IN CONVERSATION WITH: OTEGHA UWAGBA “LITTLE BLACK BOOK”September 26, 2017
Otegha Uwagba knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the world of creative work. As the founder of Women Who, a London-based community for creative working women, with experience working at one of the world’s top advertising agencies and at VICE, she has a wealth of experience that she has now compacted into a pocket-sized guide to the world of work for creative women. In her book Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women By Otegha Uwagba, she covers everything from negotiating pay to mastering public speaking and interviews some top women in their fields, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Gentlewoman’s Editor-in-Chief Penny Martin.
We talk to her about her career so far, why she started Women Who and get the low down on “Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women By Otegha Uwagba”…
Tell us a bit about your career so far!
These days I’m a writer, brand consultant, and occasional speaker, but I actually started out my career working in the fast-paced world of advertising. In many ways it was the perfect training ground for a lot of what I’m doing now – I cut my teeth at one of the world’s top ad agencies, before going on to work at VICE – and I learned so much about brand-building and how to communicate your message in the best possible way. But after a while, I found myself with seriously itchy feet and wanting to pursue my own creative projects (particularly writing), so a few years ago I quit my job to focus properly on that.
Why did you decide to launch Women Who and what’s it all about?
Women Who is a London-based community I set up last summer, to connect and support women working in creative fields. After I left VICE, I soon found myself feeling somewhat isolated professionally, and really craving an outlet that would allow me to connect with other like-minded women – particularly those who like me were self-employed, or carving out careers that fall outside the more traditional 9 – 5 paradigm. So far it’s manifested itself in the form of online content (via the Women Who blog, and weekly newsletter), and IRL events that range from work-focused panels and workshops, to cocktail parties and gallery tours.
How did your book “Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women” come about?
In the run up to launching Women Who last summer, I decided it would be cool to create some kind of physical item to commemorate the launch, and eventually settled on a printed career manual of some kind. It was kind of a last minute idea, but I managed to pull it off and it was really successful! I self-published an initial print run of 250 copies which – to my total surprise – sold out in two days flat. A major publisher (4th Estate Book, who’ve also published the likes of Lena Dunham and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) ended up getting wind of it and approached me with a book deal, so I re-wrote the book, added a few extra chapters and the book was published by 4th Estate in June. I think what happened to me is a really powerful case for just going out and making stuff – I wasn’t looking for a book deal with the self-published version of Little Black Book, but creating my own proof of concept first was what encouraged 4th Estate to take a punt on me.
What main topics does the book touch on?
So many things! It covers everything from how to negotiate a payrise to building a killer personal brand, via a crash course in networking like a pro, and tips for overcoming creative block. I also talk a lot about how to thrive as a self-employed person, and there’s an entire chapter dedicated to helping you master the art of public speaking… it’s basically Careers 101, with a hefty dose of money advice thrown in for good measure.
You’ve interviewed some incredible people for the book and give a lot of your own advice too. What was your process for compiling all the advice?
In terms of the women I asked to contribute career insights to the book, I was quite lucky in that I already happened to have a network of some incredibly smart, inspiring and successful women who were only too happy for me to pick their brains. It was really important to me that the book contain other voices besides my own – I really wanted to get a range of perspectives on those key career conundrums. I also reached out (via my publisher, and occasionally personally) to some incredibly high-profile women that I admired, such as Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, The Gentlewoman’s Editor-in-Chief Penny Martin, and Refinery29 co-founder Piera Gelardi. I was so thrilled when they agreed to be a part of the book.
What do you hope the people reading your book will take away from it?
The ability to more confidently advocate for themselves and their ideas. I’m so aware of the fact that there are working women out there who don’t necessarily know how to do that, and my hope for this book is that once they’ve read it they’ll find advocating for themselves, and their work, that bit easier.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given, about work or otherwise?
Not everyone’s gonna clap for you, and that’s okay. I have to remind myself of that constantly so I don’t take it too hard when people aren’t necessarily into my ideas, or my vision.
What are your top tips for women wanting to be successful in the world of work?
1. Don’t apologise when you haven’t done anything wrong.
2. Support other women. I’m such a fan of Ann Friedman’s essay about ‘shine theory’, I feel like it should be required reading in schools (and workplaces!).
3. Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. I think a tendency towards perfectionism can be such a barrier to progress – obviously it’s good to have high standards, but not at the expense of actually getting things done.
You’ve spoken a lot about URL and IRL connections in interviews and books – how do you think the internet has changed the creative work world?
The Internet is such a blessing and a curse for creatives. On the one hand, it’s far easier for us to promote our work, forge new connections, and access vital information than ever before – all of which is amazing. 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’s been your proudest career moment to date and why?
I think that’s probably a toss-up between successfully launching a platform that genuinely provides value for other women, and being offered a book deal by one of the best publishers in the world… sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think about that.
What’s your next step for Women Who?
Shop: Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women By Otegha Uwagba