Am I Guilty of Not ‘Leaning In’, Just When Society Needed Me to Go the Extra Mile?

lean-inI have spent the past seven years in London working my way onto one of the most established women’s magazines in the country, Grazia magazine. But after less than a year, I quit my job and headed back to the North East… jobless.

When the idea of leaving was just that, an idea, I began to notice article upon article detailing the decisions of thirty-something women who had packed it all in and hot footed it out of the Big Smoke.

When I read that, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 58,220 people between the ages of 30 and 39 left London in 2013 (the highest number on record ) I felt like, at 28 years old, I was in good company.

My love for the city and the deep rooted idea that ‘the best jobs are in London’ kept me within walking distance to Zone 1. Until now.

Critically aware of the fact I was still in my student overdraft (gulp), had no savings and was paying over £1,200 per month to rent a drafty, ex-council flat – I knew that at some point I would have to make a change in lifestyle.

Would I move out to the leafy suburbs of Surrey and commute into London in a bid to ‘have it all’? Or would I head back to the North East where a cheaper, calmer life surrounded by my family awaited?

I chose the latter. I left London at Christmas and decided to pursue a life in the North East with the same resilient and unwavering attitude I possessed in 2008 when, just one day after I graduated from university, I turned up in London… jobless. (See, there’s a theme here.)

Yup, the recession was upon us but I was fearless, hungry and felt like the third wave of feminism was propelling me forward. Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ mantra hadn’t been put out to market but the ideology was still there. If I was going to stand a chance in the media industry then I would need to give it my all. I didn’t have a job and I knew just two people when I arrived but I temped, volunteered and worked my way into some of the most recognised media companies in the UK. But undeniably, it came at a cost.

I would never make the big bucks it would take to enable me to see my family as much as I wanted. I wouldn’t be able to own my own home unless I was willing to commute three hours a day, which when nights in the office often finished post 10pm, wasn’t an option.

That sucks. But it was the desire for a better work/life balance that gave me the final push.

My weekly life was eating dinner at 10pm, having to pay for a weekly taxi so I could make netball matches in time and weekend spent travelling around the country to visit family, friends and ex- Londoners who had relocated for the very same reasons. The majority of the time I was exhausted and skint.

It seemed every morning as I gulped down extra strong coffee on the number 38, I was reading about how the 30-somethings were leaving London and the urgency to move home and start a life before I became too invested in London grew.

I managed to convince myself (and my fiancée) that this was the best move but there’s still a niggling, guilty, Sheryl Sandberg-shaped hole that keeps creeping in. I met Sheryl once. Like the true fangirl I am, I got her to sign my notebook. She wrote the words ‘lean in’ and I was thrilled. Now it’s haunting me.

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Sheryl Sandberg and Caitlin Moran’s words of wisdom now give me a twinge of guilt [Instagram]

Have I made a brave life decision that matches my valiant arrival to London at 21 or am I guilty of not leaning in, just when society needed me to go that extra mile?

I feel proud to have made it in a city so far away from home, in an industry that is going through difficult times but as a woman on the brink of taking on a ‘senior’ role I worry that I’ve given up at the crucial moment, the moment that would go a small way in addressing the fact that women make up just one third of senior management positions in the UK.

Fortunately, there’s another fire burning that makes me secure in my decision. Why can’t I have what I want? If the same opportunities aren’t in the North East then I can create them. If I need to start at the bottom, then so be it. I’ve got a two-year head start on the thirty-somethings, right?

First published on The Huffington Post.

Why Is Regional Prejudice Still A Thing?

cheryl-fernandez-versini_1060x644I’m delivering a presentation at work and 2 minutes in, a colleague randomly shouts, ‘why aye man!’ across the boardroom table.  Everyone laughs.

As bizarre as this scenario sounds it wasn’t the first (or last) time it’s happened. As a person with a regional accent, I regularly come across a strange grey area of prejudice that creeps into my day-to-day London life and I’m certainly not alone.

A lecturer at Sheffield University has spoken out this week about the prejudice she faces due to her regional accent. When describing her experience of women working in academia, Dr Katie Edwards said ‘we can’t be taken seriously and have working class regional accents at the same time’.  I can totally relate.

When I first moved away from the North East of England, I didn’t even consider people would be bothered by my Geordie twang.

Fast forward 5 years in London and I’m working at an advertising agency where I have to grit my teeth as a company pitches the idea of using ‘the Geordies in a call centre’ to explain something complex to customers because ‘if they can understand it, anyone can’. In the same year, I would be called a ‘Pit Yaker’ and quizzed on what my grandparents ate. No, seriously (and when I gave my answer the response was ‘oh, coal mining food?’)

