"What is the worst thing that can happen?"
This is the question I always ask when I doubt myself and need to push my boundaries, whether personally or professionally. We might not talk about it, but fear can hold us all back – a fear I had to push through when I met he creative force that is Cindy Gallop.
We met three years ago at Creative Equals’ Rise conference. Cindy gave a passionate speech to the audience, urging us to build our own financial ecosystem "because the white male-dominated one is not working for us".
Of course, I was nervous about introducing myself to her and the cliché that you should never meet your heroes is a well-worn one. But pushing through the fear and connecting with one of the women I admire most in the industry has been transformative for me. By sharing my own experience, I hope to encourage others to invest more of their time and energy in supporting others across the industry.
Breaking the mentor myth
When Cindy came to dinner with my family when she was next in London, I asked her to be my mentor. I was nervous to ask her, and it might surprise you to hear that she said no. Yet what she did offer was something far more useful: telling me to ask her for specific support for things I need help with. Through text and email, she has kept to her word and I really respect that directness.
This is why I would urge others in the industry to be specific about what exactly it is they need support with. Asking for a mentor might not always be the right place to start.
Our time is our most valuable asset and when we use words such as "mentor", it can make simple acts feel like a significant commitment. Cindy’s directness has also made me think about how I better support marginalised people in our industry. We all need to ask ourselves: what skillsets do I have? Is it a good fit for me to support that person or organisation? What can I offer people who might not have a platform?
Cindy’s approach underlines the value of focusing on what you can do, not what you think you can’t.
Knowing your own worth
For me, Cindy’s support has been transformative. As a disabled AF wheelchair user (who is fighting my internalised ableism daily), like people of colour and other marginalised communities, it is all too easy to suffer from imposter syndrome and to question the value of my work.
Cindy’s guidance and campaigning have helped me immensely when it comes to recognising my own value and breaking the taboo that still comes from talking honestly about how much we are, or aren’t, getting paid in the creative industries and beyond.
Watching how Cindy has put her passion for equal pay into action, even creating a chatbot to help people ask for a raise on Equal Pay Day, is a reminder of the role we all have to play in pushing for equity and pay transparency.
Paying it forward
Some people in our industry have criticised Cindy for being too vocal. Yet I believe that she cuts through the noise and shows that being vocal is positive. There is enormous power in the fact that she always tells it how it is.
Disability is very isolating and Cindy continues to be a great supporter of my work. It is so powerful to know I can drop her a text and she will take the time to listen and share her wisdom. It is so easy to forget the value of that wisdom and lived experience in our industry – two of the most vital ingredients for standout creativity.
I believe that authentic leadership is often what happens when no-one is looking. So on her 60th birthday (1 February), I want to celebrate that constant support that Cindy provides behind the scenes, which is so invaluable to our industry.
Using the hashtag #Cindy60, let’s thank Cindy and all the other brilliant women across the industry pushing for progress. For it’s not just the advice she has given me, but what I plan to do with it that counts – and that starts with gratitude.
Sulaiman Khan is founder and chief purpose officer at ThisAbility