"As Women We’re Moving Into A New Professional Era" – Phoebe Lovatt On Her New Book & Redefining Success

Photo: Lianna Tarantin
“As women we’re moving into a new professional era,” says Phoebe Lovatt, founder of The WW Club, a space for women to meet, collaborate, share knowledge and hang out, which she founded in 2015 after finding freelance life in LA isolating. “This is certainly a new time for women in the workplace.” Work looks different in 2017 than it did for our parents when they were in their 20s. You can work a 9-5 and have a passion project on the side; you can pull pints while making podcasts, teach by day and perform poetry by night, work in finance and be a pilates instructor at the weekend.
There’s no one-size-fits-all and there’s been a real shift in our working attitudes in the past several years, something London-born Lovatt knows only too well. Phoebe’s first book, The Working Woman’s Handbook, is released tomorrow: a manual, toolkit and kick-up-the-arse all rolled into one. If you’re thinking of a career change, want to ask for a promotion or need some advice on keeping your hustle financially viable, you’ll want to keep this little hardback on you at all times.
After creating The Working Women’s Club, she “had girls emailing me to ask how to send a pitch, or move countries, and I thought it’d be good to put it into a little book”. Enter The Handbook For Women Who Do Creative Work. A series of interviews with Lovatt’s friends (her inner circle includes WAH Nails founder Sharmadean Reid, filmmaker Grace Ladoja, and model Paloma Elsesser) “who do unusual things and are really smart, so they could share their insight”. More like a pamphlet, the publication was picked up by Prestel, who approached Lovatt about turning it into a much bigger project.
Photo: Lianna Tarantin
“I got the book deal on the one-year anniversary of The WW Club, and a year later handed it in.” The book features interviews with some of the most exciting and innovative working women around right now, such as Teen Vogue editor and powerhouse Elaine Welteroth (“She’s just so inspiring! She talks about self-actualisation and personal self-fulfilment”) and prolific journalist and podcaster Ann Friedman (“She taught me the importance of taking yourself and your worth seriously”). But what differentiates this book from the plethora of Pinterest-worthy inspirational publications is the solid business acumen. It’s not often you get dealt both creativity and business smarts – as most writers and artists will tell you – but Phoebe’s used both not only to create a global network but also to share her knowledge in an accessible way. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, and particularly an understanding of how you market things,” she tells me. Surely moving to the other side of the world at 24 forces you to embrace new territory, too? “I moved to LA, then to New York at 27. It’s all well and good saying you want to be self-employed, but if you want to do that in the most expensive city in the world, you better figure out how to make it work, fast. It’s been a combination of necessity and a little bit of hustle, I think.”
Phoebe’s cross-country moves have caused as much admiration as the work she does, perhaps because she’s acted out the dream a lot of us have tucked away on our to-do list: packing it all up and doing it on our own terms. How we work is so dictated by where we live; those bills aren’t going to pay themselves, and extortionate rent prices mean that creative work in big cities like London and New York can get strangled. What differences emerged for Lovatt when working in London, LA and New York?
“London is undeniably exciting and innovative. It’s changing, but it’s much less bound by this commercial way of approaching things that characterises New York. New York is such an expensive city that unless you have parents bankrolling you, you can’t afford to explore your ideas without monetising them from the get-go. That said, it’s incredibly efficient and professional – people get shit done here! And LA? The cost of living is really manageable, so it enabled me to have time to bring my ideas to fruition. I’d say do your creative thinking elsewhere, then come to New York and enact them.”
From tables encouraging you to fill out your monthly saving plan to finally get that project off the ground, to communication exercises to use when pitching an idea to a potential employer, the information in the book is invaluable to working women, no matter what your working environment. But another aspect that makes the book so relevant is that it isn’t just geared towards those who’ve known their goals since day one. “What I hope is that my book will help people to expand their definitions of success, and remove this super alpha construct we’ve been taught about success being defined by money or power,” Phoebe explains. “Some people feel more successful having a very strong work/life balance, while others define it by making time for self-care, wellness or family. I wanted to include a really broad range of women to reflect the fact that we should be throwing off societal standards of what we should be doing or achieving. We need to take a moment to reflect and think about what it means for us to be successful, and build our lives accordingly.”