It’s worth noting that the majority of people who said these things weren’t looking to make me feel upset or embarrassed. In fact, they seemed to think I would find it amusing – that it’s just something everyone LOLs about over the dinner table.

The truth is that when people ridicule those with regional accents, I don’t think it’s simply because they sound a bit funny.

Fundamentally, the punch line is almost always poking fun at working class backgrounds, implying a lack of sophistication and suggesting we are of inferior intelligence. So, although I can of course take a joke, when this happens regularly and often in a professional context, yes, I am offended.

When I ever have (awkwardly) told them how hurtful their comments can be, they’re usually shocked – both by their own inconsiderateness and the fact that their normally friendly Geordie pal is now positively seething.

It’s still hard to challenge them – I long for the day I can just respond by saying ‘Well that was rude. You dick’  But, I doubt I’ll ever get there. Maybe that’s just the friendly Geordie in me.

First published on Grazia Daily.

Inside The Inspiring Women In Fashion Event With Miriam González

Today, I joined a room full of fashion influencers at a school in South London as part of charity Education and EmployersInspiring Women campaign.

Chaired by Miriam González, Partner, Dechert LLP and Alexandra Schulma, Editor of Vogue, the event brought together over 20 talented women from all aspects of the fashion industry, together with school girls aged between 11-17 years old for a morning of career speed mentoring.

Opening the event Miriam Gonzalez confessed to feeling nervous about meeting the team of fashionistas who included model Daisy Lowe and Caroline Rush, the CEO of the British Fashion Council.

“What unites them” she said “is not just that they are all stylish women but that they’ve worked really hard to become one of the best in their careers”

Once the mentors had been introduced a bell signaled the start of the speed mentoring which saw each influencer share their career advice with the young women.

Obviously, I couldn’t resist a selfie with Miriam Gonzalez!

I joined in with Daisy Lowe who told the girls “I’m not just a model I act, cook, design and DJ. I like to keep myself creatively engaged as, as a model you often represent someone else’s creative vision.”

All of the women involved in the event have pledged to volunteer one hour a year to similar gatherings, talks and sessions to support young women in their local schools.

Fancy getting involved in the Inspiring Women campaign? From ‘first jobbers’ to experienced CEOs, across all jobs and professions Education and Empolyers is aiming to sign up 15,000 volunteers to pledge just one hour year to talk with kids about their job/career in a local school. You can register online here.

Hang On, Does EVERYONE Have Two Sets Of Bed Linen?

UntitledI just got engaged and I feel SO grown up. Flicking through a bridal magazine (that also doubles up as a 1950’s ‘how to be a good wife’ guide) I can’t believe just how much of an adult I really am.

I’m aware that a few weeks shy of my 28th birthday I probably should have transitioned into feeling like a grown up a few years ago – that way I wouldn’t have to cringe when people point out that I’m tottering along the edge of my fertility peak.

Whatever, I’m still SO young. I’ve really got the balance right, I tell myself.

This week, whilst enjoying a couple of days off I set about actually cleaning my flat after a month of rejection in favour of working. I even polished.

After another tireless day of tidying I was getting ready for bed.

My fiancé yelped from the bedroom. ‘You know when we’re married, we’re going to have to grow up!’

HARK! What is this nonsense?

I appear from the bathroom in my University netball jumper that I’m wearing for bed (want a North London flat in Zone 1 that doesn’t mean you have to turn tricks to afford the rent? You must accept windows that don’t close properly. Brrr!)

‘How are we not grown up?’ I ask peering at my beloved currently lying on a linen-less duvet with the spare duvet wrapped around him. ‘We can’t go through life with one set of bed linen. At least not when we eventually live near family or friends that pop round unexpectedly’

‘Oh, yeah’ I say glancing at the bed linen limply drying on a clotheshorse I’ve had, again, since university. (There isn’t any outdoor space and the breeze from the gappy windows keeps them smelling FRESH)

As I return to the bathroom contemplating whether it’s worth buying another linen set, I notice that I still have towels from 5 years ago (they’re from frigging John Lewis and they kind of double up as a nice exfoliator)

After a moment of panic that I’m not as grown up as I think, I soothe myself in the fact that, as usual, my best pals from University will be in the same boat. I consult WhatsApp and ask; does everyone have 2 sets of bed linen? A unanimous ‘um, yes you scrubber’ is the reply. Then it hits me…

Out of the 5 of us in the WhatsApp group 4 have houses WITH gardens. 2 have children and/or are pregnant. 1 is renovating the house she owns and I’m the only one living in London with my scabby towels and only one set of bed linen. The conversation takes on new life as they recommend Dunelm and tell me to invest.

‘BUT I’M TOO YOUNG TO WORRY ABOUT THAT KINDA SHITE’ I plead.

