They want it all and they want it soon. Fifteen women, aged between 23 and 28, and who work in media agencies share their goals, beliefs and needs. To encourage them to speak freely, The Media respects their anonymity. Peta Krost Maunder asks the questions.
They all have big career dreams – becoming CEOs no less – and believe they are under time pressure to reach them. In an era when women far outweigh men in media agencies in South Africa, some of these women represent the future leadership of the sector.
They are part of the generation called the ‘Millenials’ or the ‘me me me generation’, as TIME magazine calls them. They are ambitious, somewhat narcissistic, and prone to job hop, according to LiveScience.com. A recent TIME article describes this generation as wanting flexible work schedules, and frequent feedback and career advice from managers. But, it also says they are a very powerful generation and, because they believe in themselves, they achieve a great deal.
These media women say their ambitions are about “wanting to keep learning and growing”. They are clear that the minute they feel they are stagnating, it’s time to move on.
“We do want it all and we want it now,” says one woman. The pressure is on because most of them also want families – some even plan to be full-time moms — so they have to make a success of their careers quickly.
“It is tough because in this industry, every day is very full. So if we can’t have it all right now, we will look somewhere else. It is not to say we get bored easily but that is where any loyalty goes out the equation.”
They all maintain that long working hours and intense pressure are unsustainable but they are willing to put in the time for reward or speedy promotion.
Drawn to media
Some ‘fell’ into media agency work while others were headhunted from other fields or started as interns after studying media.
What they share is excitement about their work. “You don’t choose to be in media, media chooses you.”
They agree that the work appeals to creative and analytical people who thrive on challenges.
“There is always something interesting and different happening and I don’t face the same challenges and mundane tasks every day,” says one.
“One minute I am pulling out my hair and the next I am having so much fun,” says another.
“The media is an open space – every project is different and uses different skills.”
They say loyalty and commitment to a company depends on what each individual gets out of it. They want rewards and opportunities for growth and learning. One woman attributes the high rate of job-hopping to technology. “It has advanced so much that gone are the days that it takes five years to master something. You get it right and you need to move up or out. “You find with everything, the turnaround time is much faster than it used to be. So, in some part, we are the selfish generation and we do what works for us.”
Another woman says they are determined to get ahead of the very strong “competition” out there. “Today, just getting an undergrad degree is not enough. We constantly challenge ourselves to make sure we are on top of our game or else we fall behind.”
Another says, “We have a threshold – you stop growing, you move on. It is not a matter of loyalty but rather about growing and balancing work with home and friends and stuff. If work is taking more time than I want it to, I am going to move on and if it is not giving me what I want, I will too.”
Putting in the hours
Some are willing to put in “incredibly long hours” to achieve their goals, while others are not so keen. “I don’t think people work as hard as they used to,” says one woman.
But a slightly older woman says, “If I am responsible for something, I will work until it is done properly. Fortunately, I don’t have bosses who expect that of me all the time…”
Some feel their bosses expect them to put in long hours because they had done so earlier in their careers. “There is no sympathy. They think just because they put in those hours, we must do the same.”
Yet another says, “In my area, there are fewer resources so we have a lot to do and, every week, there is more and more work and no more people to do it. You can’t keep that up.”
One woman suggests there is a real need for women to set boundaries about what they will or won’t do. Otherwise, unrealistic expectations will be set and they will have to live by them.
On this point, another asks, “Don’t you feel that this is the time we should be doing putting in those extra hours – before the kids and a hubby come into the picture? Right now, I don’t have any responsibilities except to myself. So, I will do what I need to do to prosper and put in the work.”
Another woman, who says she loves what she does but has put her foot down after almost a decade of long hours, says, “I have literally stopped putting work ahead of my life. I just can’t do it anymore. I won’t slave away instead of living. I will put in my hours and then leave.”
There is a general belief that if you put in the work, you can negotiate your package and hours around your needs. “But you need to lay a very strong foundation and earn the respect necessary for your bosses to give you the leeway.”
One of the older women says, “When I started out I would sit at my desk until the end of the day and then ask to leave. I was too scared to ask for anything. Then after six years, I negotiated my hours. I have proved my worth and if you don’t want to hire me, then I will go somewhere else.”
Others say not all bosses are as supportive and prepared to negotiate.
Many agree that they find it difficult to say no when asked to do something. “At what point do I get angry and say ‘no, it is not my problem’. We like to take on a lot because if we don’t have responsibilities then we feel worthless.”
Another woman agrees, saying, “On those days that I do tick of all the things on my task list, I sit back wondering what to do with myself. We all get bored so quickly.”
Another says, “ We are the ‘yes generation’ and we take on as much as we can.”
“I think it is a cultural thing that we get from our schools,” said one woman. “Our schools called us the yes generation because we believe we have to do everything.”
This results in them burning the candle at both ends – working and playing hard.
Family and children
But they mostly say ‘yes’ to a family too. How will that affect their careers and lives? At least half of them thought that by the time they had children, they would be working for themselves.
“In your 20s you are completely schizophrenic – you want to try everything,” explains one woman. “And it is not until your late 30s that you start thinking, ‘Oh shit, it’s my 30s, what have I actually accomplished? Is there still time for a family?”
Another says, “When I have a family, I don’t know if I will stay in this industry. Maybe I will go freelance or do a completely different job. Or just get a house husband…”
Another one says: “I need to get rich quick so I can get it all in.”
Some intend to have children and “give them 100%” of themselves, while others are quite happy to become working mothers.
“I want to give my children all of me, not a piece of me,” says one.
“My mom worked hard but she was always there for me. She taught me to be a stronger and more independent person. Children don’t need all your time: they need your love,” says another.
But, “The problem comes in when your boss is used to you working long hours and then you have children and you also need to be there for them. They are not all so happy to give you the flexibility that one needs as a mother.”
They don’t think working half days is an option. “In this industry, you are either in it or you aren’t. You can’t do it half way or half time.”
“We are this generation of wanting it all. I want to have a successful career but I also want to be at home to raise my kids,” another says. “You get to a point when you realise you can’t have it all at the same time.”
They believe female bosses may be more understanding about personal life and family but, at the end of the day, deadlines are deadlines.
Negotiating flexible hours is possible but some feel this can be “career inhibiting”.
“If you want flexible hours, you will not progress because those around you won’t let you.”
Others disagree with this sentiment, saying there are mothers in their agencies who make it work for them, but it depends on the agency’s culture.
Many of these women see themselves as CEOs of their own companies in 10 to 15 years’ time. Some wanted to be entrepreneurs while others simply said they plan to keep working – not necessarily in the media – but with a family. They are sold on the idea of flexible hours for themselves whatever they do.
“The general consensus is we will be taking back our lives in the sense of having control over it,” says one woman.
“Doing something you love doing and being responsible for your own destiny at the end of the day, that’s what we want,” says another.
And will those future bosses do things differently, particularly when it comes to women? Not necessarily. “You need to make rules based on individual’s performance – some women are simply not responsible enough for flexibility!”
Ultimately, they agree that money and growth are of the utmost importance. They are willing to put in the hours for monetary bonuses, and move jobs to make more money and learn more.
This story was first published in the August issue of The Media magazine.
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