Salesforce Trailblazing Women Summit – fail more and open your own doors

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett May 31, 2023
Advice from the Arts to the tech sector - activist, actress and DJ Jameela Jamil says women need to experience failure, and come back from it.

Jameela Jamil

Jameela Jamil rose to fame as a TV presenter, DJ and actress, but she’s now using her platform for good as an activist for women and inclusivity for all.

Having starred in smash hit comedy The Good Place and DJ’ing on BBC Radio 1, more recently Jamil has launched I Weigh. The original goal of the platform was to challenge the way a woman's value is based on a number on a scale, but it has now grown into a mental health and social advocacy movement.

Speaking at the 2023 Salesforce Trailblazing Women Summit in London, Jamil discussed her path to success and shared advice for women building their career. Number one tip is changing women’s attitude to failure, an area where they’re falling far behind men.

Embrace failure

Jamil, who says she has a very positive relationship with failure, believes that being willing to try when success isn't guaranteed is a vital trait. Women need to hear that they have an abundance of potential and could be capable of anything so just go for it, Jamil notes, rather than having a fear of failure drilled into them from a young age. She adds:

The amount of jobs that men go up for that they have no idea what they're doing and they're winging it. Good for them, we should join in that action.

Women have to learn how to brag, you have to put yourself up for that job you might not be fully overqualified for. We’re at a disadvantage and we have to keep forcing our way through and showing them our potential, because they're not looking for it.

While it’s vital to our evolution to make mistakes so we can grow and learn from them, women aren’t given the opportunity to make those mistakes, Jamil explains:

We don't have the benefit of the doubt left for women because we have spent it all on men. It’s very important that at least we do not impose that upon ourselves and upon each other.

Smash through that door

When Jamil landed her role in The Good Place alongside established Hollywood actors like Ted Danson, she managed to find her feet even though she didn't know how to act. She also made history as the first sole female presenter of the BBC Radio 1 Chart show:

I wasn’t going to wait for a man to open the door for me, I was going to barge through that door and then figure it out once I get there. I have a self-determination. I'm willing to find out what the other side of that failure looks like.

Imposter syndrome is like crashing a wedding - I'm here now so I'm going to see who I can snog and get some cake before I get thrown out. That's how I treat my entire career - just see what you’re capable of.

This isn’t easy for women, who have been raised to think their fundamental job is to be liked, approved of and believed, Jamil concedes. She sees her role as an ongoing reminder that even when you make mistakes, you can come back from them and that it’s so important to do so:

I refer to myself as the ghost of cancellations past. We have so little representation in the world of politicians or women in the media going through a moment of humiliation or disgrace or failure and then coming back from it. We cancel ourselves. We have this feeling of responsibility to remove ourselves from society and from opportunity because we don't deserve it anymore.

When she has had her lowest moments of failure or public scorn, Jamil admits there have been times where she wants to quit. However, the lack of representation of women who just keep going prevents her from doing this:

Men just keep going. I'm not saying Trump is any kind of an icon, but he's like a cockroach. We welcome them back. It's incredibly troubling the way we have this double standard that we also reserve for ourselves. We have got work to do to make sure that we are robust, that we reserve the right to make mistakes, and that we come back from them stronger. If we don't believe that, then how are we ever going to convince men?

Looks shouldn’t matter

Another hindrance Jamil would like to see banished are the high standards women hold themselves and each other to, not just in their work life but the way they look:

I'm not allowed to age. I'm not allowed to succumb to gravity. We are judgmental and cruel about each other sometimes. We have to stop because we have got 50% of the world holding to us those standards. We cannot engage.

Women need to start disregarding all the pressure they’re bombarded with over the need to look youthful and beautiful all the time. This is so pervasive in our culture that it takes up so much of the time women should and could be spending on their own personal happiness or success instead, Jamil says:

We’re not supposed to look like we've been working hard, but we're supposed to be working hard and we're supposed to be doing it on our period whilst also simultaneously being on a diet. I’m starting to divorce myself more and more from that, and I'm exponentially more successful, more fun, slightly better in bed, and a better worker.

Don’t let your identity distract or demotivate

There was also advice for the next generation coming into the workforce around identity and owning their space. While Jamil is incredibly proud of her identity, it’s not something constantly at the forefront of her mind or something she leads with. She doesn't want people to look at her as different, and equally she doesn’t want to look at anyone else in that way.

I don’t look at myself as a disenfranchised brown woman. I don't look around in Hollywood and think, well there's four of us. Because of the way we’re marginalized, that thinking can immensely hold you back. It's distracting and disenchanting, it can really demotivate you. Sometimes people use it as their motivating fuel but for me personally, I find it makes me feel worse. I’ve chosen to put that in the back of my mind as I would like to be seen just as a person.

Unequal pay

Jamil was also scornful of the gender pay gap, pointing to the extra expenses women have just to exist:

It’s the tax of surviving as a woman. That we have to pay for period care is obscene. We can't take the night bus, that's like rolling the dice on your life. We have to get the Uber, and then we have to stay wide awake with our keys in between our fingers. We have to pay for extra locks on our door, extra double glazing on the windows, we can't live on the ground floor flat, which is cheaper.

And then being paid less is preposterous. It's vital to take these things into account and walk into that room in which you’re negotiating for more money with a very fair breakdown of the cost to survive as a woman.

My take

Amen to all the above. This was one of the most refreshing, honest and motivating talks I’ve attended as a tech journalist – and I was ready beforehand to dismiss Jamil as just another celebrity jumping on the tech bandwagon.

The session went down a storm with the audience too, with comments like:

I love that she talks about never being too old to reinvent yourself. I've talked myself out of so many opportunities because I felt I was too old to learn a new tech or industry. We have to build this healthy relationship with failure. I am guilty of that, I judge myself on the smallest mistake.

So connect to this. Women have to stand up for themselves and for each other. I don't think many organizations really go beyond lip service to diversity and inclusivity. We are the only ones who can truly bring that change by keeping on advocating for women.


Image credit - via Salesforce+

Disclosure - At time of writing, Salesforce is a premier partner of diginomica.

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