Losing my Lipstick Virginity Helped Me Find Self Love

First published on Black Ballad website (paywall) on 9 February 2018.

Annique wearing Fenty lipstick

Photo by Tom Wilkinson @TWilkins0n

Most of us remember when we lost our virginity. Perhaps you were 16-years-old in your boyfriend’s box room or a few years older in a nightclub toilet cubicle? You’ll probably be able to tell me about the lucky guy or lady – their name, how they smelt, how it ended.

But what about the first time you tried on lipstick? Can you recall who you were with, where you were standing, your chosen shade? It’s probably not as vivid as your first fling, right? Especially if, as research from 2014 suggests, the average British woman in her late-twenties started wearing make-up aged 14*. Given that a lot has changed in four years and the rapid rise of blogger and social media influence in the last few years, it is more than plausible to believe that  today’s girls and young women started wearing makeup at an even younger age.

My first memory of wearing lipstick is one of my most vivid. Not because of any trauma or drama. But because it happened 6 weeks ago – on 28 December 2017 to be exact, not long after my 30th birthday. Wearing lipstick has changed my life. But before I get into all that, let me take you back to (near) the beginning.

I’ve always been a late bloomer when it comes to ‘embracing my femininity’. While my friends at secondary school were rocking handbags and glittered eye shadow, I was firmly in pedal pushers and relying on jeans pockets to carry my things. Like most teenage girls, I craved male attention. When I struggled to get any interest, I felt ugly and rejected. I responded with defiance, deciding to focus on my strengths (mostly academics) and to never do anything to try to please men. In my mind, experimenting with make-up would have undermined my new-found strength, making me as superficial as the boys who shunned me. So I avoided it completely.

Even when, aged 19, I introduced mascara and clear lip gloss into my beauty regime, I still maintained my anti-make-up views. Yes, I might have been getting more male attention but this only ‘proved’ my argument: make-up was pointless. I didn’t need it to be happy and I didn’t need it to get a man. So while my friends were living that Mac life, I was free to spend my coin on more profound pleasures. No lipstick for these lips.

And then Fenty Beauty dropped last September.

From the models – with their subtle, yet striking, beauty – to the brand’s story – I was hooked and began following the campaign keenly. When my mum mentioned, in passing, that she and my younger sister were going to Harvey Nichols to buy some products, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. “Woah! Are you feeling OK?”, was my mum’s reaction followed by more questions about my reasons for going and my plans once I got there.

When the three of us walked through the doors of Harvey Nichols on 28 December, I had no plans to buy anything. While my mum and sister tested foundations, I hung out by the lipstick counter, drawing a rainbow of swatches on my hand. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing – neither did the nearby security guard who was now taking a keen interest in my movements (or was I being paranoid?).

Thankfully, a make-up artist had also been watching me and suggested some lipstick shades. The first one looked awful on me, as verified by my mother and sister who were looking at me with shaking heads and screwed lips. When the same thing happened with a second lipstick, I was ready to just buy a Fenty Gloss and go.

Sensing my disappointment, my mum instructed the artist to try a brown lipstick with some gloss and brown lip pencil. Once the artist had finished, I looked in the mirror and what I saw shocked me. I looked beautiful. An absolute snack, in fact. I turned to my family to see if they agreed. “Yes, you look good, girl”, said my mum, as my sister put both her thumbs up. Smiling from ear to ear, I paid for my lipstick (PMS in the Mattemoiselle range, if you were wondering) and left the store on a high.

Fenty lipstick and lip gloss in Annique's hands

Photo by Tom Wilkinson @TWilkins0n

Walking around Knightsbridge, I couldn’t stop admiring my reflection in the shop windows. Other people were checking out my fabulous lips too, including my boyfriend, who showered me with kisses and compliments when I got home.

Fast forward two months and I now own a lip liner, which I bought by myself and wear make-up most days. Looking back, I see that I let male rejection stop me from fully exploring who I am and I’m now committed to unlearning my unhealthy views about beauty.

My Fenty escapade forced me to examine myself. And I loved what I saw. A must in a world hell-bent on denigrating Black womanhood. So yes, I will always cherish my lipstick virginity story. Much more than my ‘real’ one, anyway.

Screenshot of Annique's article on Black Ballad website

My article on Black Ballad website

*2014 research: http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/beauty/news-features/TMG10721046/Survey-reveals-how-girls-start-wearing-make-up-aged-11.html

Employee engagement and personality: all for one and one for all?

