The Female Focus: Catherine Ritchie

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Introducing Catherine Ritchie

Snowflake? We don’t think so! We talked to award-winning marketing graduate Catherine about her passion for workplace culture, how studying abroad opened her mind and eyes to a world of possibility and what employers need to do to engage the next generation of workers.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do

My name is Catherine Ritchie, I am an award-winning marketing graduate currently working as a Social Media Community Manager at a small agency in East London. My philosophy is work hard and be kind, and I am actively working to bring change to workplace culture. This year I flew a plane and last year I threw myself out of one for charity (parachute attached of course). I have travelled Australia on my own, founded a Tampon Club and launched a blog talking about all things human.

You've recently graduated - was it a daunting experience looking for work in London or an exciting adventure? 

Nobody can ever prepare you for life after graduation. I was met with a very mixed bag of emotions: excitement, curiosity, nervousness and depression. Like many other graduates, I entered a period of questioning who I was and what I wanted my contribution to the world to be. I had nailed my degree, and had been fortunate in gaining work experience along the way, but what now? I have always had a plan, always had a direction and managing this uncertainty was difficult for me. So, I did what any extrovert would do and posted it on the internet in a blog with everything I’d learnt about managing these feelings because I knew I wasn’t alone. Then, quite suddenly, I landed my first job through an Instagram follower who was going travelling and her job had become available. Two weeks later, I was on the job.

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You got the opportunity to live and study abroad. How has this shaped your view of the world?

Coming from a small seaside town in Scotland, I grew up in a careful and small-minded community, and as a loud, curious and unabashed red-head, I never quite fitted in. When the opportunity to study abroad came up, I decided ‘f*ck it, why not’ and soon enough I found myself on a plane to Marseille in the south of France. Little did I know what was waiting at the other side. The next three months was spent hopping on and off of planes like they were buses, exploring the streets of Marseille with like-minded, adventurous people and watching sunsets from mountains. I had met my people. Finally, I had found people who craved the adventure like I did and were open to risk – far from the careful communities of the small seaside town. My confidence soared in knowing that I was not the odd one out, but that I was simply in the wrong environment.

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On studying abroad..

“Studying abroad opened both my mind and my eyes to a world of possibility and gave me the tools to travel independently and bridge cultural barriers.”

What first inspired your passion to care about work place culture? 

In the third year of my degree, I chose to work in industry. In my want to escape the confines of a small city, I applied to a handful of jobs at companies in London accepting placement students on fixed term contracts. I got the job of Marketing Executive at a comparison website which promised autonomy and potential to innovate as part of the role. One year later, I had gained life-long friends, joined an amateur dodgeball team and had made a significant contribution to the company, for which I was recognised. Yes, there were meeting rooms designed like tree houses, and yes there were ping pong tables and free snacks, but what meant most to me was that there was the opportunity to bring new ideas to the table. Furthermore, I was able to drive those ideas forward myself, regardless of the fact that I was ‘the placement student’. People kept telling me ‘the real world isn’t like this’ and ‘don’t get used to this, it isn’t like this anywhere else’, and I thought ‘why the bloody hell not?!’. I actually enjoyed going to work and I felt fulfilled – contrary to the popular belief that everyone should hate their jobs (#mondayblues).

I then chose to study this company for my final year thesis, looking specifically at internal marketing, organisational culture and entrepreneurial orientation to really understand exactly what it was about this company that held them in such a high regard when it came to innovation and culture. My paper was awarded Best Fourth Year Thesis, recognised for its contribution to academia (with potential for publication) and I was strongly encouraged to embark upon a PhD (to which I politely declined for the moment). I continue my learning journey online and offline, during the day and in the evenings – so watch this space.

Who do you think does work place culture well and why?

This is a difficult question because culture is dependent on so many variable and ever-changing factors. Culture changes every day and is shaped by the people inside. As long as companies are growing, your culture will change every step of the way. I don’t believe there is an explicit recipe for a good culture, but my research, knowledge and experience suggest that there are some indicators as to the potential to find fulfilment and meaning in your work. Firstly, transparency in work practices and a shared understanding of a common goal. Secondly, collaboration and teamworking opportunity in shared work spaces. Finally, encouragement to be entrepreneurial and innovative, with the potential to drive forward ideas to make them a reality.

From your learnings so far what can businesses do in order to engage graduates / younger members of staff to encourage and cultivate their talent and growth?

Listen to them, be kind and treat them as a human being. Often graduates are made to believe that they are dispensable and that they have to earn the right to have an opinion or share an idea. When, in reality, graduates have a fresh perspective and the most up-to-date knowledge. They should be invited to share their ideas.

