How I Discovered Fulfilling Friendships

One day, I was listening to a podcast, and the speaker said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

When I heard these words, I stopped. I thought about my life and the kind of future my friends represented. I thought about how I felt when I was with my friends. I thought about the things we did together, and how they’d respond when I would come to them with problems. Soon, I realized that none of my answers to these questions made me feel excited about my future. At that moment, I knew that I didn’t want my future to be based on the friends I had.

I set out to find better companions. I distanced myself from my old friends. It was lonely, but I soothed my discomfort by reminding myself that I’d rather have no friends than friends who made me unhappy. But, of course, that’s easier said than done. After a few months, I really thought that I was going to be friendless for the rest of my life.

I had a significant amount of time on my hands at that point. So I did a lot of reading and listening to podcasts. One day, I was listening to a sermon, and the pastor was preaching on being single. He told the crowd to, “Pray for your future spouse and become the person that you want to be with.” I already had a strong and healthy romantic relationship, but I thought that I might be able to apply this advice to friendships too.

I decided to pray for my future friend. (At that point, I had given up hope on having multiple friends, so I settled for one). I wanted her to be happy and close to God. I prayed for her heart and that she would be kind, patient, and accepting. I also prayed that I could begin to cultivate those qualities in myself. It all felt a little silly–kind of like I was placing an order for a customized friend. But, loneliness makes you do crazy things. I felt my heart aching for a female companion. While my boyfriend is basically my best friend, there’s something special about having a best girlfriend that no man can fulfill.

Throughout the year, I tried out a couple of new friendships, but nothing ever stuck. Slowly, I became even more discouraged. I felt like God wasn’t listening. I convinced myself that He didn’t care about the fact that I wouldn’t have bridesmaids or anyone to have a “girl’s night” with. Then, one day, I was reading the book Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst – a very fitting title for that season in my life. I posted a picture on Facebook that showed the book and my steaming cup of chamomile tea. I didn’t think anything of it, so when I was done reading, I went to bed.

The next morning, there was a comment on my photo. It was from a girl I went to high school with. She was a couple of years older than me, so we were never close when we went to school together, but I always liked her. She said that she loved Uninvited and asked me what I thought of it. I commented back. She commented back. Before I knew it, we were having an entire conversation in the comments section of my photo. Eventually, she invited me to a Bible study that she and a friend were starting. I surprised myself when I said yes. A year before that, I probably wouldn’t have committed to it. But, I was so eager for friends that I was willing to hang out with anyone.

I remember driving up to the house where Bible study was being hosted. I was so nervous. But, at the same time, I had low expectations since I basically didn’t know anyone who would be there. But, as soon as I walked in, I was welcomed with hugs and so many beautiful smiles. After grabbing some snacks, all of us girls gathered in the living room and opened up God’s word. Most of us had just met, but we ended up sharing our hearts for hours. I felt such a genuine sense of connection. It was exactly what I had been longing for.

Now, one year later, I have not one, but an entire group of magnificent best friends. We still do Bible study together on Friday nights. Other days, we’ll grab pizza or have a movie night or head to a baseball game with our boyfriends and husbands. What I love is that my friends are happy. They use that happiness to build me up and show me what real friendship looks like. All of them have a passionate love for God. Most importantly, they help me love God. They give me hope for the future.

What I hope you gain from this story is that it’s okay to be friendless for a while. It’s important to find friends who encourage you. I spent a long time participating in friendships that were not fulfilling and left me feeling drained and soggy. You don’t have to settle for mediocre because you’re afraid that you can’t find anything better. Find friends that set you up for a bright and hopeful future. It’s worth the wait.

Have you had a similar experience with friends? Let us know in the comments!

Written by Alana Chibas

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Things I Wish I Had Known About Working

My name is Charlotte Chandler and I’m the founder of Healthcare and Heels, a career and lifestyle blog for the driven, professional woman. Through high school, college and graduate school, I always felt like I had a clear path with a checklist for how to be successful. Once I joined the working world, I realized there are no longer defined tracks and there is definitely no career playbook. And throw in the unique experiences and challenges of being a professional woman, and you can find yourself feeling lost and in need of guidance and support. I created Healthcare and Heels to be a place where young professional women can find helpful career advice, real and relatable experiences, and work fashion and hacks that you can apply to your everyday life!


I’m excited to be a contributor to the new She online platform. I love what She stands for and I’m thrilled to be a part of the launch!

