Factory settings

Factory Settings: Quietening imposter syndrome and taking the rein of your digital media career

By Simi Gill, Digital Account Director, as originally featured in New Digital Age.

Welcome to Factory Settings, a content series from some of the women in digital at The Kite Factory.

This series aims to myth-bust misconceptions about the digital industry by showcasing the journey and talent of some of our fantastic women in digital. You’ll hear from women with a wide range of experiences and career paths – from Mohini Lakhani (Senior Digital Account Manager), who quickly made the switch from a career in neuroscience to Digital Marketing when she realised the lab life wasn’t for her; to Maria Tudor (Planner Buyer), who studied a masters in digital marketing and has tried her hand at PR and comms before settling on paid planning and buying.

They’ll share their perspectives on some of the most important things they have learned in their careers.

Recently, as I sat in a waiting room a woman struck up conversation with me, which led her to ask the age-old question “so what is it that you do?”. After I explained as best I could what working in the Media industry and specialising in Digital as an Account Director is, she gave me a blank look and said, “well that all sounds very technical and advanced, for someone who looks so young!”. Whilst my ego was happy to be told I look young (having just turned 29 and trying to hold onto my youth…!), I remembered a feeling that has visited me many times during my near eight-year career in the industry of ‘I don’t look or feel good enough for this role.’

As Account Manager Naomi touched on in her article, imposter syndrome is a very real thing that many people experience during their careers (YouGov reports that most Britons display at least three out of seven signs of it), however it is certainly a more heightened phenomenon amongst women (affecting two-thirds of women in the UK), and even higher amongst women of colour – both of which I am. I remember in particular starting my job at The Kite Factory and feeling exactly that ‘am I good enough’ feeling – I’d left my safety blanket which was the huge network agency that I joined post-university on a graduate scheme, to take on a role at the time that was a big jump and change for me. I spent the first few weeks of my time at The Kite Factory doubting myself hugely and feeling like I should of ‘stuck to what I know’, but I decided to push past these self-doubts and haven’t looked back since.

So far in this series, we have explored many reasons why women should push past the misconception that Digital Media is a daunting, overly technical, male-dominated industry and should stop self-excluding from seeking careers here, so I’m going to focus on what to do when you’re in it to help manage those feelings that may still creep up from time to time. These five tips are all things that I have done over the past few years that, to answer Jodie’s question for me, have helped me to further succeed within this industry and are things that I will continue to do.

1.           Sit down and map out your career path goals

It is so important to be aware of what your own personal expectations are, as opposed to just what is set for you. By visualising and mapping out where you want to be in the next few stages of your career, you can use this a reference point to check that you’re aligning with what feels true to you and not just being swayed in the direction a company may want you to go. To note, this doesn’t just mean ‘I need this promotion by this date’, it is about what skills you want to develop or new channels you want to advance your understanding in, that all contribute to efficiently supporting you in the roles you’ve mapped out. This can of course (and likely will) change along the way – you might decide that your interests have changed and you want to go in a completely different direction. But that’s the purpose of it, it’s like a self-check-in outside of any formalities or progression matrix’s you might have set for you by your manager.

2.           Don’t be afraid to have these conversations with your line manager

The relationship you build with your direct line manager is absolutely key to building a successful career. Whilst a line manager doesn’t and shouldn’t play the role of a mentor, you should still be able to approach them with any broader non-day-to-day work concerns you may have or topics you want to discuss in your regular one-to-ones. It is important that your manager is aware of your broader career goals so that they can shape the work they give you around these to help you get to where you want to be. And if this isn’t something you’re organically getting with your manager, don’t be afraid to ask for it. If your manager remains unable to facilitate a comfortable environment to provide this, are they the right manager (or is it even the right company) for you?

3.           Create your own objectives, don’t just receive them

Objectives are a set list of goals that you’ll refer to during official work reviews whereby your progress is assessed against them, and linking to the above, having a strong relationship with your manager allows you to work with them when it comes to creating these. Your objectives are designed with your progress in mind, so it makes sense to be able to influence these and ensure they are tailored to the direction you want to go.