Photo: Lianna Tarantin
So why does Lovatt think there’s been such a marked shift in the way women work over the past several years? Women-owned businesses, startups and side hustles are prolific now – what’s changed? “I think it’s a massive confluence of things. Firstly, I think technology has evolved to enable us all to be self-publishers and this has been massively empowering for women. We don't need to necessarily strive for acceptance or validation from outdated archaic infrastructures or the corporate ladder,” she tells me.
“Secondly, information is now the most valuable commodity in the workplace. Processing, presenting and digesting information – that is a massively valuable skill. Women, we’re natural communicators, we’re natural information processors. We’re very good at juggling a lot of things in our minds, and able to look at our lives from a 360 viewpoint. These are the professional strengths that this new era requires. And finally, it’s definitely seeing way more visible examples of women who are building new career paths, from running businesses to self-made creatives. It’s well known that if you can’t see it, you can’t imagine it, and we have all these amazing strong visible examples of women who are just killing it in their fields. I think it’s very empowering and inspiring to a new generation of women coming up in the workplace, to see that they can do things their own way.”
And how does Lovatt do it her own way? Musician Goldie recently told ES Magazine that the best advice he was ever given was from David Bowie: “Always reinvent yourself, sunshine.” And that just might be the key to Lovatt’s success. From the first pamphlet and The WW Club weekly newsletter (sign up if you haven’t already), to podcasts and live events, she never sits still. Phoebe’s stayed loyal to her key message – to connect women – and played it out brilliantly across a plethora of multimedia platforms. “At the end of the day, I’m always interested in evolution. Outside of this I do a lot of other work and projects, and I think that’s important for me as a person to keep reminding myself why I do it. I feel like as long as I’m following my own interests, it will be interesting. The day that I start trying to prescribe this really strict outline of what I do or don’t do, then it will go stale and people will stop investing in it.”
So who inspires Phoebe, the woman who inspires so many others to go for what they’ve been putting off for years? “Penny Martin [the editor of The Gentlewoman]. I believe in creating an intellectual translation for what you do. It doesn’t necessarily need to mean going to university – obviously that’s not for everyone – but studying, reference and context are things that are really important to me, whether it’s explicit or not. I think what she’s done with The Gentlewoman, to create something that feels so measured and high-quality in a time of relentless content churn, is really no small feat, so I really respect her.” And, of course, there’s Solange: “She uses her platform to have her political impact. She has a record label, she offers curation, she’s made a book. She’s a real modern businesswoman. Also, she’s the younger sister of the most successful pop artist in the world. To be able to navigate that with such style and elegance is really amazing.”
Plus she’s got her International Girl Crew, the gang of worldwide women who are all smashing it in their respective fields. They are “totally the genesis of my belief in the importance of strong female networks, not just for your personal sanity, but for your professional prosperity,” she explains. “I really benefit from being friends with women that are so good at their jobs and are really interested in supporting other women – that’s why I believe in that as an approach; I can see how it works. Why not advocate for other women in your immediate circle? Men have been doing it since the beginning of time. Men have been giving each other jobs and leg-ups and hook-ups and connections since day one.” Outsourcing knowledge and sharing information is key to Phoebe’s work. “It’s why I made the book. I wanted to take the information that I’m privy to via being lucky enough to know all these amazing women, and present it to other women. That information is so valuable. As a journalist, your impulse is to synthesise information for other people’s benefit, and if that’s what I can do with The WW Club, then that’s a success to me.”
The Working Woman’s Handbook [Prestel] is available in the UK from 7th September. Order it here.