Gender Bias Still Exists And Here's How This Female Entrepreneur Overcomes It
Pointing to a shophouse across the road from where we are seated in GOODSTUPH’s fancy new digs dotted with quirky art, Pat shares that the 500- square-foot office was, in fact, where it all began. She – and her stellar “social marketing agency” – have come a long way.
What Pat Law has created with GOODSTUPH is nothing short of remarkable. Eight years since launching, it is a proudly local and 100% independent social marketing agency, housing 32 employees, a cheeky kitty named Mao and numerous awards.
But it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning for six months since its inception, GOODSTUPH was a one-person shop. Being cautious at first, Pat adds, she kept the operation small because she wanted to save enough money so that the person she hired next could keep their job for at least a year even without new business.
“Winning an account is not as hard as keeping it. A real true testament comes from our ability to retain an account.”
She confesses that this isn’t the best way to start a business. But, looking back, Pat wouldn’t have it any other way. Although she had minimum knowledge on how to run a business when she started, she managed to land her first project with Nike.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Business kept coming in. Soon after Nike, Pat landed her first government account with the National Gallery of Singapore. Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), Changi Airport and Singtel are some of the other early clients who signed up to work with GOODSTUPH.
A Strong Work Ethic
These early clients who came on board proved to Pat that they believed in her. It also bolstered her confidence, especially on those days she questioned her decision to go independent.
She reminded herself that these brands could choose to go with any big agency. But instead, they decided to go with an independent agency like GOODSTUPH. To date, this is something that makes Pat extremely proud.
“The client pays you to bullshit, and pays more if you don’t.”
Pat’s extensive experience as a “suit” (an ad-agency term used for those in client servicing) at numerous ad agencies such as Publicis, Leo Burnett and Ogilvy proved invaluable to her in running a business.
However, you could say it was Pat’s strong work ethic that brought the clients in.
Pat’s opinion is that it boils down to the relationship with the client and doing the “good work”. It's a lot like dating, she says, adding that she treats clients, the same as you would approach a marriage.
“Don't marry somebody that's not right for you; there's no way out of that!” she advises.
“It's better to lose on your feet than win on your knees.”
Further illustrating her point, Pat adds that at GOODSTUPH, they don't try to be something they’re not. By trying to be authentic from first meeting the client, they get the sense of whether or not they have the right chemistry together. This, according to Pat, matters a lot.
GOODSTUPH’s track record with client retention confirms this. Pat shares that for every ten clients they have, eight are retained, while some, like HP and UOB, have gone beyond the seven-year-itch mark.
Having the Right People On-Board Is Everything
More than keeping clients, Pat goes on to say that it is more important to retain your employees. It is crucial to hire the right people.
“Everyone brings in a recalibration in culture, and it is important to find the right people. I have not hired a single person from a social media agency, and I much rather hire people who can think,” claims Pat.“Because I can make a thinker social, but I can't make a social person think!”
“When you have good people, clients will come. Your clients are not stupid. They will leave if you don’t have the right people.”
Pat uses a football analogy to explain how her team works. “Every day is a 90-minute match. Some days you have to play more defence, some days you go all out to strike. So it's silly in an HR perspective to hire ten strikers,” advises Pat.
Thoughtfully, Pat adds, “Not everyone that comes in is right for us or vice versa. However, it’s pretty amazing to see those who stay, grow. You can't put a price to that. I’m sure that one day some of them will be better than me for sure.”
Talking about the culture she has worked tirelessly to build, Pat says, “We’re not the biggest agency, and we don't have the most awards. What I would dare to say is that we have a lot of guts and heart!”
“Right now in Singapore some people want to work here as opposed to a big agency and that makes me proud! Moreover, we’re going to be as authentically local as possible,” Pat says with a smile.
How Pat’s Upbringing Shaped Her Views on Gender Bias
Pat Law is a woman of principle. Her strong beliefs and edgy personality stem from the harsh lessons she learnt as a child. And if she was frank when talking shop, she wasn’t guarded when talking about her upbringing, either.
In an honest post on her Medium page, Pat opens up about her childhood, specifically about her father’s view of women and their place in society.
Pat writes, “In a single sentence, my dad unknowingly triggered off my ruthless ambition for success. At the age of 15, I was woke.”
“We had just arrived at my aunt’s when my dad instructed me to join mum in the kitchen. Looking back, dad had mum’s welfare in mind, but at that moment, the realisation of dad’s gender discrimination hit me like a good line of coke,” she continues.
Addressing this, Pat says, “It changed the way I think about how women should be treated. I get annoyed at my dad even today, but I realise that it was the way he was brought up.”
However, the woman Pat is today isn’t a reflection of the beliefs her father carried. In fact, Pat says she is more like her mother. “My mum's unwavering integrity is something else. She does the right thing no matter how inconvenient it is! She doesn't compromise on the way she thinks, and she will let you know. My honesty comes from her,” Pat says, smiling.
