The Amazingly Simple Little Secret of How to Win in Business… as a Woman.

by Lenora Rand

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Take up space.

That’s it.

Take up space.

And then… take up more space.

See all the space I’m taking up here?

That’s me. Taking up space.

Taking up space even though I don’t really want to take up space.

Because, I was brought up to be a nice, quiet, polite girl.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A sweet girl who gave space to other people.

Because clearly they needed it more.

Because clearly it was my job to take care of their space needs first.

I was taught not to speak in my big, booming, outdoor voice, even when outdoors… because that was too much, too loud, too obnoxious.

I was taught to wait for everyone else to finish speaking before opening my mouth. And even then, not to open my mouth too quickly. Or too wide.

I was taught that it’s important to not make other people feel bad.

And of course, if I take up space, that COULD keep someone else from having as much space and that MIGHT make them feel bad.

And that would be my fault.

It was made very clear to me that silence is GOLDEN. Especially my silence.

Golden.

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

I was even taught to suck in my stomach so that my body didn’t take up too much space.

But here’s the thing.

I went into advertising. A career which involves coming up with ideas and then telling people about your ideas and convincing people of the validity of your ideas and then getting people to help you bring those ideas to life.

In order to do that, in order to keep your job and continue to bring home a paycheck, you have to take up space.

You have to walk into rooms and not sit quietly and not fade into the woodwork.

You have to take a big breath (which might make your stomach pooch out…just sayin…), stand up, and wave your arms around and sometimes speak in funny accents and occasionally even break into song and you have to believe passionately in your idea, like it’s your own dear child, and then, yes, do whatever it takes to sell the heck out of your idea.

This was incredibly painful for me.

Not only am I a “properly” brought up woman. I’m a bit of an introvert.

But, I learned to do it. Not without loads of shame. And post-meeting questioning and regrets: “Did I talk too much? Did I speak too loud? Did I make a fool of myself? Did I seem selfish?”

I did it, anyway.

And guess what?

The world did not come crashing down. Nobody yelled at me. Much. Or that often. I was not sent to jail or hell or to my room.

In fact, I got promotions. I got pay raises. And I started taking up space in bigger and bigger rooms.

But I will admit, it wasn’t easy.

And not just because of the voices I carry around inside me saying I should keep quiet, step aside, not get too big for my britches. There are external forces at play too. Sheryl Sandburg wrote about this in her bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and made it all too clear that gender is still an issue in the workplace, women face real barriers, from being paid less and promoted less frequently, to having to deal with most of the housework and child care when they get home.

That was why, in the ad industry of which I’m a part, in 2012, Kat Gorden started the 3% Movement. When it started, only 3% of all U.S. ad agency Creative Directors were women. And yeah, in a world where women influence more than 80% of consumer spending and 60% of social media sharing, how ridiculous is that? However, through the kind of content and community the 3% Movement offered, Kat’s brainchild has helped raise the number of female CDs to 11% today and has encouraged agencies to think about and find ways to champion female creative talent and leadership — to help us take up the space we need to take up.

The space we deserve to take up.

That’s also one of the reasons my friend Mylene Turek Pollock and I have recently started our own strategic and creative ad agency. Because we believe the world needs more women-led ad agencies.

And yes, trust me, starting my own agency, that seems like

Taking

Up

WAY

WAY

TOO

Much

Space.

Which feels terrifying. And exhilarating.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

And so, so right.

Recently, as I’ve been transitioning into this new entrepreneurial phase of my life, I decided I needed a personal manifesto. I’ve spent years helping brands find their purpose but it suddenly became clear to me that I needed one too. I needed to name and claim my own purpose, my own reason for being on this planet, and to remind myself daily of how I want to spend my time, and who I want to be.

I made a long version. And a short version, short enough to fit on a mug. And at the top of this short list is:

Take Up Space.

Because, even after all these year of doing it, it’s still hard.

Most days I still feel most comfortable being seen and not heard, letting other people have the stage, “playing small” as Marianne Williamson calls it.

Mug made at behappyme

So I look at this mug every morning to remind myself that I have something important to contribute.

Sometime unique and worthwhile.

Something that matters.

Something the world needs.

And that I need to take up space in order to give what I have to give.

I need to let my little light shine.

As do you.

As do YOU.

Take up space.

And let your little light shine.

Sing it for us, Mavis.

Sing it, Mavis, for all of us big space-taking-up women… the ones taking up space now… and the ones just about to.

By the way, if you’re in the advertising industry, check out the next 3% Conference coming this fall. The theme this year is “Beyond Gender” — tackling the challenges faced in the industry by people of color, and LGBTQIA folks, as well as addressing issues like ageism and ableism.

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