Cindy Gallop XX Files: A reminder to I am Nots that you did not...
And today I have reached that last straw of having people grill me, as if they've already decided I won't cut it. Because I'm not this or that.
I'm not technical. Not data-driven or a data scientist yet. Not an MBA. Not a designer. I have no design-thinking qualification. I'm not an alpha female. I don't do product. I'm not an engineer. I'm not an analyst since I don't do quant, only qual. I haven't led teams. I haven't run a (failed or successful) startup or worked at incubators, accelerators.
The list is endless.
And this has been delivered to me like 24/7 McDs in the last months:
- By VCs and partners, who have a failed startup, worked for a tech company that never got anywhere, and also have no analytical background. But that's 'relevant experience', and mine isn't.
- By corporates who have never had to be independent, entrepreneurial or resourceful, and travelled business class, and only stayed in five-star accommodation.
- By male interviewers, who see me as not analytical and alpha enough and too fluffy with 'just' consumer and human behaviour insights.
- By 20-something year-olds with significantly less world experience.
- By 30-somethings, who till this role mainly worked in the same safe places, getting the same safe degrees from top universities.
Well, here is my response for every single 'I am NOT'.
Here is what I AM, and YOU are NOT, with the luxury to never have to be in your lives:
You are all men. Sorry to bring up gender here, but it means that you have not been the only female junior copywriter, who used to get in before an ECD did every morning, and leave after him at night (8am-1ams), for six months of probation.
You did not ever have to hustle your creative ad portfolio and get it physically thrown in a bin, by the best team at Mother London way back then – and a pair of chauvinistic creatives. There were ZERO WOMEN copywriters when I went to Mother, with my wonderful male art partner. But we tried anyway - because it was the best agency in town and I was ambitious and wanted only the best critiquing our work.
You did not, after two eye surgeries, miss so much college, that you were offered an extension, and still refused to take it. And instead, on heavy antibiotics, and a weak painful eye, go back to Ad school and work overtime, in order to graduate and get into the job market, at the same time as everyone else.
You did not for an entire year put up with a male ECD you couldn't stand, because career-wise, you were at the best agency in town. You did not get bullied and broken down daily, hearing things like: How much you sucked and couldn't write copy to save your life. Or get asked how you even graduated with an English degree and told that you can't just be a pretty face, you have to be able to write. My response at the time? I just stayed. I rewrote everything he asked, as many times as I was asked. I cried at home, not at work. And I uniformly wore jeans, flip-flops, t-shirts and even baseball caps, like every guy in the creative department, forcing him to shut up on that one front.
You did not move to Beijing, on a higher salary to fully support yourself and your mum financially. Two homes in two countries, not one. And you were not forced to leave partly because your agency in (Singapore) SG wouldn't raise your salary AT ALL, while they continued to pay the young male video editing intern more than you and a foreign male copywriter with the SAME experience as you, TWICE what you made.
You did not move to China as a single, female copywriter and get a new sexist male boss there too. One who would tell you that, hey, maybe the reason you can't write good gaming copy (like the male creative team), is because you're a girl. And then you didn't also have the equally sexist creative guys in the US, balk at the idea of a girl correcting the way the specs are written for a laptop brand you worked on (because I can't use a laptop?!).
You did not move to Beijing as an Indian woman amongst white expats and deal with xenophobic racism, from cabs not picking you up, to being spoken to with sarcasm and rudeness. I not only refused to throw in the towel - swallowing all of it - I stayed for my career and genuinely made sure I got to know and love Beijing and then Shanghai too, like a local.
You did not get a parasite in China and throw up every meal. I did. Every day. For three months. No one knew what was wrong and I was in and out of clinics. I lost all my weight in a city with -20 degree winters. Yet, I went to work everyday still and did my job. And during that time, we sold a US$1m dollar campaign and got Tony Kaye (American History X), to sign on as our director. He CHOSE our ad project, over a film.
You did not take a huge career risk and give up a seven-year solid creative career and start afresh in a market research role and be the ONLY one with zero research degree or experience and have the steepest learning curve at the company. And do it because you truly wanted to understand China, instead of pretend to, like every other Laowai, leaving the country after one year.
You were not the ONLY foreign and non-Chinese origin hire (apart from your bosses) that then spent three weeks of every month travelling to every tier city in China. Where you would sit in cramped corners and unheated homes, listening to Mandarin for the entire day (more than English) and doing research for the biggest brands in the world, trying to understand the Chinese consumer.
You did not have to sit in neutrality and fight back tears and take notes while mums cried in front of you over food safety worries affecting their one-and-only baby. Have young 16-year olds worry if they'll make it in China. If they'll ever travel, ever have money to marry, and care for their broke, ageing parents, who spent everything they owned on their education.
You did not have women tell you the only secret that they would tell a foreigner over someone Chinese; that they have a second child (China had a strict 1-child policy). And then ask you if you thought they were a terrible mum - because their child doesn't exist and has no formal documents and rights. And you'd have no right by contract to answer, advise or help these suffering women. And you'd move to the next ethnography like nothing happened, and with a fresh smile on your face.
You did not, after all that, have to still deal with your Chinese female colleagues throwing you under the bus and blaming you for things, to save their own arse. One of these finally led to you being fired and replaced by locals.
You did not from illness, workplace bias and an expiring work permit, finally just give in and leave China only to move back to SG and start all over again. You weren't the one or two-person show and sole head of APAC in two different companies setting up here. Or have to be business development, strategy, PR, keynote speaker, and consultant, in one person. (Yeah, sure, I don't know what it's like to be entrepreneurial or startup. No point of reference...)
And last I checked, you did not try out for SXSW twice and get in both times, nor speak at two TEDxs, or get to go to a TED Summit.
Lessons to learn
So how about this: Don't naively assume and mistake my appearance, femininity, sensitivity, warmth and empathy, for being any less resilient, hard-working, capable, impactful or accomplished than you.
And don't tell me 'it's a tough industry' you are in - as if I don't know what tough is.
I am far more resilient, capable, adaptive and 'impactful' - I fought twice as hard for it all, than you've ever had to, or ever will have to.
It takes a lot more character to continue to be as loving and generous a person as possible, and yet still be resilient. As opposed to becoming a woman who behaves like a stoic man, to make it.
So please, do stay indoors and enjoy your MBAs and machine- learning algos and your 'I am not's.
Because while you're using them to understand your very human data points. I have from Day one, been out in the real world, living and taking life's risks alongside them.
Which, I'd like to point out, you have NOT!
Tara Hirebet is an Asian Consumer Intelligence & Analysis, Emerging Market Strategies, Asian Megacities - The Asian Word (Think Tank, Consultancy)
Hirebet's story was published as part of a new semi regular opinion series - The Cindy Gallop XX Files - following her communications with Cindy Gallop to share her tale. If you have a story you wish to share with Cindy then email her firstname.lastname@example.org and discuss it with her personally.