Career Lessons from 2016’s Most Inspiring Women
Let’s be honest, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for women.
We had Olympic sports commentators forgetting that women are people and a judge so worried about the “severe impact” jail would have on rapist Brock Turner that he barely sentenced him. Brexit Britain suggested that feminism was “a force for ill” while the United States elected a President whose sexist credentials are indisputable.
Yet throughout all this, amazing women all over the globe spent the year smashing glass ceilings, challenging cultural barriers and generally striving to make the world a better place for women everywhere:
Deddeh Howard is a stunningly beautiful and highly talented model. She’s also black. Unfortunately, in an industry as whitewashed as fashion, that means she struggles to book jobs. When she walks into agencies, they enthuse over her work, before telling her that unfortunately “they already have a black model.”
The idea that all WOC can be represented by one token black model didn’t fly with Howard, who launched her Black Mirror project in response. By recasting herself in big-brand adverts, she intends to raise awareness of how unjustifiable the lack of diversity in modelling is.
Career lesson: Never allow yourself to be limited by the status quo. Complacency changes nothing; push for what you want and never take no for an answer.
Imagine this: you’re a budding actress and lifelong geek, who lands a part in Star Wars. You’d be pretty thrilled, right? Ashley Eckstein was, which is why she promptly rushed out to buy herself a fangirl tee-shirt, only to find that sci-fi themed clothing for women just wasn’t a thing. Apparently, the entire clothes manufacturing business had decided that women were too busy painting their nails to watch superhero movies or play video games.
Luckily, Eckstein wasn’t about to let that get in her way. Instead she set up Her Universe, a women’s clothing store specialising in all things nerdy. It’s become so successful that this year she sold it to Hot Topic, ensuring that the brand will be able to add loads of new items, in loads of different sizes, and reach women everywhere.
Career lesson: Look for opportunities wherever you go, and take the initiative whenever inspiration strikes. Don’t rely on other people, go out and make your dreams happen for yourself.
Olympic medallist Fu Yuanhui earned worldwide fame at Rio when during an interview she frankly discussed how being on her period may have affected her performance. In doing so she smashed a taboo around the menstrual cycle that is prevalent not just in sports, but worldwide.
Almost all women work while on their period, but a study found that a woman who has the audacity to drop a tampon from her bag at work is deemed less competent and less likeable by her colleagues. By refusing to be embarrassed by her body, women like Fu are challenging such backwards attitudes.
Career lesson: Too many women are encouraged to emulate “masculine” traits in the workplace to get ahead. But so-called “feminine” traits can be just as advantageous. We should be proud of ourselves and our gender, and play by our own workplace rules.
Telling women what they should or shouldn’t be like is one of the main facets of sexism. Jai Latto experienced this first-hand when she was stripped of her Miss Transgender UK title for “not being transgender enough”. Latto had been filmed wearing boxer shorts and attended the gym in a t-shirt and shorts. According to organiser Rachael Bailey, this was enough to designate Latto as a gay man, not a trans woman.
Understandably furious at being told that her gender identification isn’t as important as the underwear she wears, Latto retorted that “being transgender isn’t some exclusive club that you have tick boxes to get in” and announced a plan to hike 30 miles in high heels (ouch!) to raise awareness about all forms of gender identity.
Career lesson: People will invariably try to pigeonhole you into their idea of what you should be. Ignore them, and always be yourself.
91% of high-grossing films have no female director. An exception to the rule is Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani director who this year won her second Oscar for her documentary A Girl in the River, which focuses on honour killings. A heartbreakingly common practice in Pakistan, perpetrators face no punishment if forgiven by the murdered girl’s family (of whom they are usually part).
Demonstrating the power of film to change the world, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to amend this law after watching Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary.
Career lesson: No industry/job is ever ‘off-limits’ to anyone with enough talent. Find your passion in life and work hard at it. You’ll be amazed at what dedication can achieve.
Whatever your opinion of politicians, the influence they have over our day-to-day lives is indisputable. This clout makes the huge gender imbalance present in politics concerning, and high-profile female politicians like Hillary Clinton important.
The President of the USA might just be the most powerful position in the world. The fact that 2016 was the first time ever that a woman was even in the running for this job is something to be celebrated. Clinton was also the third woman ever to hold the most senior cabinet position of Secretary of State. There have been sixty-five male ones.
In her Presidential run, Clinton showed us both what women are capable of and how great the challenges we face are. To quote the Economist, “even if you are inclined to judge Mrs Clinton harshly, it is hard not to conclude that latent sexism is a bigger reason for her struggles [to win votes].”
Career lesson: There are going to be setbacks. There are going to be losses, and failures, and times that it feels you’ll never be good enough. Stay strong, stay standing, and try, try, try again.
Beth Leslie writes careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles.