In our podcast mini-series, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day by interviewing women who are pushing the boundaries and making a difference in their industry. Angela Nyman is Bright’s powerhouse CMO whose management career has spanned industries including Poker, Gaming and Tech - all of which are notoriously male-dominated.
So how does it feel to be the only woman in the boardroom? We invited Angela onto the podcast to learn how to get your voice heard through the noise of a large corporation and her top tips for successful leadership.
Podcast produced by Let’s Talk Video Production.
You’ve not long come back from maternity leave so now you’re juggling work with looking after your little one... how’s that going?
It's going well! I went on maternity leave in the summer of 2019 for just over a year and I know it’s such a cliche but time has really flown past! The first few months were a bit of a whirlwind if I am honest but a year and a half later I have a slightly better grip of what is going on!
One thing that really helped me get back into work was the fact that after four months of pure maternity leave I used my 'Keeping in Touch' (KIT) days to do monthly check-ins with the team. I also had a monthly clear out of my email inbox so that when I came back to work in September after a year I was already aware of most of the conversations that were going on in the company so it wasn’t as daunting.
There were a couple of things that resulted from the current COVID situation and the lockdowns that really helped my transition back to work. Firstly, being able to work from home. I live in the countryside about 40 minutes drive from Brighton so saving that time commuting each day has been absolutely amazing and I have definitely been more productive as a result.
Secondly, as the company went 100% remote all major conversations were happening in Slack. So even when I was not working, I was able to just browse ongoing conversations, feedback and decisions in the different channels without having to bug people for links or reports. This helped me get back into things much quicker and I could be more helpful to my team and the company much quicker.
When I delved deeper into your career path I was interested to see the span of industries you’ve worked within - everything from e-commerce and tech to gaming! I suppose this is the beauty of marketing, skills can be transferable into any sector!
I’ve been in marketing for about 17 years now and I’ve worked agency as well as brand side in both B2B and B2C, in a variety of countries and industries. So I consider myself very lucky in that aspect as it’s all definitely helped me grow as a person and become a more well rounded marketer.
If I'm honest, earlier on in my career I didn’t actually actively choose the companies I worked for or the industry- I remember applying for a few different roles after I graduated from my university in Italy and I decided London would be the best place for me to get a job so I moved to the Big Smoke!
I had already lived in London during my 2nd year of university as we had a campus there but at the time of graduation I lived in Tuscany. My first job was a marketing manager for a couple of famous nightclubs in London before I moved to, what was at the time a Top 50 advertising agency in Farringdon as I felt I needed some of that branding and advertising experience. From there I was headhunted by a gaming company to move to Gibraltar in 2006. The gaming industry was booming at the time and almost every single gaming company in Europe was looking for bilingual territory managers to grow their product in the different countries. I stayed in Gibraltar in poker for a couple of years before I decided to take a career break and travel the world.
After that I moved back to London yet again and once there I got persuaded to return to the gaming industry to run their live tournaments as a Marketing, Events & Partnership Manager. I think it was at that time that I probably became aware of the fact that I was seen differently as a woman in situations, such as negotiating with partners or building new relationships with prospective clients or leading meetings, especially with more senior 99% of the time male managers. I remember once being asked at a negotiation meeting in Italy when my boss was going to arrive and if we should wait until then. It was only me on that trip so that would have been a long wait!
Cultural aspects played into this a lot as well. I definitely feel like I had to prove myself a lot more than if I had been a man, but once the relationship was established I was always well respected but getting there was not always an easy journey! However, it was very educational and I learnt a lot about cultural differences and how it affects leadership and what it is like being a woman in a very male dominated working environment.
Angela working at a poker event in Italy with one of the tournament directors
Many of the industries you’ve worked within have a male-dominated workforce, especially in senior roles and on the board. Have you ever experienced any challenges working in these environments as a woman?
Oh yeah definitely. Especially at the earlier stage in my career. I looked very young for my age and I was very positive and enthusiastic about things so it would often be that when I entered a meeting with new people, they would assume that I was the work experience or assistant. In fact I would often be running the meeting - the whole show! I just got used to it. I think though that if that was now, and not back in the mid to late 2000's, that just would not have been acceptable the same way. We have definitely moved forward.
Another time re-joined a FTSE 100 company at a different location one of the C-level execs - let’s call him 'Steve' walked past me and said very happily,
‘Oh Angela, so great to have you back to decorate the office!’.
At this time I was running what became the second-largest poker tour in the world with 25 events globally during my time, increasing their profit with over 500% over the period I was there. And this comment just referencing on my appearance was completely unacceptable! At the time I think I was too shocked to actually say anything. I remember thinking that I was so much more than that but I just didn’t say anything. I probably should have but I had just started in the office and I guess I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. It was, and still is, a very male dominated industry.
If you could go back in time and advise your younger self on how to deal with that situation, what would you say?