Today, I’m sharing the top things I wish I had known when starting my first post-graduate job.

Unlike in school, where every test, quiz, homework assignment or paper has a deadline and each semester ends with a very definitive finals week, the workplace is quite different. You may have the occasional big project deadline, but more often than not you will have to be self-driven and create your own mini deadlines to continue working towards long-term goals.

Recognition & Feedback
In school, there are always opportunities for feedback from your teachers and coaches, with frequent grades and even annual award ceremonies. In the workplace, recognition and feedback are given less frequently. You have an annual review with your boss, but other than that there is no formal feedback.

It is up to your supervisor’s discretion how much they provide you with feedback or recognize your accomplishments. This has definitely been an adjustment since I crave feedback and am very driven by recognition, but getting positive feedback about a big project always gives me that added boost I need!

Time Management
Time management is a must-have skill that can be a challenge to develop without the frequent deadlines and clean breaks that come with being in school. I shared my favourite time management tips here.

Unlike in every level of education, at work you no longer have a large cohort of people in the same phase of life as you. The lack of built-in friends can make work feel isolating at times. There are people of many different walks of life in the work place and you are often stratified by what department you work in.

I have learned that you can still find camaraderie, team work and friendship in the work place – it just isn’t handed to you in the same way. It also takes time to build the trust of your team members, so although being the new person in your office may feel lonely, it won’t last long! Six months down the line you will feel like you have always been a member of the team.

Making Mistakes
Although it might feel like you have to be perfect in your first job, this simply isn’t the case. People not only expect you to make mistakes, but even encourage some trial and error! Small errors are important to learning your role and if you have ever made a mistake at work, you can recall how those minor blunders solidified your learning. Keep in mind – it is important to not make the same mistakes repeatedly. As long as you own your mistakes and learn from them, no one will ever fault you.

It is also critical to realize you aren’t going to be good at your job, or even productive, right away. I have heard that six months into your job you should be a productive and contributing member of your team, although you may find that you get comfortable with your work sooner than that.

My final takeaway is that you shouldn’t apologize so much when you make day-to-day mistakes. When I first started working I found myself apologizing frequently but began to make a conscious effort not to say I’m sorry unless I had truly made a significant error. You don’t have to apologize for being new and eager to learn!

Sit at the Table
I read this advice in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and it has always stuck with me. She explains in her book that you should always take a seat at the table (especially as a woman) since many times women will take the seats around the perimeter of the room even when there are seats available at the table. I took this advice to heart and I always sit at the table in the conference room, unless it is full when I walk into the meeting. You are an important contributor to the team, so “lean in” and be a part of the conversation.

I have also learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up in meetings even when you are new to the job or company. Sometimes the most obvious questions help solve big issues and question unproductive and/or deep-rooted cultural norms within an organization.

You also don’t have to be an expert to start contributing to team meetings and conversations. It is important to listen and learn in those first few months, but I have realized after a few years of working that sometimes just stepping up and being willing to put in the hard work can set you apart even if you aren’t the most experienced or knowledgeable person in the room (‘fake it ’til you make it’ as the saying goes!)

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
After a bad day in my first year of working, I found myself questioning…can I really do this whole working thing for the rest of my life? And typically, the next day I would have the best day with some extra kudos or a win on a big project.

You will also experience weeks that aren’t great often followed by productive weeks where you feel like you’re killing it. There are highs and lows, but it’s important to realize that your career can last 40 years! Just because you don’t feel like you are exactly where you want to be for a few weeks, months or even years of your career, doesn’t mean that you are at a dead-end. Every job is a stepping stone where you learn what you like and don’t like in your work. In just two years I’ve already learned a ton about what I enjoy and where my professional strengths lie.

Gut Feelings
Over the past two years (but especially during my first year of working), I have learned to trust my gut instincts. Whether it was finding mentors, getting involved with a big project or deciding to pursue a position with a certain team, my gut has never been wrong. Even if making a decision didn’t result in my desired outcome, I have always ended up stronger and in a better place than I was before.

It is important to trust your gut, especially when your career starts to go in a direction you didn’t expect. For example, in college and grad school I never would have expected to have taken a job with a financial and budgeting component. I chose to trust my gut and align myself with a team that I clicked with regardless of what I thought I would do as a first job, and that decision has served me well so far!

