#CareerConversationsWithLLA: “Do not fear to speak up for what is fair. Never compromise yourself for the sake of a job or opportunity,” Lucy Nkosi, Art Director, Forbes Africa

Image credit: Lucy Nkosi

Lucy Nkosi, 29, is an Art Director and Layout Artist from Johannesburg. She has a growing passion for the publishing industry and aspires to cultivate a distinctive career in the field. Her career began five years ago when she joined Essentials Magazine as a graphic design intern almost immediately after graduating from the University of Johannesburg with a BA (Communication Design) degree.  This marked her introduction into the ever-changing world of print.

Seven months later, she received an offer from Ballyhoo Media and took employment as a Junior Graphic Designer for the publications; Nubian Bride, Joburg Style, Progressive Leader, and Business Update. Over the course of two years at Ballyhoo Media, she gained widespread knowledge on print production, industry trends, photography, fashion and the rise of digital media. It was during this tenure that she enrolled at Vega and completed a diploma in Digital Marketing. She believes that the publishing industry cannot fully thrive without taking into consideration the developments that have been brought on by the digital age.

In 2017, Lucy took a leap of faith and resigned from Ballyhoo Media and soon after, joined Forbes Africa where she currently works as an Art Director and Layout Artist. With her knowledge of the industry and international trends, she was able to redirect the design of the publication by augmenting a more relatable and modern layout.

Working at Forbes Africa has presented her with countless career-shaping opportunities. It has encouraged her to think of her work as not only having significance in African media but on a larger global community as well. Her career has seen rapid progression over the years and she owes that to her persistence, passion and undeniable dedication to solving visual communication problems.

Ultimately, Lucy’s goal is to become a key player in the industry and use her expertise to enlighten and reshape the publishing world. In this interview with Leading Ladies Africa, Lucy takes us through her journey of trusting her instincts to getting the job of her dreams, as well as shares tips on how to navigate office politics and ensure diversity and inclusion in the workplace for women. This is an interesting read we are sure you’ll love. Lean in!

Can you briefly describe yourself and what you do?

I’d like to think of myself as a creative visionary. I truly enjoy being a creative and exploring how far I can communicate my ideas. I take pride in uncovering innovative ways of thinking within the work I do – I also try to have a bit of fun with it. Everything I do is driven by my passion and the need to create, tell stories and create an impact in some way.

As an Art Director, I’m responsible for the visual style of Forbes Africa magazine. I ensure that the stories in the magazine are communicated effectively and in line with the brand. I’m also responsible for conceptualizing the covers and ensuring that the vision the team and I have comes to life.

I work closely with the editor and our photographer to ensure that I create and deliver a message that speaks directly to the reader. I also ensure that the end product is relatable to Africa, but is also in line with international trends. Part of my job is to do research and be informed about what the rest of the world is doing in the design space.

I’ve learnt that it is important to have a good relationship with people, especially with your team members, to ensure that everyone thrives and gives their best work. My leadership skills are always tested and have improved as I take on more projects.  I have also learnt that work as an art director isn’t only about showing off my creativity; it’s also about shaping the direction of the narrative I want to share with our audience. It is bigger than me.

Image credit: Lucy Nkosi

Tips for diversity and inclusion in the workplace (esp. for women)?

We need to understand that times have changed and gender roles have evolved significantly with those times. As a society, we need to neglect the ideas around gender stereotypes and social beliefs for each individual to aspire to hold any position within the workplace. It may be a while before equal work environment systems are implemented but I do, however, believe that there are ways to navigate around it. For instance:

i. Women need to confidently take the initiative and volunteer themselves for opportunities that would naturally be “given to” their male counterparts.

ii. Do not fear to speak up for what is fair. Never compromise yourself for the sake of a job or opportunity – there’s always going to be another opportunity. Always vocalize your concerns.

iii. Women should always support and encourage each other in the workplace -we are stronger and more powerful as a unit not when we are against each other. Look out for each other.

iv. Seek roles that show your leadership skills and do them to the best of your ability.

v. Remember that nobody can do your job the way you do it; you are skilled and deserving of your place in the workplace.

If you could have a lunch date with one woman you admire – who would that be and what would you ask her?