As some of you know, I was recently awarded a distinction for my CIPR internal comms certificate course (yay!). For my final assignment, I explored the various tactics that internal communicators can use to help employees physically, cognitively and emotionally harness themselves to their individual roles and organisation (i.e employee engagement).

But what if some people are just un-engageable?

We each think, feel and act in our own unique way, so it seems logical that we’ll react differently to attempts to help us connect with our CEO or commit to organisational change. Emerging research suggests that our personality traits the ‘relatively stable cognitive, emotional and behavioural characteristics that help establish our individual identities’ – can predict our level of engagement at work. Here’s how…

Conscientiousness

Neuroticism

Extraversion

Agreeableness

Openness to Experience

 

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the five basic personality traits – or factors – proposed by psychologists Robert McCrae and Paul Costa in their influential Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. The other traits are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience and Agreeableness. According to FFM, these factors capture the essence of all human personalities; we differ only in terms of the amount/level of each factor, as determined by personality assessments.

Behaviours: the epitome of an ‘ideal employee’, people with high amounts of Conscientiousness are efficient, dutiful, deliberate and achievement-striving.

Evidence: Studies consistently show that employees with high levels of this trait are more likely to be engaged at work. For example, work psychologists Ilke Inceoglu and Peter Warr explored engagement levels in over 700 employees from several countries, including the UK, and found that Conscientiousness – particularly the achievement orientation subcomponent of the trait – was a better predictor of work engagement than the other Big Five factors, age and gender.

Underlying mechanism: One suggestion is that employees high on Conscientiousness are motivated by the need to achieve goals which is also a core component of the work engagement concept. It may also be that conscientious workers have a strong sense of responsibility and therefore are more likely to absorb themselves in their job tasks.

 

Neuroticism

Behaviours: people with high levels of Neuroticism tend to be tense, irritable, shy, and lack self-confidence.

Evidence: Researcher Saar Langelaan and colleagues analysed the personality and engagement survey scores of 205 Dutch employees, and found that those high in Neuroticism were low in work engagement. This finding has been replicated in several other studies.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan, work engagement is a positive affective-motivational state characterised by high pleasure and high energy use. Neuroticism is strongly linked to negative affect (NA), a short-term mental state characterised by fear, nervousness and anger (or low energy use). Highly engaged employees tend to report low levels of NA.

 

Extraversion

Behaviours: people high on Extraversion are generally sociable, enthusiastic, energetic, adventurous and outgoing

Evidence: Studies exploring the link between Extraversion and engagement has produced mixed results, with some showing Extraversion to be as good a predictor of engagement or weaker. However, researchers Stephen Woods and Juilitta Sofat found that the Assertiveness sub-factor of Extraversion – characterised by being driven, competitive and energetic – was more strongly associated with engagement than the Gregariousness sub-factor (being sociable and chatty) and the broader Extraversion trait.

Underlying mechanism: According to Langelaan and colleagues, people high on Extraversion are more likely to experience positive emotions and are therefore more likely to experience the positive state that is engagement. Another explanation centres on the psychological condition of meaningfulness, an important predictor of engagement defined as the positive feeling that one’s work is worthwhile and important. According to Woods and Sofat, employees high on the Assertiveness sub-factor are more likely to be engaged because their high energy and ambitiousness leads them to attach greater meaning to their efforts at work.

 

Agreeableness

Behaviours: people high on Agreeableness tend to be forgiving, warm and flexible.

Evidence: Along with Openness to Experience, this trait has been found to be a weaker predictor of engagement than the other three factors. However, leadership expert Andrew Wefald and colleagues tested several personality-engagement statistical models using survey data, and found Agreeableness and two other personality traits – Conscientiousness and Extraversion – were linked to engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to business psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, and colleagues, engaged employees tend to be efficient task-completers. Since most work tasks require teamwork and agreeable employees encourage teamwork, they’re more likely to be engaged.

 

Openness to Experience

Behaviours: the quintessential creative, people high on Openness are intellectually curious, imaginative, artistic and excitable.

Evidence: Pakastani economist Nayyar Zaidi and colleagues found that employees with high levels of Openness were more likely to be engaged than their conscientious counterparts. Likewise, Dr Chamorro-Premuzic and colleagues (2015) found that openness was the second best predictor of engagement.

Underlying mechanism: According to Zaidi, William Kahn, the so-called ‘godfather of employee engagement’, saw engaged employees as innovators within their organisation; therefore, employees high on Openness – who are naturally innovative – are more likely to be engaged.