Finally, you must find good mentors and friends along the way. You will be in your career for more than half of your lifetime and it is important to make meaningful connections and have people with whom you can share these experiences. I would have struggled with many of my professional decisions if I hadn’t had great colleagues and mentors supporting and brainstorming with me along the way. You can find my tips on how to find a mentor here.

For more career and young professional lifestyle content, you can follow along with Charlotte on the Healthcare and Heels blog and on the Healthcare and Heels Instagram.

Do you have any tips? Let us know in the comments!

It’s Good To Talk: Dealing With Depression

According to the leading mental health charity in the UK, Mind, ‘approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year’. Note: this isn’t 1 in 4 people during someone’s lifetime, this is per year. That’s a lot of people with a lot of problems. Although there is so much good work being done to support people’s mental health, and people are more openly talking about it, there continues to be stigma and a massive lack of education on the subject. Put simply, there’s still a lot of work to do in this field, and people still don’t seem to understand the scariest fundamental truth about mental health: not talking about it could kill you.

I have always had a good life. I’m not saying I don’t have my fair share of problems, but I do have a loving and accepting family and wonderful friends. I went to a good school, a good University, got a decent grade and I never had to worry about money in any real way. Essentially, everything I needed or wanted I had – I had no ‘reason’ to be depressed.

However, something was wrong. Unlike some, I didn’t have a definitive event or moment when I became depressed and I can’t remember when or where it really started, but I do know that I ignored a bunch of signals.  I started having regular panic attacks, to the extent I woke up one morning in the midst of one.  It probably should’ve worried me when I had one whilst picking up my gown on graduation day; on what was meant to mark one of my greatest achievements to date, I felt like an imposter in my own life.

After graduation my mental health got worse, and I was in perpetual state of denial. The thing was, I felt I was just being dramatic. I wasn’t ‘sadder’ than everyone else; to think that would be self-involved and stupid, and why was I thinking about myself this much anyway? I needed to stop being so selfish and arrogant and focus on someone else for a change.

As these thoughts would circulate in my head daily, I was becoming more and more apathetic, hopeless and exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Feeling that kind of emptiness is hard to describe, but for me it was being constantly, utterly, and negatively overwhelmed, while simultaneously, not quite being able to care that I was feeling that way. Doing anything seemed both impossible and pointless; I did (and felt) nothing.

Depression is often cyclical and as my mental health started to deteriorate the unhelpful internal dialogue began to impact my external world. The simple things like taking care of myself – my eating, my sleeping, my exercise, my appearance, my relationships, my flat – became a daily battle; sometimes it’d take me half an hour to put on a pair of tights. It wasn’t until I was actively thinking about whether or not I could successfully hang myself with my laptop power cord, that I realised I had a problem. Even I knew that it was a red flag when I started having suicidal thoughts.

It was then I went to the doctor and I was incredibly lucky, because I found one who immediately believed me. This is really important – if you are going through these problems and you don’t have a doctor who 100% believes you, find another doctor. You’re not crazy and you need someone to help you. Fortunately for me, I had a positive experience and was given excellent advice.

I was put on the anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication Citalopram and, although my mental state was on the way to improving I made some incredibly hard decisions to maintain my mental and emotional health. At the age of 24, I quit my stable job, moved back to my hometown to live with my parents and, consequently, ended my relationship of four years (a relationship that I was convinced was going to end in marriage, kids, the works).  If my life were a building, it had been systematically torn down until only the foundations were left.

Nevertheless, although this decimation was painful, and I felt I had to re-establish who I was, I began to learn what was good for me. I gained confidence about how I could battle through my toughest days and begin to hope that tomorrow might be better. It gave me perspective: I now know what I want and need to prioritise to make sure I’m as happy and healthy as I can be.

One of the imperative elements of this journey was me actually talking about how I felt, consciously and continuously. Partly to not let negative thoughts fester in my head, and partly to make sure there was no denial in how I felt about anything. It would be a lie to say that ‘the more I talked about it the better I felt’, but it was – and still is – good to share my story with people. Three things consistently surprise me when I do:

  1. You’re never as alone as you think you are.
  2. You’re definitely more loved than you think you are.
  3. Just by talking you can really help others, or be helped by them.

The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders’. I think it’s important to remember, as women, that strength is not defined by soldiering on and pretending that nothing is wrong.  Instead, it should be defined by creating a dialogue, supporting and encouraging each other, and – when we’re ready – sharing our stories. This is how I believe we can move forward.

