Pretty Birds, your first foray into the working world will probably be a moment you’ll never forget. There is nothing quite like getting that piece of paper, attending your graduation and reflecting on all the hard work that went into your newfound qualification. And, of course, saying goodbye to the 7 a.m. classes, clunky textbooks, and stressful exams related to higher education can be the ultimate relief. If you are a seasoned professional, going freelance or opening up your own shop will affirm all your hard won experience and expertise.
But as one door closes, another chapter begins. The working world can be a precarious place for any adult, and young women particularly face a variety of struggles. As we are in the midst of graduation season, we spoke to some women who share the same worries you may be experiencing to garner some insights and tips for moving to the next step in your professional journey.
Entering the job market
The current global economic climate is incredibly frustrating for the millennial market (ages 22 – 35), a group facing issues and obstacles that aren’t relatable to older generations. Along with finally finishing university or grad school – there’s the added anxiety of, “Will someone hire me?”.
You earned the diploma, but what happens next? How can you manage what unfolds once you cross the ceremonial stage? Your life is changing and your entire identity has shifted – from a struggling student trying to make it work to a young adult, saddled with societal expectations, entering the job market.
The pressure can be overwhelming for a number of reasons. Recruitment agencies, friends, and family members will tell you that getting your resume (or CV) in order is the first step. Learning how to market yourself and your skills acquired over the last few years is imperative. Resumes need to stand out and give a glimpse into what you can offer. Graduates should be familiar with how to approach professionals in their chosen industry and the process of finding mentors. It doesn’t help that social media can often exacerbate career anxiety as you see your peers making moves, landing great jobs, and not “seeming” to be struggling.
What does support for graduating students currently look like?
Palesa, 25, a law student in South Africa, finished her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) says, “Besides the institutional difficulties that will come with being a young, dynamic, outspoken black woman in the corporate industry, my main concern is the pressure to live up to my own potential”.
We see the brilliance of young women around the world starting up multi-million dollar companies (hello, Glossier), getting global media features, or winning multiple awards. It’s possible, but the question is: how?
As Palesa goes on to mention, “The legal field is one of the most daunting areas I have experienced, and as someone who struggles greatly with anxiety, I have made it my personal mission to be my biggest cheerleader, not get inside my head, and never let my potential waste away in the shadows”.
What’s her ultimate wish as she progresses through her degree? Mentorship from other dynamic and established black women.
“I can seek guidance from their experiences and learn from their lessons. I can carry them with me throughout my career, so one day I will also be able to offer a helping hand to a young girl.”
Lebo, 25, a film and television graduate, shares, “Studying and working opened my eyes to the lack of support you may come across when working. It’s unfortunate to say that I’ve found it quite disheartening during the last 12 months of working and studying at the same time”.
Graduates are often told that their degree isn’t enough and having work experience is key to being hired or considered for “real” jobs.
Lebo explains,”It was really grueling, and I found that quite a few places of work bank on you taking on as much work on your plate without giving you the support you’ll need to accomplish as much as you can”.
The media also plays a part in how young women position themselves in the working world. As Lebo mentions, “It’s hard to find attainable representations of women in the working world beyond superficial fluff pieces about their achievements in glossy magazines”.
She also goes on to add that a lot of career-oriented workshops for young women are priced exorbitantly leaving out so many of us that would benefit from learning from those who have made their way through their chosen paths.
What about career support for women in mid-level to senior management?
Support for women in the working world is important at every stage of their careers. There are a number of women currently building successful business or maybe even changing their careers. You may be debating taking on a new job, whether to go freelance, or perhaps starting your own business. Whether you’re in a mid to senior position or moving into a new phase of your career, choosing the right path can be overwhelming and having a support structure that can offer solid advice is crucial.
Saidah, a senior vice president at an international corporation, highlights the power of your own network and how important it is to nurture the professional relationships you’ve made over the years.
“I have had multiple mentors throughout my career and it’s helped immensely. I’ve had mentors who are peers and more senior level and it’s helped chart the course of my own career.”
Saidah also delves into the differences between a sponsor, someone who can actively create opportunities for you in the workplace, versus a mentor who can provide tactical support to you beyond the workplace. She explains that understanding the difference between those two career facilitators is important for your own growth, both professionally and personally. But most importantly, having someone who has your back in the workspace is critical and a game-changer.
Her best piece of advice? “Lean into your curiosity and don’t give up. The only constant is change.”
We Support You, Pretty Birds
Young women across the world want mentorship, access to meaningful opportunities, and an enriching working environment. It’s a two-way street, and young graduates need to put in the work by creating a good portfolio and broadening their skill-sets. Here are some practical tips that we learned from our friends who took matters into their hands:
- Swallow your pride and squash your ego, embrace your vulnerability and reach out to friends regarding your work-related anxieties.
- Regularly meet with friends to brainstorm. Invest the time because this is your career and conferring with your peers will provide ideas, job leads and introductions to possible mentors and sponsors.
- Build support systems with your friends. You never know what someone is going through. Participating in the journey together, reduces feelings of loneliness and encourages a sense of community beyond the reality of the campus, and can be a meaningful source of encouragement where there is none in professional spaces.
And in order to provide mentorship or a safe working environment, women in higher management roles also require support, encouragement and a healthy network. At a recent fashion event in Milan, and as Saidah mentioned earlier, our editor-in-chief Tamu McPherson learned that even top tier senior management at Gucci participate in a mentorship program to ensure that they are able to execute their roles in the most formidable manner. You are never too qualified to ask for advice or expertise on a matter pertaining to your field. Extra eyes and opinions can foster even more positive results.
Also, having representation (across race, class and gender identity) visible at all levels leaves a lasting impact throughout a company, industries and shifts the working culture. While you are at your company advocate for diversity and help to recruit people who look like you or other marginalized candidates. In addition, volunteer or support organizations that advocate inclusion in business. If the traditional office cubicle route doesn’t work out for you, look into starting your own business, go freelance or take some time to figure what does. Leaving a job doesn’t equate to a failure, but rather signals your courage in finding a position where you can truly shine.
The most important thing to remember is that the start of your career may not be where you end up. Your goals might shift and there are jobs we don’t even know exist, waiting for you. Get those plans in place, but for now celebrate that you’ve come this far. The chapter has just begun and the only thing you can predict is change. Stay poised for transformation, armor yourself with resilience, and build your empire one day at a time.