 

Implications for internal communicators

At first glance, it’s not good news for us IC bods. If, as the abovementioned research suggests, an employee’s unique and enduring personal characteristics significantly influences their level of work engagement, the task of driving up employee engagement (a staple in many IC job descriptions) may be trickier than we thought. Personality traits are thought to be consistent across time, and so if people who are low on Conscientiousness or high on Neuroticism are recruited into an organisation and then become disengaged, attempts by internal communicators to help them connect with their roles and the organisation may prove futile.

However, before we all tear up our engagement strategies and go on a well-deserved holiday, it’s important to note that while the findings presented suggest that some personality traits are better predictors of engagement than others, none of the studies concluded that having high levels of one trait would prevent you from being engaged full stop. That’s because, even though our personalities cause us to view our work, colleagues and employer in a unique way, we’re all capable of being engaged at work.

Professor Brad Shuck and colleagues propose that communication within an organisation can help engagement develop in each employee, irrespective of their personality make-up – via two routes:

  • It can motivate employees to be engaged by aligning their values with the organisation values
  • It can give employees the freedom to engage, achieved by creating trust and integrity within the organisation through transparent and consistent communication.

This cuts to the heart of what we do as internal communicators. We live for providing line of sight to employees and removing communication barriers between senior leaders and employees.

So there you have it. We’re all engageable. But we’re also brilliantly unique, with our own life experiences, views and set of personal characteristics which influence our behaviour at work. As internal communicators, it’s important that we remember this when trying to help our people engage with our organisation.

Studying Internal Communications – my story

Last Friday, I graduated for the second time. It was noticeably different to my first graduation ceremony for my undergraduate degree. No cap and gown, no crying mum and no worrying about what I’ll do with the rest of my life. However, unlike my undergrad, I joined the CIPR Internal Communications (IC) certificate course not really knowing what IC was or whether I’d be any good at it. In fact, I applied for the course only a few months after ‘discovering’ IC, and I was only two months into my first general comms role when I started the course last October (when you know, you know, I guess!).

I remember feeling nervous as I travelled to my first lesson; multiple doubts churning in my head. Am I ready to return to academia? Do I even like IC? Is this going to be a waste of my money and precious Saturdays?

The answers turned out to be simple – ‘yes’, ‘yes’ and ‘absolutely not’ – and here’s why:

The lessons
The course consisted of four all-day Saturday sessions over four months. While this may sound painful, the engaging and informative course topics meant that it was anything but. On the course, I learnt how to help employees become more engaged at work; how to implement internal social media into a company and how to write a strong corporate narrative. I particularly enjoyed exploring organisational tone of voice and learning how to create a robust communications plan (FYI: setting SMART objectives is not as easy as it sounds!). It was a steep learning curve for me, and there were a few times when I felt overwhelmed by all the information. However, this soon faded once I took time to assimilate my new knowledge and do some further reading.

IC Certificate Course

The assignment
At the end of the course, I had to write a 3,000-word critique examining one aspect of IC theory in the context of a real-life organisation. Having thoroughly enjoyed learning about engagement, I chose to focus on the interplay between IC and employee engagement at my workplace. On the advice of a friend who had recently completed my course, I began preparing for the assignment as early as I could. The preparation process was reminiscent of my uni days, not least because I spent hours researching and writing the assignment in my old uni library! In the end, I got a distinction, so all my hard work and sacrifices were not in vain.

The students
I’ve written elsewhere about how friendly and enthusiastic internal communicators are and my ‘classmates’ were no different. There was a real sense of camaraderie in my teaching group and everyone was up for sharing successful techniques, funny employer stories and course notes. We were an eclectic group in terms of professional backgrounds, seniority, geography and industry. As well as IC officers and managers, there was a Dutch consultant who flew in for the lectures and an employee of the Royal Household! As the most junior communicator, I initially felt that I had little to offer the group, so I kept quiet. But after reflecting on my previous work experience and psychology studies, I realised that I had some great insights to share and I began actively participating in class discussions.

The opportunities
Although I’ve only just officially completed the course, I believe that it has already opened up many doors for me. Since applying for the course last summer, I’ve been offered two comms jobs, been highly commended as a future leader at the CIPR #InsideStory Awards and have won a staff award for innovative comms. This recognition is a testament to the knowledge and skills that I acquired on the course, which I’ve reinforced with work experience and further reading. Moreover, I self-funded my studies which shows that I’m committed to my professional development; a key competence for many IC jobs.

The contacts I made while on the course have also been invaluable. As an in-house internal communicator, it’s easy to become detached from the profession. By connecting with keen learners from industries different to my own, I’m able to learn new ways of working which I can apply to my organisation (and vice versa).