I can’t read the rest. I’m looking at my life in a new light. I basically live in a student flat. But it’s just me and my fiancé and I only have two pans. There are 3 stripes of paint on the wall from when we first moved in and then decided we weren’t adding value to someone else’s property. We only really own a TV and a picture of Beyoncé that hangs over the random mark on the wall!?

But we have loads of books? Like LOADS. And the fish shower curtain. Yes, the shower curtain. We’ll always have that.

Just as the sight of my fish shower curtain with matching nautical boat bathroom accessories begins to calm me, I look back at my phone, which has a stern message for me. ‘Holly!’ it reads ‘you can still be young and have a spare duvet set that doesn’t scratch you when you roll over.’

I get into bed (well on to the everyday duvet minus linen and under the ‘guest’ duvet that doesn’t cover our toes)

‘What’s up?’ Asks fiancé. I note that he’s wearing his University cricket tracksuit bottoms and it makes me smile.

But then I get serious.

‘Look, I think we need tell people we want vouchers for an engagement present.’

‘Ok. For where?‘

‘Dunelm’ I say pulling up the hood on my hoody.

 

Reasons To Love And Hate London

giphyI came to London with a few suitcases, a purse full of cash and an internship at a magazine. I had no place to live, no family nearby and all but two friends in the city. The silver lining in all this came in the form of the Boots points I had accrued meaning I could treat myself to a yoghurt for breakfast every day of that internship. Good times.

The first month of my stay in the Big Smoke saw me frantically pound the pavement looking for a home and a job that paid more than expenses. I suffered at the hands of many a Gumtree scam, I slept in hotels* and made friends with owners of every internet cafe in town.

*Rooms in Kings Cross with mattresses and a kettle.

Despite my relentless enthusiasm for the FACT I was going to be a London resident and work at some fabulous media establishment – I ended up temping for the NHS in a darkened room booking appointments for cancer patients.

Yet, even though I’m actually of average intelligence and could see that moving to London in a recession was not the wisest choice – I was always hungry for more.

Eventually, I managed to worm and squeeze my way into the jobs I really wanted by developing a thick skin and an odd appreciation for enforced recruitment freezes. Not being able to hire someone above me meant that I could work two jobs and show how mint I really was. And before you know it, I was buying my food shop at Sainsbury’s and living in N1. I MADE IT!

Now however, I’m nearing my 28th birthday and everyone I know – who shared the same appetite for London living – is either throwing in the towel or moaning about how truly awful it is.

This got me thinking – drum roll for the Carrie Bradshaw style question- does life in London, when you’re not actually from London, have an expiration date? And if it does, what happens when you choose to stay and continue to live your life with a face full of blackheads and an irrational abhorrence for slow walkers?

Dear friends, I do not have the answer I’m afraid because every moan and whinge is justified. But with every negative characteristic mother London has, she possesses a truly fantabolous one too. In order to suppress my guilt at joining the other London haters, I bring to you just that. A grim reality of London life coupled with a positive one …

  • You will, at some point, sob uncontrollably on the tube and no one will even look up.
  • You can be, wear and do whatever the hell you like and no one can be arsed enough to judge you. They won’t even look at you out of fear of being impolite.
  • You will never come out of your overdraft unless you work in the business district. Every line of your bank statement will either be; a £12 after-work cocktail, an £8 Pret lunch or a taxi fare.
  • If you are savvy and brave enough you can get public transport EVERYWHERE. No car tax or parking for you, oh no!
  • You witness humanity at its worse on the Northern line come Monday morning. Before 8am, the well-to-do yuppies below the river lose their shit and will elbow, face push or actually step on you just to meet their morning target of nestling inside an armpit on their 20 minute journey to work.
  • You make friends with so many different people that the restaurant table on your birthday gives the impression you enforced an equal opportunity quota upon recruiting your pals.
  • At some point you will pay £15 for one ticket to the cinema.
  • You will see celebrities. IN THE FLESH. Ones that you know will impress. You know those friends you have on Facebook but haven’t spoken to since primary school? Them. They will be SO proud of you.
  • You will get heart palpitations from too much coffee.
  • You can be an absolute freak of nature but I guarantee you, your people are here.
  • You will be offered drugs and touched, without invitation, by one of the following; someone that should be in bed before the watershed, a work colleague or a bouncer.
  • You will blag yourself into somewhere so FAB you can ride off re-telling the story for life.
  • You will develop a hatred for cyclists, cars or bus drivers.
  • A bus comes every minute. Do not forget what a joy that really is.
  • You will spend 70% of your salary on rent.
  • You can be a selective tourist. Some days you’re a Landaner others you just go all out and step inside the map.
  • From Boxing Day onwards, if you visit Oxford Street you will be faced with more heat, pollution and evilness than is normally reserved for the depths of hell.
  • London is cool. And you know it.