Written by Rachel Foster

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How To Achieve Your Goals

One of my favorite questions to ask on consultation calls is this:

What would be an amazing outcome for you in a year?

People have great answers. They want to own their own businesses, make partner, find love, make six figures, have great sex, and learn to love themselves.

I bet you have dreams you’ve been thinking about for years but never achieved, too.

Why not? Because you haven’t taken massive action. And that’s the tool I’m going to teach you today.

Massive action means acting consistently until you get what you want, no matter what.

Most of us are willing to take a little action, some minor action, or occasionally some major action. We’re willing to try one thing, or three things, or maybe five things at once.

Often when we think about trying to achieve a goal, we’re already anticipating failure. One of my favorite coaching moments ever was when a client sent me her business plan with the question, “But how do I know when it’s time to give up on this?”

She was entirely serious, and I love the example, because so often that is how we approach our hopes and dreams. We expect they won’t work out, and we plan to fail ahead of time. Even as we try a little bit, we’re assuming we will give-up and trying to figure out when.

Massive action does not allow for the concept of failure. Because you don’t give up. You just keep taking action until you get what you want.

What I love about massive action is that it removes all the pressure of trying to figure out what’s the best thing to do, if you’re doing the right thing, and what you will do if what you try doesn’t work. You don’t ever have to answer those questions, because all you need to do is keep taking one action after another until you have the result.

Massive action removes all doubt and fear. There’s no reason to be afraid, confused, or doubtful. You’re just going to keep taking action until you have what you want.

When you commit to massive action, there’s no room for self-pity. There’s no room for sulking, blaming the universe, feeling sorry for yourself, or bargaining with yourself about how much effort you should have to put forward. The “shoulds” don’t matter. Fair doesn’t matter. What other people do (or don’t do) doesn’t matter.

Do you have what you want? No? Then take more action. That’s all you have to know.

If you commit to this principle, it will change your whole life, no matter what it is you want.

Want a successful business? Massive action.

Want to become an ultra-marathoner? Massive action.

Want to be a Supreme Court Justice? Massive action.

If you want a family, don’t go on five first dates and throw-up your hands. Don’t go on 50 first dates and throw-up your hands. Go on 500 first dates if you must! Massive action.

The beauty of massive action is that it shortcuts all the negotiation and mental drama you have with yourself about whether you have done enough. There’s no point to any of that, because you’re just going to keep taking action until you get what you want. All you must decide is what next action you’re going to take.

When you commit to massive action, keep taking action, and finally create what you want, you’ll feel invincible. It sounds so simple, and yet 99% of people will never do it. Be part of the 1%. I know you can do it, because I did it, and the only difference between you and me is that I took massive action in my self-coaching, my business, and my life.

Kara Loewentheil is a master certified life coach and is behind the hugely popular UnF*ck Your Brain coaching course and podcast. This post was previously featured on her website 

Feeling inspired? Let us know in the comments!

Beauty Basics: UV-Proof Skincare

We’ve all heard the scary stories and seen the shocking images of the damage that UV rays do to your skin, but have they shocked us enough? Hands up if you don’t really take sun and UV protection into consideration when buying skincare and makeup? Well, even if you aren’t lucky enough to live in a sunshine state, the British Association of Dermatologists say that we should be using sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 every day.

This is because even when it’s overcast and rainy, the sun’s two types of UV rays – A (longwave) and B (shortwave) – can cause serious damage to our skin (as well as causing skin cancers). Briefly, UVA is the more prevalent of the two and, because it penetrates skin more deeply than UVB, it is the one that causes the most skin damage in terms of wrinkles and ageing. UVB, on the other hand, is the radiation that is the main cause of sunburn. Both types can damage your skin all year round. And if you think that because you work inside you don’t need to be worried as much, think again – UVA penetrates glass.

But what level of protection is best? What do all the numbers and stars even mean? Well, the level of SPF (which ranges from 2 to 50+) shows the level of protection against UVB. For UVA protection, we look at the star rating that should be on the packaging; they range from 1 to 5 stars and indicate the ratio between the level of UVA protection and UVB protection. Yes, that sounds slightly confusing, but what it basically means is that for optimal protection you want to select a product with a high SPF and a high UVA star rating – the ones that offer both UVA/UVB protection are called “broad spectrum”.

