How to take up space within a man’s working world

Otegha Uwagba’s new book guides working women on their creative paths – and avoids all the clichés of the ‘self-help’ genre

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Otegha Uwagba
Founder of Women Who and author of Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women, Otegha Uwagba

While women in positions of power have become an actual thing that actually happens within actual companies and corporations, it’s also a relatively new thing. Meaning it’s often hard to find role models, or simply a female counterpart to turn to when you need a bit of advice. And Otegha Uwagba knows all too well how it feels to be in this position.

In her career, London-based Uwagba’s worked across the board - from ad agencies to magazines and their digital counterparts. But when she found herself at an uninspiring career crossroads, she founded Women Who as a collective for working women to share resources.

Women Who taps into the desires of so many working women – to meet and interact with other artists, thinkers, and entrepreneurs. And in 2016, through panel discussions, networking events and masterclasses, Uwagba established a creative community for like minds to flock, for both work and play.

Off the back of its quick success, Uwagba wanted to provide women like those in the network she had fostered with the tangible resources to help them progress and navigate their own careers. And so it was born – the Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working WomenBelow, the now-published author tells us more.

Tell us a bit more about Women Who – what did you set out to achieve in creating it and subsequently writing this book?

Otegha Uwagba: Women Who is a community I created last year to connect and support creative working women, through online content, a weekly newsletter and regular events. I set it up because I wanted to create a support network that would allow women who – separately – are all having the same thoughts when they wake up in the morning, to meet other like-minded women, and share knowledge and ideas. It came about at a time when I was feeling quite lost career-wise and craving connections with other women. Feeling like that experience of isolation couldn’t be unique, I decided to do something about that. Being a working woman is hard enough without going it alone.

Women Who is about doing more than paying lip service to vague notions of ‘empowerment’, by actually providing women with the resources they need to take control of their careers – this isn't about hashtag feminism. That’s why I wrote Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women – this is the book I wish I’d had five years ago, filled with the things I wish I’d known when I was starting out: lessons I learned the hard way that I hope other women won’t have to.

“I want women to come away from reading this book feeling in control” – Otegha Uwagba 

What was your process when compiling the advice in the book?

Otegha Uwagba: I actually wrote the book fairly fast, as it’s based on my own experiences so it all kind of came flooding out – I found it quite cathartic to write! I tried to think of the stumbling blocks I’d faced over the course of my career and centred each chapter around those, so it covers everything from how to negotiate your salary at a new job to building a killer personal brand, via a crash course in how to network without being a slimeball.

I also thought about the topics that often aren’t addressed when it comes to career guidance: how to overcome creative blocks or where to go to learn new skills (and why you should be doing that). Above all, I wanted to create a guide that actually reflects the modern reality of the environments creative women are working in, and avoid all the usual clichés of that genre.

The book also features contributions from incredible creative women that I either already knew or admired from afar, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, artist Quentin Jones, and The Gentlewoman’s Editor-in-Chief Penny Martin, to name just a few. It was really important to me to include other voices besides mine, and I think the book is stronger for it.

You’ve spoken a lot about URL and IRL connections in interviews and books. How much of a role do you think the Internet has played in the ever-changing creative communities, and for better or worse?

Otegha Uwagba: The Internet is such a blessing and a curse for creatives, truly. On the one hand, it’s far easier for us to promote our work, forge new connections, and access vital information than ever before, and that is an unbelievable luxury. Yet at the same time, the Internet has changed the context within which creativity exists, and it’s really important that creatives operating in a digital age understand this new context.

Something I talk about in the book is the fact that while social media and the Internet have made it easier than ever for us to share our work publicly, they’ve also made it far easier to lose track of it – and for other people to help themselves to the fruits of our labour. As a creative, your ideas and output are your greatest assets, so it’s vital you take the necessary measures to protect them.

What do you hope people reading this book take away from it?

Otegha Uwagba: I want women to come away from reading this book feeling in control. Like they have the information they need to build the careers they really want. Knowledge is power, and what I’m trying to do with this book – and with Women Who in general – is equip women with the knowledge they need to be able to advocate for themselves, and their ideas. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Women Who community, it’s that we all have good ideas – sometimes we just need a little help making them happen.

What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned, that you keep with you?

Otegha Uwagba: Just start somewhere. The best way to make things happen is by putting them out into the world, and to realise that there will never be a ‘perfect’ time or an ideal set of circumstances for you to launch that idea, business or project that’s been on your mind since forever. That’s been an important lesson for me, as I have a tendency to overthink things. I didn’t feel 100 per cent ready to launch Women Who when I did, but it turned out completely fine – better than fine, in fact! To paraphrase some advice suggested by one of the contributors to the book (Nellie Eden of Babyface): if you’ve talked about an idea more than three times, it’s time to act on it.

What’s the next step for Women Who?

Otegha Uwagba: My main goal for the coming months is scaling Women Who – making the community bigger and better, and finding new ways of connecting with creative women through different formats, and new resources. I’m also very aware from the emails and feedback I get that a large proportion of the Women Who community aren’t based in London or the UK (which is where all our events to date have been held), so international events are definitely on the agenda – watch this space!

The Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women (4th Estate Press) will be published on 15 June 2017

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