Oh my…There are so many women I admire and aspire to emulate. Women as a whole are just so amazing! However, without a doubt, I’d absolutely take an opportunity to have a lunch date with Oprah Winfrey any day! I listen to her podcasts and watch her videos to encourage myself from time to time.

The question I’d ask: “Did you ever imagine that you would be one of the top leading women of colour in media and what has this taught you about being a career-driven woman?”

What’s your take on cliques or you can’t sit with us groups at work? How does one navigate such?

We spend the majority of our time at our jobs. Hence, it may be difficult to not seek friendship within the workplace. Some people may find it hard, to be honest and authentic in the work environment; so, they seek out that one person they feel comfortable with – which is okay, we are emotional humans after all and need to have mutually supportive relationships.

However, it is important to remember that, it is still a place of employment, so we should not allow these friendships to become toxic for our co-workers. Cliques, if toxic, have the ability to cloud our judgment and ruin our work experience, so, I think it’s best to avoid them. I’d recommend that you maintain healthy and friendly relationships with your colleagues and set boundaries. Try to avoid anything that will distract you from your career goals.

Image credit: Lucy Nkosi

Three tips for navigating office politics?

i. If it doesn’t concern you or your work, then, it is best to stay out of it. Remember that you’re there to work. Therefore, it is best to remove yourself from situations that affect your task.

ii. Practice self-control: Try not to start any politics. We are emotional beings and our words carry a lot of weight. Be careful to not criticize, condemn or complain.

iii. Everyone has a desire to feel important or be heard. So, if ever you get pulled into office politics, listen, but have a neutral stance and try to be practical.

When you’re creatively stuck, you…?

My job requires me to be creative (literally all the time), which is sometimes tough. When I get stuck, I do one of the following, if not all (depending on where I am and the amount of time I have):

i. I take a walk. Nature and fresh air help a lot.

ii. Look for inspiration on the internet or other publications

iii. Meditate for about 20 minutes for clarity.

iv. Change the music I’m listening to.

v. Take a break and sleep. Sometimes, you just need to recharge your body.

What’s your take on mentorship? Important or nah?

Mentorship is a significant part of your career and personal progression. It’s beneficial to interact with people who understand your industry and can advise you on which steps to take towards building your career. We all need mentors -there’s so much we can learn from each other (professionally or personally). I have so many mentors that aren’t even aware that they play that role in my life – literally, anyone can play that part. For example, Forbes Africa’s Editor Renuka Methil has taught me a lot and helped shaped my career in the over three years I’ve spent with the publication.

Young women should not be afraid to seek mentorship. And when mentored, do not be afraid to fully utilize the resources that have been invested towards your career growth. You should develop strong professional relationships with your mentors and always be open to hearing their feedback and using it wisely.

Image credit: Lucy Nkosi

What are your worst and best career decisions? What have you learned from them? How have they shaped you to become the woman you are today?

From the beginning – The choices that have shaped my career so far began with the decision I made in 2010 to drop out from Witwatersrand and start my studies at UJ for a qualification in Communication Design. At the time, it did not seem like a wise decision to most; but I believed in myself, and knew that that was the journey I needed to take. Resigning from my job without plan B, in 2017, was another career-shaping move. Fortunately for me, it worked to my advantage because I got employed at Forbes Africa just before my notice period ended.

These two major decisions I had made serve as a reminder for me to always go for what I want and not allow any situation to deter my future. Through this, I’ve learnt to trust my instincts and trust the plans I have for my life. I’ve become a woman who is ambitious and determined to succeed and be one of the best in my industry. I believe that I am not in this industry by mistake, -it’s part of my purpose and I hope my work has an impact on a more global scale someday.

Three strategies you have used that other women should implement?

It’s important to have a good strategy for your personal and career growth.  This will urge you towards achieving your overall life vision/goal. These are the three strategies I use:

i. Put all your plans on paper. Write everything down and go back to your list if you feel you are off track. Do your research so you know what it is you should be aiming for and how to go about getting it. Know your industry well.

ii. Work smart. Use your time wisely. Do not forget to allocate time towards things that bring you joy. Socialize and take mental health days. Your career suffers if you’re not at your best.

iii. Upgrade your skills. There are always new developments and advancements in the world. It’s important that you keep up.

 

The Leading Ladies Africa weekly Career Conversation series focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

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