So, aside from covering ourselves up head to toe in a reflective colour (which, by the way, is bright or dark colours, not white) what can we do to protect our skin every day? Slather a thick factor 50 on our face and décolletage? But I hate being sticky. Leave the house before the sun comes up and only return after sunset? People will think I’m a vampire.

Luckily for us, the skincare and makeup industry have cottoned on to our desire for ‘smart’ products that provide the sort of sun/UV coverage we need while also providing that non-sticky/non-greasy/blemishes covered/I-woke-up-like-this dewy look we all crave.  If you don’t already use such products, what are you waiting for? Shop some of the top moisturisers, face suncreams and many-in-one makeup products below and feel smug everyday knowing you are looking great and protecting your skin in one fell swoop. If your favourite is not on our list, tell us in the comments!

Moisturisers (ideal if you don’t like the idea of a separate suncream step in your morning routine, but be aware that these won’t usually be water resistant)

Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily Defense (SPF 50 plus UVA and UVB filters). It may not be cheap, but this moisturiser offers a lot of protecting-bang for your buck. It’s lightweight and oil free so it will moisturise your skin without feeling greasy. If you are serious about protecting your skin (and we all should be) then you should consider this an investment – future you will thank you.

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Sun Defense (SPF 50 plus UVA and UVB protection). This moisturiser is at a slightly better price point and still offers SPF 50 protection. Like the Kiehl’s cream, it is oil free and lightweight so it should feel comfortable on your skin and it hydrates for up to eight hours.

No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced (SPF 30 plus UVA protection). No7 is quite well known for its good quality skincare at more affordable prices. This moisturiser offers pretty good protection and has all sorts of useful things in it like anti-oxidants, serum technology and pro-retinol. It is also available in SPF 50.

Face suncreams (ideal if you already have a favourite moisturiser/routine but want to up your protection. This is the best choice for full protection)

Glossier Invisible Shield (SPF 30 plus UVA and UVB filters). “Sunscreen for people who hate wearing sunscreen”. This gel formula leaves no greasy residue and protects from the harmful UV rays as well as environmental pollution (which also plays a big role in skin damage – seriously, we are fighting an uphill battle). Also, it smells nice thanks to the orange peel oil #winning.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios AC Anti-Shine Matte Fluid (SPF 50 plus UVA, UVB and infrared protection). This suncream offers “exceptionally high protection” in the form of a lightweight, non-greasy cream. It’s non-comedogenic which means it won’t block your pores and lead to breakouts.

Soap & Glory Make Yourself Youthful Sunshield Superfluid (SPF 50 plus UVA and UVB protection). This offering from Soap & Glory is a handy little addition to your morning routine. It is a lightweight, invisible cream which includes vitamins C and E to offer additional protection against harmful free radicals and it even helps mattify your skin (so you’re not reflective).

Makeup (ideal for fans of the all-in-one routine or when you want to be extra safe)

MAC Studio Waterweight foundation (SPF 30 plus UVA and UVB protection). MAC is known for its cult beauty products and this foundation is no exception. This gel serum formula provides weightless protection while also minimising imperfections and providing all day coverage (p.s. they also do a concealer).

Rimmel BB Cream 9 in 1 (SPF 25 plus UV protection). How can a product be a ‘9 in 1’!? Well, because it primes, moisturises, reduces appearance of pores, conceals, smoothes, mattifies, brightens and (most importantly) protects against the sun.

IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream (SPF 50 plus UVA and UVB protection). This CC (colour correcting) cream is another type of all-in-one cream that provides concealing and coverage benefits while also offering protection against the sun’s harmful rays.

For the best coverage and protection, experts recommend using suncream underneath your makeup regardless of whether it has SPF protection or not.

Written by Ciara Gigleux

Why Having Big Dreams Can Be A Little Scary

I am sure that most of us have at least one dream or goal. Maybe it’s to get a degree, start a business, make a name for yourself in your chosen career…whatever it is, I bet that at some point it has scared you. Why do our dreams scare us? Why is it that in one moment we can feel crazily excited and motivated, ready to take on the world and do whatever it takes to make the dream a reality, and in another moment feel the doubt creeping in – this probably isn’t going to work, how could I be good enough to to do that? – and see all the hurdles and hoops that you’ll have to get through along the way?

You can picture what it is you want in your mind, you know who you want to be and where you want to go, and you have some idea of how to get there, but sometimes it can feel like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff; you know it’s time to jump but you can’t quite bring yourself to do it.