Final thoughts
I’d highly recommend studying IC academically, particularly if you’re a career-changer like me. Signing up for the course was a big leap of faith for me; thankfully, it was a worthwhile investment. I’m now a more confident and effective IC practitioner. I’ve decided to postpone further academic studying for now so that I can continue to embed what I’ve learnt into my practice. That being said, I’m a nerd at heart, so I reckon it won’t be too long before I’m back studying again!

**P.S. I’m looking for a mentor – ideally a senior IC professional – who can help me move into an IC management role. If this sounds like you, I’d love to hear from you.

This blog post was first published on Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog (9 July 2017) – https://www.allthingsic.com/blog/.

Five lessons I’ve learnt as a communications assistant

After 10 months as a communications assistant in an NHS hospital trust, I’m leaving to take up an internal communications (IC) executive role at a large professional services firm. To mark this special occasion (and my first blog post!), here’s five important lessons I’ve learnt as an assistant:

1. Comms is much more than writing – one of the reasons I switched to a career in comms is because it seemed the closest job to journalism – one of my lifelong dream jobs. Thankfully, comms is so much more than just drafting online articles. As a comms assistant, I got to take corporate photos; help organise staff events; analyse social media statistics; create videos for YouTube and commission print design work. And I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I also got to write numerous articles for the trust’s intranet and website which was fun too. That’s the beauty of comms – there are so many tactical and strategic skills to learn and use. Yes, writing is an important piece of the comms puzzle, but it is by no means the only one. I look forward to learning and using more comms skills as my career develops.

2. Internal and external comms benefit from working closely together – as an assistant, I supported the internal and external comms teams which gave me a detailed and helicopter view of the comms team’s activities. I used this position to share updates between the teams and to ensure that both teams considered the trust’s internal and external comms channels and key messages when planning projects and campaigns. Both teams have said that they found my dual perspective useful and I can see how our team outputs were enriched by internal and external comms being closely linked. You only have to look at the recent controversies at United Airlines and British Airways to see what can happen when internal and external messages do not align. Digital technology is steadily closing the gap between internal and external comms, so teams working in these spaces need to align if their organisations want to be trusted.

3. Comms teams are bad at internal self-promotion – as a business function, communications – especially the internal kind – still remains a mystery to many. Try telling an old school friend or a distant relative what you do for a living and watch their reaction (I’m guessing blank stares and excessive nodding). Colleagues can be just as oblivious, believing you have the power to extend their email recipient limit or resolve their pay issues (genuine queries I’ve received). But can we really blame them? The central purpose of comms is to share information with different audiences, yet too often comms teams seem reticent to tell their colleagues who they are and what they can (or can’t/won’t) do. My team received more relevant requests for support (compared to irrelevant requests) after we launched a team intranet page (with photo) and went out and talked to key staff groups about the work that we do. Who’d a thunk!

4. Networking is everything – Before I moved into internal comms, I’d never really experienced the benefits of networking. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now seen the light. That I’ve secured a more senior IC role after 10 months as an assistant is partly due to the contacts I’ve made through attending and helping organise IC events and taking part in IC debates on social media. My IC network has also given me some handy comms tips and career advice, and has shared job vacancies with me – including my new role. My enthusiasm for IC – as evidenced by my networking – was one of the main reasons I was nominated for a 2017 CIPR #InsideStory award. In some ways, I’m fortunate because IC folk are some of the warmest and helpful professionals that I’ve met. However, had I not been brave and thrown myself into the world of IC, I would never have known.

5. Comms can help improve people’s lives – Over the years, certain sections of the UK media have accused NHS communicators of being a ‘pointless’ drain on an already cash-strapped system (See The Sun and The Telegraph). This could not be further from the truth. I won’t go too much into the vital role that communication teams play in the NHS – Amanda Nash, head of comms at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, covers this brilliantly in her recent blog post. My personal experience is that effective communications complements the amazing work carried out by NHS staff every day. For example, my team created promotional material and online content for an eye drop awareness event run by the trust’s Pharmacy team which helped raise the event’s profile and increase patient attendance. It is hoped that the campaign will help improve patient health outcomes and satisfaction ratings and the available data looks promising so far. So there you have it; comms can indeed improve lives.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt over the past 10 months that a) I love working in internal communications; and b) I’m actually quite good at it! This is partly due to the wonderful people who have supported me on my journey so far – thank you! I look forward to starting my new role and the next chapter of my IC career.

What were the most important lessons you learnt when you started out in communications? 

Let me know by leaving a comment below or connecting with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Reflections on IoIC Live 2017

First published on LinkedIn on 15 May 2017.