“When the bias comes from your parents it hurts. If I could deal with that situation, there was no way I couldn't deal with an external situation.”
However, getting past her residual feelings of resentment was a challenge for Pat — albeit a worthwhile one. Pat realised that holding on to those negative feelings could not only imprison her emotionally, they wouldn’t allow her to be the best leader she could be.
Pat, On the Complexities of Gender Bias
1. Don’t let your own baggage affect you professionally
Although Pat’s childhood opened her eyes to the ugly truth of gender prejudice, there was no way she was going to allow it to define who she is today — especially as a leader. If at all, it made her more aware of the complexities surrounding the subject and urged her to adopt a more practical outlook on it.
However, Pat shares that her father’s prejudice affected her a great deal early in her career. “For a very long time whenever I got told off by a male colleague, I would lash back. I carried that excess luggage a bit too long. I became my own prisoner, and that was my fault," Pat confides.
“My mum is amazing. It's safe to say that I don't deserve her. She dropped out of school at 12 so that her younger siblings can go to school. A lot of my character comes from my mum!”
“I am egoistic enough to say that I refuse to let my background define whom I'm supposed to be! I could come to work every day with that negativity thinking everyone wants to bully me. It is how much you allow it to affect you emotionally. There's a certain level of freedom when you let it go,” Pat opens up.
She exclaims, “I am sincerely grateful for the lack of favouritism my dad showed me because, without it, I’d be quite a typical self-entitled lazyass bum who’s both mentally and emotionally weak. I cannot stress how thankful I am!”
2. Know the difference between prejudice and practicality
Being a “suit” at several ad agencies also made it clear to Pat that some cultures are severely prejudiced towards women. She relates that in the past 15 years, there were several instances when she was blatantly ignored at meetings with men. There were even times when people looked uncomfortable when she expressed her opinion.
While recognising this as a clear-cut case of sexism, Pat says that there are other occasions when we need to look at the situation practically.
“I truly believe in integrity at work. You must come to work with a certain level of dignity. For example, I would never undercut our fees to win a pitch. That's not fair game. It may be strategic and smart, but it doesn't mean it is right. Whenever we go into a pitch, I'm very mindful that we may lose it.”
Pat explains, “For instance, if someone naturally loves makeup, they will write a creative copy for makeup from the heart. Therefore, practically, a woman might be a preferred person for a beauty account. That being said, at GOODSTUPH all the people working on the HP gaming account are females. And guess what? All gamers!”
“We don't have the luxury of hiring by passion point. As a leader, I need to be strategic about whom I hire, and I choose to hire based on suitability for the job rather than by gender,” adds Pat.
We need to know what we’re fighting for and part of that is knowing the difference between bias and practicality. However, Pat points out that there are times that the difference is a blurred line.
“If your idea doesn't meet a business objective, you’re masturbating! You should then be a struggling artist and shouldn't be in advertising. Whatever ideas we come up with must serve a business need. Which may make it less creative, but it's still meaningful.”
Citing what she calls a "gender-bias-or-not" scenario, Pat relates, “Once I spent half a year in Ho Chi Minh City on my own. On my first day there I was brought into a restaurant that serves live pythons. They brought one out, split it open and yanked out the heart dropped it into tequila.”
“It would have freaked anyone out, male or female. I knew it was a test and I drank it with the heart beating down my throat!” Pat says, adding that she is terrified of snakes. She expresses that she could have chosen to get angry at that time and call her hosts out for bullying her as a female, “but I had no evidence that they didn't do this to everyone,” Pat says.
3. Celebrate what makes you unique
Pat says that because of our need to fight for equality, many times we get a little awkward embracing what's natural to a particular gender. “I think it is okay to say someone is a typical guy. I feel females are naturally most sensitive and thoughtful when caring for people's emotions,” explains Pat.
“The lack of parenting was the best parenting I got. You become more independent and mentally stronger.”
“I think we should embrace who we are. It becomes wrong if you choose to judge professionally or deprive people of certain opportunities based on that,” says Pat.
She also states that when picking people for roles, leaders should be strategic and hire based on what the company needs and the capabilities required for a particular position.
4. Be worthy of what you’re fighting for
While Pat thinks it’s a great thing that we are celebrating female empowerment and females at work, she says, “But I also think we need to live up to that. Some women came before us that never needed any of it, but they opened the doors for us!
“Celebrating independence is one thing, but especially in Singapore, we should demand more of our females!”
5. Finally, you can’t stop gender bias if you don’t raise it up as a problem, to begin with!
“Stand up and speak up!” Pat exclaims. She adds, “You got to lead by example. You got to be the first to defend yourself before getting anyone else to defend you. However, never put a sister down!”
“I hope we get to a stage where we don’t need to celebrate international women’s day!” Pat gives us some food for thought.
Have you ever had to deal with gender bias at your workplace?
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