Fear of failure, fear of not living up to your own (or others’) expectations, fear of ridicule. But what if we stopped focusing on the ‘bad’ possible outcomes and start thinking about the great ones? The amazing possibilities and opportunities that may come your way if you just believe in yourself and take the leap. Yes, maybe it’s a leap of faith – but aren’t most things in life?

So what if you fall down? You’ll get back up and try again.

This is exactly what I have been telling myself for the last few months.

I first had the idea for She on my daily commute to work. Like a lot of women, I have BIG dreams (and possibly a bit of an overactive imagination) which means I am constantly doing whatever I think I need to do to get where I want to be. In this mighty quest, I really derive a lot of inspiration from anecdotal evidence – blog posts, websites, podcasts, interviews – usually by women who seem to be kicking ass and who seem to speak right to my soul. I find that by hearing that other women are going through the same things as I am, having the same doubts and insecurities, it makes me feel like I am not alone.

Another source of inspiration is magazines – or at least they used to be. On a few separate occasions I have found myself in the supermarket staring at the wall of women’s magazines and not one of them had the content that I was looking for. I wanted proper articles I could get my teeth into that talked about the stuff I wanted to hear – how to advance in your career, how to build your reputation, look at this woman’s trajectory and here is how she did it, this woman did it her own way and you can too. I was sick of the endless fluff, the articles about diets and exercise that made me feel like crap and the lack of relatable content. I wanted to know about issues affecting women and what one can do to help, I wanted to feel empowered and proud to be a woman. In short, I wanted more substance. When I need inspiration, I look to Instagram and to the many female bloggers and vloggers I follow who tend to be girls just like me, who I feel I can relate to because we are all going through similar things.

I was on the train and had just finished reading a piece on a well-known website about having the guts to start your own business. But the piece was short, too short to impart any real inspiration or advice, and as I sat there thinking “BUT I WANT MORE“, I thought to myself “why not do it yourself?”. Suddenly, like a lightbulb, I knew that’s what I needed to do. What followed next was a rollercoaster; one minute I was elated, frantically scribbling down ideas and plans, the next I was overcome with a feeling of despair – isn’t this just like what someone else has done? Why would anyone want to get involved? Don’t I need to have loads of money to set something like this up? Why would this even work? What if it doesn’t work?  Everyday I would have this battle in my head – on one shoulder was my optimistic dreamer of a cheerleader, on the other was Negative Nelly.

It would have be so easy for me to listen to Nelly (she’s a bit of a regular) but instead, this time, I didn’t. I fought back and told Nelly where she could go – yes this may not work and I may fail. And in putting myself out there on the Internet and on Instagram I cannot do this anonymously so people will know it’s me failing, but what if it does work? What if I can create a platform for women like me who want ‘more’, who could really benefit from having a community of like-minded women to lean on for advice and inspiration?

So I took the leap and here I am. I really hope you’ll join me.


Millennials and Tech – Are We Really Digital Natives?

Reader, I’m a millennial.

I don’t think I’ve ever come up against a term so useless. But of course, that’s what a millennial would say.

Nevertheless, I am a millennial. Moreover, I’m a millennial with tech issues.

We live in a world which often moves at breakneck speed. We have 24-hour news services sending us breaking news alerts round the clock, on subjects as diverse as mass shootings, political sex scandals and Beyonce’s twins. Communications technology has changed so drastically in the last decade that if you’d told me in 2008 Twitter would a) still exist in 2018 and b) become a major platform for political campaigning and analysis, I would have laughed in your face.

Here’s the problem: things have changed so fast that there are vast number of millennials who, like myself, often cannot keep up. There are two very different halves of my generation.

And women are at a particular disadvantage.

We are hailed as the first generation of true ‘digital natives’. This is a bit of a misconception and, of course, it’s largely a Western reality. Most of us in the West can relate to Dolly Alderton’s frankly exasperating story of going on holiday to France only to sit in the B&B for most of it chatting on MSN. I never really got to take a family holiday overseas when I was young, but I do remember a New Year’s Eve exchanging MSN messages with my best friend until my mum shouted at me at 23:45 to spend some time with her.

Most of us have a good grip on online social media, because, during our adolescence, they were marketed to teenagers as cooler, more private alternatives to using the home phone. Akin to the musical and cultural freedom felt by baby boomers who had portable transistor radios, online services like MSN, MySpace and Facebook gave us our own space to experiment, cultivate and express identities largely away from parental influence.

