Aude Gandon is an advertising executive who has led global businesses such as P&G Beauty, L’Oreal Paris, Maybelline, and more. She is currently Google’s Global Brand Director on Android, Chrome, Chromebooks, and Google Play. She is also the executive sponsor of Google’s Change the Game program, which helps young women get involved in gaming as players and creators, as in its recent Design Challenge. In this edition of our advice series “Nobody Tells You This, But,” Gandon shares the advice she wished she’d received when she was starting out: Just because you don’t fit in doesn’t mean you don’t belong.
I’m French, but I spent my summers in the UK, so I grew up bilingual. On my first job, I was assigned to global clients very quickly—and I started traveling all over the world, from southeast Asia to Africa. In many of these markets in the 1990s, there were no other women.
I felt out of place constantly. I often walked into a meeting and didn’t fit in at all. I wish someone had prepared me for how isolating that could be. I would have had a bit more confidence and less self-doubt. Sometimes, instead of seeing that the room was imbalanced, I questioned whether I had the right to be in it.
“Sometimes, instead of seeing that the room was imbalanced, I questioned whether I had the right to be in it.”
What saved me was that I’ve always absolutely loved everything that was linked to brands and marketing. The balance of strategy and creativity just fit me. So I stuck with it, even though it was difficult. And as I advanced in my career, I became more and more comfortable with myself. I also learned how to set boundaries.
For instance, when I worked in the UK, there was a culture of getting a drink at the end of the day after work. I traveled a lot at that time. When I was at home in London, I needed to be back home pretty early so I could spend time with my children—having a regular bathtime, dinnertime, and so on.
One day my boss told me, “I need you to socialize more.” I said, “No. I have great relationships with my colleagues and I can make time to have lunch with people and so on, but come six o’clock, I need to be home to spend time with my family.” I’m not one to avoid a tough discussion or hide a reality. It’s better for us all to speak honestly.
“Women make tradeoffs that many men don’t have to make.”
Here’s another reality: Women make tradeoffs that many men don’t have to make. There were times when I had to accept that I couldn’t give as much at home as I wanted to. And then there were other times when, in order to put my family forward, I couldn’t dedicate more time or energy to work projects. While I wanted to succeed in both spheres, it didn’t always work that way. Sometimes, we cannot always give our best in every single area.
I never tried to play the male game—to be “male” in my behavior or how I handled things. At the end of the day, you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not; it shows and you won’t be comfortable. I’ve always loved to play with the way I dress and to experiment with fashion. I decided that since I was good at my job, my colleagues would come to terms with my decision to set boundaries and be myself. Most of them did. Some of them didn’t, and that was fine as well.
I want young women to understand: Never try to be somebody else. Know what you want in life and what you really don’t want to compromise on. Being true to yourself is the only way you will be successful. I promise you that.
As told to Melissa Batchelor Warnke.