Welcome to The Bandwagon’s new feature for 2016 – #InspiringWomen. These posts aim to not only celebrate successful women, but also to encourage others to follow their dreams. Meet April’s lady, Ana Oliveira, a 27-year-old Portuguese girl working in Brussels.
Besides working as a Junior Liaison Officer for EuroHealthNet, a not-for-profit partnership for health equity and well-being, Ana is also a volunteer Community Manager and Writer for the media platform One Europe. She has a Bachelor degree in Communication Sciences and a Master Degree in European Studies/Affairs, so you can probably guess that she’s passionate about these two areas.
Ana has lived in three different European countries in the past five years, and thus feels more European than Portuguese at this point. She loves to read, travel, cook, music, watch movies and TV series, and she has recently taken up sewing.
What made you want to join your industry?
Ever since I was a teen I knew that I wanted to do something in Communications. At that age, that meant being a journalist and working for a renowned newspaper. I took Communication Sciences as my Bachelor degree and had the privilege of doing my academic internship in one of Portugal’s leading newspapers. As I grew older, though, I found that the other branches of Communications appealed to me more, so I switched gears and got traineeships and work placements that combined the Public Relations side of Communications with my passion for European Affairs. I currently don’t hold a Communications position, but most of my work includes Communications anyway.
What challenges have you had to overcome in order to get where you are today?
First and foremost, I had a tough obstacle that affected most of my generation: the financial, economic and social crisis of 2008-2012. Portugal was hit in a particularly hard way and people my age couldn’t find a paid internship, let alone paid work. I left Portugal in 2010 and took jobs completely unrelated to my degree for three years, as a way to save up for my future Masters Degree. I did not want my parents to pay for further studies for me, because I felt they had done enough already, and it was time I’d provide for myself.
The second biggest obstacle might have had to do with my own lack of confidence when I started my Masters in European Studies. I felt that people who didn’t come from degrees in International Relations, European Affairs or Economics were seen as weak by fellow classmates – a sort of “second-class students”, more prone to fail the entire programme, and that affected me during the first weeks of classes. Luckily, I learnt how to dismiss these sort of jabs and to trust myself more, and it paid off!
The third and final obstacle has to do with the competitiveness and amount of supply in the labour market in Brussels. It’s a tough world out here! You can spend months applying before you get hired, and that also goes for for traineeships and internships. Everyone here has a lot of qualifications, so you’re sure to be up against some fierce competition. It’s very easy to feel demotivated when all your applications are met with silence (they don’t have a habit of informing you about the application process unless you are short-listed for an interview).
What does being a woman mean to you?
It means being unique and special, with room for strength and room for fragility. It’s all part of our emotions; it’s all part of what makes us women. We may have to overcome more obstacles to get to where we want to be, but no one feels the sweet taste of success more than we do once that happens. Women know the true meaning of the word multitasking (that with trying to juggle their career and personal life), and perform it seamlessly. We’re the heroines of our own stories.
In what ways has your gender helped or hindered you in your industry?
I have to say that, from my experience, Communications tend to be a woman-centric area. Most of my classmates during the Bachelor degree were women. I think the EU bubble has a nice balance between men and women, though in my current job men are outnumber (about 12 to 2). Fortunately, I can’t say that my career was hindered due to my gender at any point so far.
Name some women who inspire you.
I’d have to name my own mother for starters. She made so many sacrifices for me while I was growing up, and showed so much support and enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to list her as someone whom I look up to and admire. I also truly admire JK Rowling – not just because she wrote the series that defined my teenage years, but mainly due to her perseverance and determination. No matter how many negative replies and comments she had, she kept on knocking on as many doors as she could until she got a positive answer and her work published, and that’s something I respect and try to emulate in my professional and personal life.
What advice would you give to young women who want to go into your industry?
Have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to stand out and find what really makes you unique – that’s what will make you succeed in the end. Also, be prepared to be your own motivational speaker at times: the EU bubble is a tough place most of the times, no matter your niche (be it Communications, Economics, Policy, you name it). There will be times when the pressure will get to you. Friends and family can do their best to motivate you and encourage you to go on, but in the end it’s your own voice cheering you on that you need to hear.