In the first week of March, we hosted a 15-year-old girl from a local high school as part of the Digital Her initiative.
The Digital Her project introduces the digital world to young women based in Greater Manchester, giving them exposure to technology-related professions by spending time in a variety of local businesses.
The work placement was the first she had ever done and, as her mentor, I felt the pressure of living up to expectations! My main goal was to organise an exciting, thought-provoking and ultimately useful week which wouldn’t leave her with a negative outlook on future work experience. Luckily, we have a great group of women at PRWD whose combined efforts ensured our trainee wouldn’t be going home each night uninspired!
So, this article will be both a chronicle of our Digital Her week and a handy guide on what we think will help you get the most out of any work experience opportunity.
First, the planning. Feel free to include your own ‘planning is key’ proverb here. It was in the week before the placement that we learnt our first lesson: what you think might be useful or ‘fun’ are anything but. This is where two – or 5 – heads are better than one; cue the brain storming session!
It was in this session that we whittled down the list of activities to what we unanimously agreed would be the most intriguing and educational. We knew our trainee’s interests as we’d seen her CV, so we made sure UX and design was on the agenda. At the same time, the purpose was to open her up to the spectrum of digital agency life and with each of the PRWD women representing a department, the week started to fill up quickly.
First steps for any work placement or work experience scheme
Select a few people to help you during the placement and work together to create a plan
Establish key principles, to help you shape those ideas – many of our ideas didn’t make it through the non-boredom principle.
Brief everyone at your business on what’s going to happen and share the rules of conduct – in this instance students are still at school, so it’s fundamental that everyone in the office is aware of limits and rules of conduct. Regardless of age or context, everyone in your business should be aware of the placement!
So it begins…
As our trainee came into the office on the Monday morning, I lost all my apprehension and reveled in the opportunity to be this young woman’s mentor. Her curious eyes and kind smile made her a very positive presence at the office, so rather than starting off tentatively, we started fast and before we knew it we were ticking off activities on her schedule.
At the beginning of the day, I asked her to write short notes on her expectations and to follow that up with her experience before she went home. It was refreshing to see our work environment from her point of view, especially considering that she happened to join us during a very eventful week! She had exposure to client calls and meetings, she participated in moderated user research (if you’re in the room, you’ve got to get involved. It’s company policy!) sketched wireframes, learnt about coding, applied brand proposition frameworks and managed to fit time in to chat about marketing and business strategy.
How to keep the work placement interesting (and not ‘paint by numbers’)
Going with the flow – some of the activities you will have planned might not happen (due to time constraints or business life that gets in the way) but no panic, go with the flow and you’ll be able to improvise.
Don’t force things – if something doesn’t go to plan, it’s ok! Just explain that such occurrences are part of working life and you can’t always control everything.
The end of the week
The last day was International Women’s Day, so we organised a Lunch & Learn event focused on Equality in the Technology sector. The presentation – including data insights and personal experiences – sparked a constructive discussion everyone in the agency. Most importantly, our trainee told me that she had never thought about subjects like the gender pay gap, the lack of women studying STEM subjects or the importance of role models. Unfortunately, these are real challenges women face in the workplace – especially in tech – and a key element of the Digital Her initiative is to prepare the next generation, struggles and all. Whilst it would be easy to shy away from such topics, I recommend that you treat anyone that joins your company the same way and that includes interns / work experience placements.
During our Friday bench meeting – when we all sit around our wooden table with drinks and snacks talking about the highlights of the week and clapping the best success stories (very ‘digital agency’!) – she thanked us all and said that she will have boasted with her friends because her working experience was very interesting and actually… and not boring at all!
Naturally, we were happy to hear this as there could be no better feedback, even if we have no way of proving she did relay that to her friends!
Overall, this was a week where I felt I learnt just as much as I hope our trainee did. Initiatives like Digital Her are fundamental to create a link between school and the world of digital, breaking down preconceptions, showcasing fascinating careers in the digital to the next generation of young women and providing role models and mentors along the way.
One key thing to making your work experience worthwhile:
Select a local organisation to work with – it makes everything easier and you will have the advantage of playing your part within your own community. We had already partnered with Digital Manchester and the Digital Her project seemed like the best initiative to be involved in to start working even closer (and Emma is great!).
I would recommend any business to join this or a similar programme, and I would encourage more women and men to become mentors and role models. After this experience, I’m now more confident in being a mentor and will be actively promoting people in my team and in my network to join in the fun. That’s because everyone has the potential of being a role model and being a positive influence on those around them.
And so to the last point:
Don’t be shy! Everyone can be a role model for someone!
Please don’t think you are not special or capable enough because there will always be someone you can inspire and help grow into a successful professional. There’s also the little bonus of learning something new about yourself, too!