If you’re not sure where to start with building your own objectives, scale it back to what you’re currently good at and what you feel you could improve across all aspects of your role (and group these into their overarching themes, i.e., campaign set up, account management, client servicing, strategy and so on) as this will help you identify the immediate areas of focus. For the longer-term, broader objectives, it’s useful to speak to someone who has been in or is currently in the position you’re aiming for. Perhaps they can share their objectives from when they were at your stage, or just offer general guidance on what skills were most needed to get there.

4.           Find a mentor outside of your company

Whilst I encourage taking part in any mentoring schemes within your direct organisation, it’s also very useful to find one who doesn’t work with you but instead is within the wider Media industry and can bring with them a wealth of experience that will be different to yours. As Senior Account Manager Mohini spoke about in her article, networking is key and there are plenty of independent organisations within Media that offer mentoring programmes. I’ve found this is helpful to have someone who can look at things objectively with me, having no influence from shared day-to-day client or company work.

For example, an external mentor can help guide you on points 1 – 3, and can give you the space to bounce ideas and thoughts off with someone in a dedicated, safe space and time (with no fear of ‘getting things wrong’). As a mentee it is important that you lead the sessions and shape them into what you think will be useful for you, so go into it with some clear agenda points in mind – this could cover a range of non-specific work topics such as work-life balance, personal confidence, communication or management skills and so on.

5.           Get involved in projects outside of your day-to-day work

New business pitches, one-off consultancy projects, thought pieces, agency events, client workshops… identify what feels right for you and take part to raise both your internal and external profile. This is a great way to develop new skills, take on new challenges and is sometimes just the break you need from regular workloads to avoid feeling burnout.

Projects can also contribute to building your relationships with other people in your company outside of your immediate department, who you may not typically speak to on a daily basis, which is important in aiding your overall progression within an agency. New business pitches, for instance, are a great way to apply your regular day job skills to a completely new brief with a new team, which can even help unlock ideas for your regular clients that you may not have thought of. Or tasking yourself with writing a thought piece will enable you to have a voice, write about something you’re interested in or are passionate about and be seen as the go-to expert on that topic (and make sure you share these on your LinkedIn for wider industry engagement!).

I’ve had two personal standouts over the past year – the first having been part of the Digital panel in our agency ‘New Era of Measurement’ event (discussing all things post-cookie related with a suite of industry experts and clients), and the second was flying all the way to Australia to run three days’ worth of workshops for some of our clients. These both initially felt like huge steps outside of my comfort zone and I will admit that when I was first presented with these projects my instant reaction was a slight panic, but once I got over the initial daunting aspect, I realised they were opportunities to develop skills that I wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to in my day-to-day work.

For instance, with the agency event I first questioned why I was chosen to represent the agency in front of all of these industry experts and clients, but when I prepared my answers for the panel questions, I realised I did actually know what I was talking about and this turned into excitement at being able to be that voice for The Kite Factory. And with the task of going to another country to run workshops, I initially felt overwhelmed at being the sole senior representative from my agency and therefore being the lead in this setting. However, when I took the time to plan each workshop and map out the content needed for each, as well as bouncing ideas off other people in the agency who had more experience in this than me, it all fell into place quite easily and I realised I was in fact very confident in my ability to lead these (and the only fear I was left with was the idea of running the workshops with severe jetlag!).

So, there are my five tips in a nutshell to ensure you’re getting what you want out of your career in Digital Media and that you remember why you are where you are. My main piece of advice is if you do experience feelings of imposter syndrome from time to time, that’s okay, don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. As research shows, imposter syndrome actually makes an individual more empathetic, a strong team-player and it helps to develop great leadership and innovation skills. Looking back at times I have experienced it, I can now see how it only ever appeared at times I was on a new path, that have in the long run developed my career substantially – and I am sure I will come to experience it at times again as my career path continues.

I believe that women should not be afraid to take the reins of their own careers, as too often in the past we have been socialised to sit in the background, to wait and just ‘let it happen’ to us, without influencing the timeline or direction ourselves. We absolutely should have more of say in our own careers – so visualise, put your intent out there, and make a plan of action to achieve!

Next up in the series, we’ll be hearing from the brilliant Maria who is a Digital Planner Buyer. My question for Maria is, “When exactly did you know you wanted to pursue a career in Digital?”