I have wondered about that and what I would have done differently, as no one wants to start work and on the same day head down to HR to complain about someone but at the same time, but if certain behaviours affect someone negatively then you need to speak to that person. So I think that’s what I would advise my younger self. To speak to Steve and let him know how his comment could come across as inappropriate and to tell him that I hoped he also realised that I was in fact hired for a certain set of skill sets rather than my appearance. I know he didn’t mean anything bad with it, in fact he was really happy to see me back but clearly this is not an appropriate response! I found this to be more challenging working for larger corporations.
Once I moved into tech there were different challenges. Perhaps because I was older and more experienced but the challenges of being younger and a woman were different from being older and a woman.
Can you elaborate a little on those challenges in terms of age and gender?
Because I am more senior now I am under a lot more pressure to achieve results. That all makes sense and I can deal with that. What usually does come up however as you get older as a woman is if you’re planning on having children. A few years ago I did actually get asked in an interview if I had or was planning on having children - which as we know is illegal!
I think this form of questioning can be detrimental towards women as they get older, and it’s highly unfair. A working mother is constantly juggling responsibilities and tasks and I have never worked with a mother who has performed worse because she also has children. In fact, I find it the opposite. I feel that every working mother is very conscious about the fact that they may be being scrutinised and tend to be very focused on proving they can still do their job to a high standard.
This is an area where I think there is still unfortunately a discrepancy between men and women. We have to make a choice about putting our career on hold to have a baby (which is fantastic btw) but I can definitely see how it can be hard to bounce back afterwards to where you were. There is also the added pressure of juggling work and home life, for example if your child is sick you have to manage looking after them as well as meeting work deadlines and I think it’s important for managers to show empathy towards working parents. My current company is really good at that.
I’d say that I was always really focused on my career and I knew where I wanted to get to, I really enjoyed the journey and it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time not to have a baby but I would say that I did put my career first.
What would your advice be for a woman wishing to forge a management career in a male-dominated industry?
Never feel like your input isn’t valid. There is so much research these days on the importance of businesses needing a diverse leadership team and how having female leaders increase productivity, enhance collaboration and companies with a diverse leadership team are more likely to be innovative and hit or exceed their targets. In my opinion only good things can come from having more female leaders in the world.
Angela presenting at a conference in 2014
Do your research and be prepared however. In my opinion you can never be over-prepared!
Be curious and learn from others.
Have a mentor and/or a good network of women if you are able to. It is always a good thing. I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of great female coaches and it’s been really useful. I’ve also worked with some great women who I admire and that I still call friends to this day. It is lovely having a great network of female peers.
Be true to yourself and trust your gut. If you are constantly questioning your thoughts and role then you are perhaps not in the right workplace environment and you should maybe think about if that job is right for you. At the end of the day gender should be obsolete and hopefully we will get to the point where it’s about being the best version of yourself. We should all have the chance to contribute our skills and expertise to the world, where we feel that it can make a difference and where people appreciate you.
You currently manage the Bright Marketing Team and I know you are passionate about empowering your colleagues and championing their self-development. Can you share some of your tips for successful leadership?
- Manage from below i.e. ask your team what they need in order to do their job and let them do it. I like to think of it as an inverted pyramid where I am at the bottom and my team is at the top. I ask two questions; are we going to lose any customers by doing this and is this detrimental to the business, our brand or anyone in our team. If the answer is no they can go ahead and do what they want to do as long as they can show they’ve thought it through and it solves a problem we are having. If I have concerns I will probably explore what problem they are trying to solve and see with them if there are any other solutions they may not have thought of. But it’s not about me in this leadership style- it focuses on the team and the autonomy they have.
- Create a safe environment where people can work to their natural best.
- Trust the people you've hired to do the job. Never micromanage.
- Always make sense. People will not trust you as a leader if you make changes or decisions that don't make sense or aren't based on data or a need.
- Never make it about you. Take the blame when things go bad and praise the team when things go well
- Don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and do the job.
- Praise, inspire and lead. There are so few leaders who manage to inspire people - by doing the above you should be able to create an environment within your team where people feel inspired by you to do their best and achieve great things!
Finally, what do you enjoy most about working in marketing? Can you ever see yourself changing roles?
I love the pace of it, the variety and constant changes. You constantly have to keep up to date with the changes that are happening externally, in your industry, in your area of expertise, in your team etc. As a born learner that all really appeals to me. I also like the fact that it encompasses such a range of skills, activities and mindsets. In one day I might be creatively brainstorming about how we can further our brand to processing data on our customers or competitors, reviewing campaigns, writing a blog, planning an event etc.
As I got further into my career and I was managing large teams I got very interested in leadership and how to successfully grow teams. I have had some bad leaders and managers and I’ve also been lucky enough to have had a few good ones. I see it as a responsibility rather than a role and growing people and keeping them on track in their career, happy and productive can be really challenging but it is so so rewarding. I have had a few coaches, reading lots of books and I have done a few different leadership and management courses and am actually doing a coaching course in February.
So, I don’t see myself steering too far away from marketing but if I ever did move away it would be moving into coaching or more of a pure leadership role.
Thank you so much to Angela for taking the time to chat to us on the podcast - if you'd like to hear more from our International Woman's Day mini-series then head over to Spotify to stream every episode!