About a year ago, the London-based brand consultant Otegha Uwagba—formerly of creative agency AMVBBDO and Vice Media—decided to strike out on her own. Going freelance required reaching out to friends and colleagues, and the experience made her realize how important her network of women was to her professionally.
This month, she's spinning that informal community into Women Who—a forthcoming digital platform and London-based programming initiative that aims to connect women in the creative industry.
"My focus is also very much on establishing a platform that does more than pay lip service to vague notions of ‘empowerment,' and actually provides working women with the practical resources they need to take control of their careers," she writes in an email. Women Who will be a mix of online content and live events, all with the intention of connecting women and dispensing practical advice.
Uwagba's inaugural project is the Little Black Book, a "toolkit" for women in the creative industry that covers all the usual opportunities for instruction—negotiating for a raise, asserting yourself at work—but does it in a friendly, straightforward, non-pandering way. The design of the book also doesn't hurt: It's sleek and unfussy (and easy to hide if you need to consult in work meetings). "I find there’s an impossibly glossy shine that often gets put on women working in creative jobs, which has led to a slightly ‘pink-ified’ concept of what it is to be a creative working woman," she writes. "I want to get past that Instagram veneer, and take an honest look at the practical day-to-day realities."
Here are a few insights on how to kill it in the creative industry, financially and socially, straight from the pages of Little Black Book.
"Whether it’s down to a fear of being seen as too pushy, wanting to be liked, or a general tendency to undervalue themselves, women are notoriously warier than men when it comes to negotiating salaries," Uwagba writes. Creative work isn't always easy to quantify, but whether you are freelance or a salaried employee, you should be prepared to assign your own value. When gearing up to ask for a raise, she says, "outline ways you've contributed to the organization, presenting tangible achievements," and be prepared to negotiate.
Freelancers also need to review rates regularly. "Have you recently been published in a few prestigious outlets or worked for a well-known brand? Think about whether that affects your value and adjust your rates accordingly. You should be aiming for a steady increase over time."
A big part of getting paid is knowing your worth. But in a work culture that is secretive about rates and salaries, it's hard to know how you stack up against others. Asking others their salary can be weird, so Uwagba advises: "As a starting point, try tactfully asking around amongst industry friends, mentors, and recruiters to make sure you understand what the going rate is for a given job, company, or freelance gig. Be reasonably upfront about your reasons for asking, and always make it easy for the other person to politely avoid the conversation if they’re uncomfortable discussing it. A good way of framing your question is to ask if they’d accept $X salary for a certain position, or to find out what they’d consider a fair figure."
Uwagba dedicates a section of the book to asking for bits of wisdom from successful women. Linsey Young, a curator at Tate Britain, answered that she would advise other working women to "take up space—don’t be apologetic about your ideas and opinions. Men aren’t." Confidence can go a long way.
Uwagba came up with Women Who as a way to connect women in the creative industry—share knowledge, build relationships, and create strength in numbers. That philosophy applies to individuals, too. Especially if you're starting out, reach out to people for advice—even when it's awkward. But also be prepared to pay it forward. "Be known as someone who offers to help as well as asking for things, and make an effort to nurture professional relationships on an ongoing basis—not just when you need something. Not only are people more likely to engage with you if they see your relationship as being mutually beneficial, it’s also just good karma."
Or as Madeleine Albright put it, "There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women."