4 Lessons Learned About The Workplace From The Girl’s Lounge At Cannes Lions 2018

Ella Goldwater with Gabi Mendelsohn outside the Girls' Lounge at Cannes 2018.

Ella Goldwater with Gabi Mendelsohn outside the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes 2018.

Special Guest Post By Ella Goldwater & Gabi Mendelsohn

As recent college graduates, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work at the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018. The stories and advice shared by the panelists have better equipped us for some of the challenges we, as females, will inevitably face when we enter working life. Here are some of the top lessons learned from the lounge.

Standing Up For Equality Is Each Of Our Responsibility

Having just graduated from university, we were certainly exposed to the fundamental issues of inequality at work. However, we had not yet experienced them first hand. Because of this, we wrongly felt that challenging these issues was not yet our responsibility. A statistic that resonated with us was that gender bias starts as young as age 5. Suddenly we felt that this issue – that had seemed something we would only face in the ‘messy middle’ stage of our careers, was very much our problem, and accordingly our responsibility.

Progress Is Possible

This past week we have had exposure to some of the top women and men in business and heard stories we never thought could be true. From female CEOs in tech, to actresses, Olympians and even photographers—all united in their shared experience of inequality. This issue clearly expands far beyond the boardroom. It was promising to hear the progress taken place by many of these women –and men- to even the playing field. For example, Jody MacDonald, a National Geographic photographer, was the most-liked photographer on Instagram, despite female photography making up less than 3% of published content. Mikaela Shiffrin was the highest paid person—of both women and men—in skiing. Hearing from these women has shown us that there is no glass ceiling and it is possible to achieve what was previously impossible.

Women Are Held To Different Standards, But You Can Lead Your Way

Of course, we still have a long way to go in terms of changing perceptions and uncovering prejudice in the workplace. We heard from many that they felt the expectations bestowed onto them as a female leader differed from men. In general, women are expected to be empathetic and maternal leaders. A woman is often criticized for being assertive. Women have therefore been told that it is not possible to display the same leadership qualities as men and gain the same respect.

In a panel about how to be a successful leader, Melissa Barnes from Twitter explained that, as Beyonce says, she’s not bossy, she’s the boss. Being caring and assertive are not mutually exclusive. Melissa explained that she helps to nurture her team as well as makes the tough decisions.

Joy Robins from Quartz added that she herself had been criticized for being direct, ironically despite it being in her job description to get things done! Both women exhibited different leadership styles, but both were challenging the limits and expectations that had been placed on them as women in leadership roles. We identified closely to each of them in different ways, and felt we could use a lot of the advice they gave in our own lives as we begin to take on positions of leadership and responsibility. It was particularly helpful to hear that there isn’t one leadership style for women and that we can be, and we quote women in the lounge, ‘Whatever leader we want to be.’

Inside the Girls' Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018

Inside the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018

We Have To Make Sure All Voices Are Being Heard

Another interesting conversation was that of the nuances within the problem of inequality. Coming from white, middle-class backgrounds, we had heard a lot about inequality at work but lacked a large amount of exposure to the fact this problem is more acute. Sharon Harris from Deloitte Digital conveyed that we need to remind ourselves of the different levels on inequality at work. The opportunities offered to women of color are even more limited than those offered to white women. The takeaway lesson is that not only do we need to look out for one another, but we also have to be sensitive to the deeper issues of racial inequality at work. The Girls’ Lounge is paving the way for this to happen by giving a platform to these marginalized voices.

Overall, our experience at the Girls’ Lounge has exposed us to the many hurdles we will face and the very real experiences successful women have gone through at work. But more importantly, it has shown us that these hurdles are smaller than us. As women, we are equipped with all the tools needed to jump right over these hurdles. We now know it’s okay to bring our whole selves to the office—not just the self that society tell us to bring. In doing so, like many of the panellists, we are ready to take ownership of happy, productive and successful careers! Suddenly, the messy middle doesn’t seem so messy and the glass ceiling doesn’t seem so firm.

More on our guest writers:

Ella Goldwater, 21, just graduated from the University of Bristol where she studied Psychology and Statistics. She is currently applying for jobs and graduate schemes in marketing. Ella is particularly interested in getting into analytical marketing as women are underrepresented in the industry.

Gabi Mendelsohn, 21, just graduated from the University of Leeds where she studied History and Politics. She begins work this August for a tech start up before joining Deloitte in 2019 as a business analyst.  She is the chair for the mental health charity Jami.

Read more about the conversations in the lounge at Cannes:

Women Rising: How To Succeed In Male-Dominated Industries

8 Lessons from TheSkimm Founders On Building Your Dream Business (And Creating Change)

A Surprising Reason for Gender Inequality in Ads—And How To Fix It