In conversation with Alexandra Shulman

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We were thrilled to host an evening with Alexandra Shulman at Allbright this week. We’ve heard from some great women in our time, but can’t think of a more frank and enlightening interview. It is so refreshing to hear such straight up and sensible advice from someone who broke so many boundaries, all delivered with a good dollop of British humour and self-deprecation.

Here are the key takeaways. Too much to cover so we have focused on Alexandra’s main insights and tips we can all carry forward with us. Get on with it, don’t overthink it and enjoy life – we think that’s a pretty good mantra for all of us!

Alexandra Shulman….

… on Ambition

  • Try not to spend time dwelling on things like imposter syndrome. It doesn’t help. 25 years ago it was paid much less attention to; it wasn’t even a term
  • If you’re given a big job, don’t doubt yourself. If you’ve been given the job, you must be qualified for the job.
  • If you’re the boss, you can’t always see your colleagues as friends. You have to remove yourself from that office comradery.
  • Nobody’s immune from the concerns about ambition vs. happiness at home! There will be peaks and troughs, but if Alexandra’s example is something to go by, it worked out pretty well…

… on 24 hour work culture

  • Find workplaces, or create workplaces if you can, that don’t encourage a 24 hour work culture. Often there is less value in an immediate late night response to an email than one that’s been thought about and prepared properly.
  • Alexandra thinks 4 day weeks are totally viable. During her Vogue tenure she negotiated half-day Fridays in the summer months.

…. On Women

  • Women today are much more go-getting and professional than 25 years ago.  Generally they have more confidence, are better prepared and know what they want. Although interviewing women who ask ‘what can you do for me?’ is still taking it a little far!
  • Women have / had a tendency to get more frazzled than men, probably because they were juggling so much more. Try not to micro-analyse everything
  • Delegate. It doesn’t come a naturally to women; sometimes you delegate and worry ‘am I delegating just because I’m lazy?’. Realise that probably at times, that is the case. But that’s ok!

…. on Career & Motherhood

  • Compartmentalise if you can.
  • Different models work for different people at different stages. 25 years ago 16 weeks maternity leave was considered a long time!
  • There’s no good reason that any woman should return to maternity leave and find herself demoted. But of course, it’s a very hard situation to manage as a boss. A lot can change over a year.
  • Don’t berate yourself if going back to work feels like heaven.
  • Make the most of having two separate lives – immerse yourself in work and then immerse yourself in your home life once you leave the office.

…. on Planning for the future

  • The best things that happened in Alexandra’s career were by accident. The Vogue opportunity came up because 3 other people turned it down. Of course she was very skilled and capable, but being in the right place at the right time is a big factor. Don’t panic if you think your career path isn’t on a straight upwards trajectory.
  • Pay attention to your juniors. One day they won’t be so junior anymore!

…And a few recommendations

  • A beautiful book on what clothes means to women is Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti: http://www.sheilaheti.com/women-in-clothes
  • Check out John Lewis’ new instore collection. Some great new brands and finds (we already have… it’s great!)
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