Yet, in terms of actual digital skills – the kind which help through university and career progression – did we really learn that much?

Our teachers were operating in a system which knew it had to change, and fast, if kids were going to have any hope of functioning in a digital, globalised world. Unfortunately, teachers were often ill-equipped to teach us about coding, content creation and online safety because they were learning along with us. My school did not have a class on coding, and since I was at a relatively well-off state school, I doubt very much that less wealthy schools did either.

There is a divide in the millennial generation, even between those born in the early nineties versus the mid-to-late nineties. When I was leaving school, they were just implementing a student laptop system for junior high schoolers and thinking about more productive digital classes.

I am in that unfortunate group of millennials who missed starting my career when it was not necessary to know more than how to use email, Word, Excel and PowerPoint for most jobs, but arrived too early to make use of the educational opportunities to learn new digital skills. This might have been no big deal in any other era aside from the one we live in. Yet those millennials who began their careers before the 2008 global economic crash had a plethora of opportunities which no longer exist, and they got to take them with only a hint of how much the internet would affect the modern job market. Current job listings comprise a vast number of technologically-focused roles which did not exist before 2010.

This is not to remove agency from women who fit into this group. There are plenty of women who do succeed in tech, although not at the rate we should be. Most of the tech women I know are self-taught, or had to make the effort to seek out opportunities to learn beyond school and university because in many institutions we are not taught the value of digital literacy and coding until halfway through our job search.

Only 20% of tech jobs are held by women. One only needs to look at the deluge of sexist behaviour in Silicon Valley to see that tech is a notorious boys club. In an Observer list of gender problems in tech, it was revealed, amongst other eye-opening statistics, that:

  • Women own only 5% of start ups.
  • They earn only 28% of computer science degrees.
  • Only 7% of partners at Top 100 venture capital firms are women.
  • Women under age 25 in the tech industry earn, on average, 29% less than their male counterparts.
  • Women hold only 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies.
  • In the high tech industry, the quit rate is more than twice as high for women (41%) than it is for men (17%).
  • In 2016, venture capitalists invested just $1.46 billion in women-led companies. Male-led companies earned $58.2 billion in investments.
  • Women receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company 63% of the time.

74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields, so something is clearly going amiss here. The discussion of that subject has been, and will continue to be, the focus of multiple books and articles, so I won’t discuss it too much here. Yet the combination of a technological learning gap during adolescence and the cultural barriers around the tech industry combine dangerously to keep women out of careers. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that for women of colour, the picture is even worse.

This is not just a Western problem – in fact, in the West we are lucky to now have access to a range of programmes to teach girls how to code, to subsidise digital skills lessons for university students, and to be able to at least know a few people who could teach us the ropes when it comes to coding or other digital skills.

Globally, the divide between the digitally literate and illiterate is finally having an impact on international policy. The UN now has a global framework to measure digital literacy with a list of competencies including the fundamentals of hardware and software, communication, safety, digital content creation and career-related knowledge and skills. While looking at the list, I noticed gaps in my own digital literacy, even in the career space I inhabit as a freelance content creator.

The theme of 2017’s global literacy day was ‘Literacy in the Digital World’. Recent data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) showed that 750 million adults (two-thirds of whom are women), including 102 million young people, cannot read or write a simple sentence. Immediately, this makes the world of digital knowledge and content creation inaccessible to 750 million people. As of July 2017, only 51% of the world’s population has regular access to the internet. Access statistics obviously differ according to geography with African, Middle Eastern, Latin American and Asia-Pacific nations at a disadvantage – and yes, women are still worse off since 12% fewer women use the internet than men worldwide, and this rises to a 25% gap in African nations.

In the West, and in a more acute sense globally, access to careers, economic development and social mobility are at risk due to poverty, generational differences and gender barriers. For women, the next step is to empower ourselves as best as we can to make space in an industry which lacks diversity. Where that cannot be done, national, regional and global government services have a responsibility to ensure that people, particularly women, can start to overcome their disadvantages through widespread computer and internet access.

So, looking to start? Girls Who Code, CodeAcademy and Skillshare provide affordable (mostly free) services to improve your digital skills. To donate to the global effort for an inclusive digital world, check out the Good Things Foundation.

It’s time to tell the tech industry the boys club is over.

Written by Ellen Macpherson

Do you code? Do you want to learn more tech skills? Let us know in the comments!