, leading on to internships, then an entry level job as a junior, then becoming a middleweight a few years later, eventually ending up at a senior positions after 5+ years.
The inspiring aspect of working professionally as a creative is that, realistically, there is adventure and complexity in the journeys we take. It’s not always necessary to have a formal education, and a change of career is common in the creative fields. So, how can we navigate this within our workplace, and what is the best approach to this when looking for a new role?
In ‘Lean In’ Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, describes her career as a jungle gym instead of a ladder. She reflects that “I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today." In other words, we are only able to understand how we got there, once we’ve reached our destination. So how can we ever navigate our career, without the directions or even a map?
Whether this has been caused by a lack of direction in the workplace, or being a lone / freelance designer, eventually we all find stability in the traditional job titles. However, with the ever-changing labels, it's no wonder we can feel lost.
As we sat in our circle, bouncing our stories off each other, the group became a compass. The diversity of skills in the room, gave us a moment to reflect on our own experiences. By comparing how others sell their work, and the skills they bring as an employee, it helped us all to have an understanding of our own value.
Unfortunately, there will never be a right answer to “How do I know if I am a middleweight or senior designer?”. Ideally, your workplace should be able to support you in your personal growth, and it is advisable to find a role somewhere that encourages growth and progression. Following our discussions it become clear that alongside your everyday work, you should make sure you also find your tribe. For us, our tribe was a group of like-minded ladies, of varying years of experience, who were willing to be open and honest. These conversations are a type of mentorship, and who knows - by attending events such as Ladies, Wine and Design, you could be sitting next to the next Sheryl Sandberg!
When the ladies brought up this topic, I was reminded of when I started my career as an unpaid intern 7 years ago, and I still remember the struggle it was. On the one hand, I appreciated opportunities to work with other professionals and be mentored by senior designers. On the other hand, I needed income to pay bills and I didn’t see my value being reflected in return.
“Your goal may be to get a job, but your first task is to crack open the door.” said Dick Powell, chairman of design charity of D&AD. As one of the many fresh graduates desperate for work opportunities, it’s easy to feel depressed and question your own value if you’re offered an unpaid internship. However, unpaid experience can be invaluable, because the real industry is so different from what we learn in university. It’s immensely valuable to observe how to manage projects, communicate with clients and have a deeper understanding of markets from those that have done it before. Being part of a reputable company, collaborative team and inspirational projects can be more important than money.
However, realistically, working unpaid is not sustainable for the long term. Try to turn the unpaid internship into a job with your impressive performance and ability to learn and grow, don’t be afraid to speak to your manager about whether there is an open role, and ask for referral letters and recommendations if there isn’t.
Consider unpaid internship as self investment, helping you towards a rewarding job and adding high-quality works to your portfolio. Most importantly, always be faithful and never lose your passion for design - when you’re offered a job, whether it’s paid or unpaid, consider carefully whether this will fuel that passion.
Thank you to LWD for providing a platform for us to talk and share experiences.
If you want to be part of the conversation go to Ladies, Wine and Design Facebook page
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