Institute of Internal Communication Instagram frame

Last Thursday and Friday, over 100 communication professionals came together in Bristol for IoIC Live, an annual conference run by the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC).

This year’s event focused on the core skills that internal communicators need to engage their colleagues and to add value to their organisations. Delegates were treated to a great programme of speakers and workshops on a variety of topics, including mobile technology strategy, storytelling and the psychology of communication.

As a member of the IoIC event committee, I organised two sessions and was able to attend some of the talks (when I wasn’t ushering delegates between rooms or on roving mic duty!).

Here’s what I took away from my six favourite sessions. As I like a challenge, I’ve tried to capture each session in one sentence (wish me luck!):

Day 1:

  • ‘Design for people who are mobile; but remember they won’t care after 96 seconds.’

Session: What you need to know about successfully adopting mobile technology in the workplace – Sharon O’Dea

  • ‘When it comes to ROI for face-to-face comms, outcomes (e.g. changes in behaviour) mean more than employees’ general event feedback.’

Session: The value of face to face – Dale Parmenter, drp group

  • ‘Logic is not king – 86% of our decisions are driven by emotions.’

Session: Get inside the head of your CEO – Graham Cox, Boundaries Edge

Day 2:

  • ‘People are people – to communicate more effectively, combine an understanding of psychology and common sense.’

Session: Psychology of communication – using psychology to gain influence and trust – Nicole Utzinger, EMEA Communications Consulting

  • ‘Do in/with an email what you would in a face-to-face conversation.’

Session: How do we solve a problem like too many emails? Nick Crawford, Sally Otter and Sam Thomas

  • ‘Your people are the most valuable tool for enabling organisational change, so make the most of their drive, empathy and resilience.’

Session: Ready for change with strengths-based training, Jane Sparrow, The Culture Builders

Ultimately, the conference has reinforced my view that psychology and internal communication are closely cousins. When it comes to informing and engaging your people, having a basic understanding of universal human behaviour and cognition and those specific to your people is hugely beneficial.

To that end, I’ll be exploring these topics as part of my new blog site (launching in June). I’ll be sharing more details about my blog on LinkedIn and Twitter soon, so watch this space.

* Special thanks go to IoIC for giving me the opportunity to work on the event. I look forward to working on the IoIC Live 18!

CIPR Inside AGM: my thoughts

First published on LinkedIn on 14 March 2017.

Chartered Institute of Public Relations Internal Communications group banner

Yesterday I attended the annual general meeting (AGM) for CIPR Inside, the CIPR sectoral group for internal communicators and employee engagers.

The AGM is a great opportunity to discuss the current state of the sector, chat to fellow internal communication (IC) bods from across different industries and learn more about the fantastic work that CIPR Inside does for its 800-so members.

Here’s a rundown of/some of my thoughts about last night’s meeting:

  1. The group’s conference in October was a resounding success. A whopping 180 people attended the event – entitled ‘Closing the Gap’ – and explored how IC can help connect people and departments within their organisation. I’m gutted I didn’t go, not least because the panel of non-comms bods sharing their experiences and thoughts on IC sounded like my kind of session!
  2. Last month’s #InsideStory awards was another jewel in the CIPR Inside’s crown. The team received a record-breaking 100 award entries this year from a variety of brands, big and small. I feel very honoured to have been nominated and highly commended in the Future Leader award category. Well done to all the other nominees, winners and CIPR Inside for organising a brilliant event that even Storm Doris couldn’t beat!
  3. Four new executive committee members were selected in a short and uncontroversial election (a seemingly rare phenomenon these days!). See the CIPR Inside website for more details.
  4. The new committee chair outlined some of their priorities for 2017/18, which included developing resources to help members do their best work, including case studies and toolkits, and participating in more Task and Finish Groups for CIPR projects which impact IC professionals
  5. IC professionals are some of the most passionate, resilient, funny and friendly people I’ve met. I find networking within the IC pool easy – everyone is always up for a chat and willing to share their own experiences in order to help you develop professionally and personally.

I look forward to writing for the CIPR Inside blog, joining a Task and Finish Group (my #insidestory award prize – yay!) and attending more of the committee events in the coming months.

If you’re planning to go to any events but aren’t sure about whether it’s for you, I’d be happy to have a chat about it. I’m not a CIPR member so my opinion will be based purely on my own – very positive – experience.

SOPPY MOMENT ALERT: Yesterday’s AGM was extra special for me, as it was a year ago at the last AGM that I fell in love with IC and decided to pursue it as a career. It’s been a fun and eventful 12 months and I look forward to seeing where this journey will take me!