Can a Young, Outspoken, Tattooed Female Really Be a Leader?

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“In this world, nothing — nothing — is black and white. The sooner you embrace that, the more resilient you’ll be.” Words from my blue-to-white-collar father replay in my head every day.

And he was right — each day, my experiences get resiliently grayer by the second. The only black and white I see are the exposed tattoos I have. Not to mention my Brooklyn-meets-Jersey accent that I disguise well, unless passionate about a topic. My female gender. Purposeful lack of filter. And all while still in my late 20s.

There’s one more element to add — I’m the Head of Marketing, North America for Outbrain, a highly-booming tech company. To meet me, you, like many others, may initially perceive I’m too young to do my job successfully. Alas, the feeling of being undermined.

I’m here to share my story to help you thrive off those undercutting moments — opening up about what it means to be a young, unconventional female leader in an ever-changing industry.

Be Unapologetically You

My friends used to tell me that I had an outspoken “shock factor” about me. The truth is I’ve always been this way — long before I gained the experience, and more importantly, the respect, to be able to do so.

Professionally, that was attemptedly anchored. Most often by males wary of vocal females, who almost resented me for it, despite my strong work ethic and output.

For years, I worried I should be less stereotypically “millennial,” or more socially “ladylike.” And candidly, I didn’t know what was worse — the men who talked over you, the women who talked down to you, or your inner voice that’s crueler than them all.

That is until I joined Outbrain in 2016, where Israeli culture is prevalent, and candor is celebrated. I’ll never forget my first leadership coaching session with Valia Glytsis at Paradox. Upon sharing the dismissal of my directness, she said, “shock value is a part of your brand. Don’t change that merely because certain people can’t handle it or are insecure by it. Own it.”

Whether you’re direct or meek, young or old, executive or right out of college — own it. Be unapologetically you. No matter your personality type, your age, your gender, your sexuality, your seniority — you bring uniqueness to the table, or a professional setting, that no one else does. In this grey-area world, there’s no one else to be but yourself.

tldr; People will try to change you or hold you back along the way. Don’t let them. Own who you are, and finesse as you mature.

Take the Road Less Traveled

Eight years ago, I graduated from college and immediately began working in the video game industry. I didn’t imagine half my company would be laid off within my first six months. Or, that the other half would go a year later. While there were awful, uninspiring, seemingly never-ending days, I was exposed to projects and decision-making a typical 22-year-old couldn’t dream of.

And there you have it. My first professional road less traveled was “going down with the ship.” Both remaining loyal to my mentor and manager until our eventual layoff and a company dissolution — from the good of higher-level responsibilities to the bad of observing poor executive decision-making.

It didn’t stop there. Shortly followed by unpaving through an “old school,” male-dominated print company, that never had a Marketing team. Hello, first rebrand! Then Outbrain, whereupon receiving my job offer, I was told the company was reorganizing and asked if I wanted to start during or after. My response: “show me the shit,” starting the following week.

Though these roads tend to be more challenging, there are more opportunities and growth at your disposal. You will fail, I promise you. Countlessly. But from failure comes learning, and more importantly, an unstoppable resiliency. This is a pivotal trait in any professional setting, especially in tech, where things are evolving faster than you can say the word “evolving”. Learn to like it! Embrace it, even.

tldr; There are more learnings to be had, and faster growth to be gained, by getting comfortable being uncomfortable. Challenge yourself.

Skip the Runaround, Go for Candor

“This might be a stupid question, but…” “Does this make sense?” “Sorry for bothering you!”

All phrases we use to diminish our voice. Ask yourself: how much time did you waste perfecting the tone of your email? How many meetings did you walk away from without a clear direction because you were afraid to speak up?

Stop. Asking. For. Permission.

Our Outbrain NA Marketing team is scrappy. Scrap-py. Juggling projects as if we had four extra sets of hands. As a Type-A people-pleaser, I’ve had to learn to outright say “no.” To our Business Development teams. To our partners. To our vendors. To my manager! No.

Later developing that “no” to a collaboration of prioritizations. “Hey, our bandwidth is tight given we’re launching Projects A and B for you this week. Any chance we can hold Project B for next week to better focus on A while adding C?”

As hard as it seemed, it’s been magical to oversee. Why? You pave the way for a strong impression. You’re automatically showing you respect your own time, you respect their time, you’re honest and trustworthy, and you’re the kind of person they’d like to work with.

Now, ask yourself, why not?

tldr; Runarounds waste time and hide your inner strengths that you could instead be flexing. Skip the nonsense, and go straight to candor for stronger relationships, faster-earned trust, and overall, professional happiness.

From Me to You

This was more whimsical than I planned to write. But that’s just it — no two people are the same. There’s no right way to command a boardroom or expedite your career. There are many right ways, personalized to you and your capabilities.

If there’s a value you feel strongly about, don’t feel you should change upon dismissal. Instead, discover ways to make it a part of your brand. And live it until others around you accept it, and further, celebrate it.

I’m merely here to show you I’ve done it. #TrueLife: I’m a 29-year old, tattooed, Jersey-loving, outspoken female leader. And I’m damn proud of it.

Be proud of yourself — you’re one-of-a-kind, whether you’ve realized it yet or not.

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