It’s International Women’s Day and we. are. PUMPED! To celebrate, we’re interviewing Julia Margo, Cofounder and COO of Hot Octopuss, the leading brand in sex tech. Julia shares her wisdom about the process of becoming empowered as a woman in the workplace.
To me, it means feeling able to be yourself and own that in the workplace. I have worked in a lot of masculine environments, where I was the only woman in the room, the only woman at the senior table, or the youngest woman there. Possibly because this was the case from extremely early in my career (I worked as a political aide to several politicians and then landed a job as a junior reporter at the Sunday Times when I was only 21), this has never made me feel ‘less than’. Rather I always believed that I was bringing different and no less valuable insight and skills to the table. The key? Not allowing yourself to be sucked into the dominant culture.
I remember a particular occasion at The Sunday Times, when my section editor got sick with the flu and the deputy editor was on vacation. As the number three on the desk, I got to edit my section on my own for two weeks. It was an amazing opportunity and I received great support from the then editor of the paper and others. At the back end of the second week, an older woman editor pulled me aside. She gestured to my clothes and told me I’d never get taken seriously if I wore crop tops to the office. I just wanted to laugh. As a 23-year-old I had just edited the comment and analysis section of a major national newspaper. I felt like I was being taken seriously enough! I never really changed the way I dressed – it’s part of my identity.
I have since mentored a lot of younger women and I always remind them that their real power comes when they stop trying to act up to be like everyone else and focus on the unique things they can bring. I know that I work in a certain way and there are some things I am simply not good at. Instead, I focus on where I know I add value and never apologise for the things I can’t do.
When I was 29, I was working at a political think tank as the head of research. Unexpectedly, another prominent UK think tank approached me about joining as their deputy CEO. I went to meet the Chair and CEO, quite nervous, as I was by then 7 months pregnant with my first child! We met at the Arts Club in London and when they saw me their mouths dropped open. However, it was clear that we would be a good match and amazingly they offered me the role with only six weeks to go till my due date. That was an extremely validating moment for me, and the organisation impressed me with how progressive it was. I worked there for three years, eventually as the acting CEO.
It can feel to balance working and parenting, but it is important not to apologise for it. If you need to move meetings because of childcare responsibilities or there are certain things you can’t do, that is the same for all working mums. The more we apologise for this stuff and feel awkward about it, the more everyone else perceives these events as inconveniences that can be avoided. No apologies!
Remember the younger women beneath you – do what you can while in the role to ease their passage. Make the organisational changes yourself.