It is the responsibility of an organisation to ensure that their employees feel valued, know exactly what they are contributing to and how they are shaping the future of the company. It is in our nature as human beings to want to belong, to be part of a group and knowing exactly why you turn up to work every day is an increasingly important issue. It goes much further than ‘to be paid’. In my experience, a personal development bonus is a good indicator that an organisation values your individuality and appreciates that you aren’t just a cog. I also believe that a weekly ‘showcase’ of your work alongside your colleagues allows you to demonstrate your value and appreciate others’ contributions. I truly believe it’s about helping shape the future of the organisation and being given the chance to do so.

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Catherine on work place culture…

“I don’t believe there is an explicit recipe for a good culture, but my research, knowledge and experience suggest that there are some indicators as to the potential to find fulfilment and meaning in your work.”

In the media the younger generation often get dismissed as "snowflakes". What is your view on this and do you think it's a deserved label?

With increased permission to be who you want to be, and the platforms to allow us to share anything and everything with everyone, no wonder there is an increase in a ‘fragile snowflake generation’. Young people have the access to information and the social permission to make better informed decisions about who they want to be. I am not offended by this term, I believe it is simply a reflection of society and the younger generation. As we have progressed through the generations, the context has changed, and the snowflake generation are born into a completely different world than that of their elders. I think we’ve had to develop new types of resilience to new stimuli that didn’t exist for our elders. I do believe the snowflake generation is a deserved label, but I don’t believe it should be used negatively.

As part of our work culture (especially in the UK) drinking alcohol and socialising at the pub are an ingrained part of our work life experience. How is this changing and why do you think more young people are choosing other ways to connect with others?

Social media has not only allowed us to share more, but it allows us to connect in a different way and has exposed us to a global catalogue of ways to live your life. Our immediate environments have grown less important because we hold most of our very own curated world in the palm of our hands, inside a screen. The ability to pick and choose the content we are exposed to on a daily basis, means that we don’t have to suffer our colleagues’ crap jokes at the pub after work because we would much rather spend our time in online like-minded communities.

However, in saying that, in some industries the daily trip to the pub becomes an important part of ‘how business is done’. In my experience of the tech world, big decisions and judgement of someone’s ‘character’ is often based on whether they will come to the pub too – but this is changing.

I believe less young people are interested in drinking because social gatherings can happen anywhere, at any time. I also believe younger people are more aware of the negative health effects of excessive drinking, alongside other social habits such as smoking.

What do you read / listen / watch / do to keep you inspired?

I am currently reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for graduates, a classic as we all know, but tailored towards addressing the anxieties of post-university life and your first steps into the world of work.

I am a big fan of podcasts and have been listening to some for years. I find Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Dlt podcast to be extremely helpful and interesting on many topics from business, to being a woman. Also, How To Curate Your Life by Lizzie Evans addresses the issue of work-life balance for creatives – a very interesting topic indeed.

My most preferred method of inspiration is just getting out there and talking to people about their story, where they’ve been and what they’ve learnt. I would recommend attending events, talks, lectures and idea festivals as a good source of inspiration.

Have you experienced for yourself gender inequality? If so what did you do as a result?

I think every woman at some stage has experienced gender inequality, whether they realise it or not. I have experienced gender inequality from male colleagues who (when in a male dominated team) changed their tone of voice to address me specifically. Furthermore, these colleagues often take it upon themselves to talk over me and attempt to explain my contribution to the discussion for me. After these incidences, I approached said individuals and asked for an apology – most are so shocked they apologise straight away.

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2018 is the year of #PressforProgress. What do you personally intend to do to contribute to a fairer and more equal world?

In my day to day, I often challenge the status quo. I often ask male colleagues why they hold certain views and call out unacceptable behaviour towards gender inequality or seemingly ‘funny’ jokes about gender or women. I also actively endeavour to take on typically ‘male’ responsibilities such as paying the bills and doing DIY. In my time as a mentor I also encouraged my female mentees to call out behaviour and know that no man is ‘better’ than them because they are a man. However, I think that the most important message we need to shout about is that we need more men to challenge their views and the views of other men. We need men to be part of this movement too.

Any advice for employers and businesses looking to attract bright young talent? 

I think the most important theme in attracting young talent is highlighting the fact that they can make change within your organisation and make a real difference. It became an apparent theme in my research interviews that there were three key steps in establishing a productive and happier workforce in the early days of the organisation – autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Autonomy allows us to unlock our inner drive and take ownership – something that is incredibly satisfying and self-motivating for anyone. Mastery means with given tools, we can master our role and achieve a sense of progress, contributing to our inner drive. Purpose is the reason we get out of bed in the morning and the reason people want to achieve success for their organisation.

I believe organisations will become much more attractive to young talent if they are able to showcase the fact that it is possible for them to make a difference there, and be recognised for it.

If you want to natter about gender equality, workplace culture or simply just want to say “hi” then visit Catherine’s website here or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. We’re so excited to follow Catherine’s journey, we’ve got a feeling this is the start of big things. Until next time… #TheFemaleFocus