For this International Women’s Day, we spoke to some of the fantastic women from around Portland and asked what they wish they’d known when they were in their early 20s, just starting out in their careers.
Anneka Munsch, Partner
Anneka is a Partner in Portland’s Government Advisory and international practices. She’s led projects around the world for corporate, government and non-profit clients.
“It is not a race. It is okay not to have a plan. To embrace different experiences and opportunities – it’s great to be a specialist, but range is also important. It broadens your horizons, helps you see things in different ways and makes you a more adaptable, creative problem-solver. That it wouldn’t always be easy, but sometimes you learn the hard way. That ‘balance’ is critical, but you need to work on it every day. Surround yourself with good (smart) people. Make sure you’re learning.”
Brooke Switzer, Senior Consultant
Brooke Switzer is a Senior Consultant at Portland in Doha, Qatar. She is public affairs specialist with experience in developing volunteer-led outreach campaigns for NGOs and governments in a variety of international markets, with a focus on communities below the poverty line in India, Brazil, Middle East and U.S. While working in the non-profit sector, Brooke led collective impact campaigns and coalitions across a variety of topics, including access to inclusive education for children with disabilities, closing the opportunity gap for low income students, and STEM education for girls.
“I would tell my 20 year old self many things and my guess is that she still wouldn’t listen, and that’s probably why she will be successful. I would tell her to make choices that make sense at that exact moment and not worry so much about all the “what ifs” or five-year plans. She should move to each and every city on the map, make new friends that will become family, and yet always book that return flight home for holidays. Life won’t be linear and new jobs won’t always be better than the one before, but something positive will come from every single pivot so nothing is ever a setback. Volunteer more – it’s life changing. And do more yoga, not because it’s trendy, but because it works. Take more pictures and keep a journal; it’s true, memories do actually fade with age. And lastly, do not eat that squid, apparently, you’re allergic.”
Meghna Vyas, HR Business Partner
Meghna plays a key role in ensuring Portland achieves its strategic objectives through creating and delivering our people agenda, and successfully supporting our people to learn, grow and drive the business forward.
“I always thought the ‘workplace’ would be somewhat scary – where you are expected to be in ‘professional top form’ all the time. Through my career I learnt that the ‘authentic human you’ is what builds and harnesses working relationships. Bring your true self to work, be receptive to the environment and back yourself. Find yourself a mentor that can guide and coach you throughout your career, providing you with good advice. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have your 20 year career plan mapped out with timelines. Don’t be too fixated on the end goal – your career will be a rollercoaster with highs and lows – be open minded, embrace the opportunities that present themselves to you and enjoy the journey. Remember, setbacks are also a learning opportunity, that can act as spring board to leap you even further ahead. Be inquisitive, open to change, curious and have fun along the way!”
Carmen Bell, Director
Carmen holds over a decade of EU public affairs experience with specialisms in financial services, digitalisation and sustainability. At Portland she advises clients on strategic communications, pan-European campaigns and coalition management, and has directed client work on Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Don’t cringe at criticism. It’s easy to take negative feedback as failure when you’re young. But this is where you learn to adapt, in performance and the ability to hear people out. Absorb and move on. Don’t let “sorry” be your crutch. This is a tough one – there will be times to assert yourself but also to own up to your mistakes. Learning the difference is key. Don’t be afraid to pitch that idea. Everyone takes a chance when they speak up – what makes you stand out is seeing that idea through. Finally, a “do” – rest, be good to yourself and know your value. I swapped American law for EU affairs and worried often whether this could hold me back professionally. Now I see the courage behind that move and how deeply it enriched my perspective and experiences. It’s never too late to be inspired into doing something new.”
Daphne Chuah, Senior Consultant
Daphne is an international strategic communications senior consultant with experience across EMEA and APAC, having worked in Singapore, Sydney and now London. She specialises in crisis and reputation management, litigation communications, and corporate communications. She advises global businesses and governments on a range of complex problems spanning multiple geographies and sectors.
“You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to make an impact. When I first started my career, I often associated professional success with highly vocal individuals. This meant feeling like I always had to put on an extroverted façade at work, despite being an introvert through and through. It was exhausting! I now know there is value in having both external and quiet thinkers in the room – no one is better than the other, and teams that are able to tap into the strengths of both sides tend to get the most value out of their people. Of course, it is important to be in an environment where leadership celebrates such diversity, and I was fortunate enough to have ‘sponsors’ every step of the way who advocated for me. I hope I can continue doing the same for others!”
Meghan Powers, Vice President
Meghan serves as a Vice President of Portland US, based in Washington DC, where she consults the firm’s government, corporate and global impact clients. Meghan applies her 13 years of experience in national newsrooms including CNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera America to help create impactful narratives and engage meaningful media relationships.
“If I could clue my 20-something year-old in on anything, it’d be to tell her that her professional (and personal) growth will require her to have the courage to be vulnerable. The most impactful points of my career aren’t the ones I went into feeling cozy in my figurative security blanket, but the ones that I forged ahead with despite knowing I could be scrutinized or even fail. Feeling vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re weak but instead that you have the mental strength to persevere despite knowing it won’t be easy. Taking a trepidatious step onto an unfamiliar path and eventually finding your stride teaches you to navigate unknowns a whole lot more effectively than not venturing out at all.”
Daphne Cafritz, Senior Consultant
Daphne works in Portland’s Global Impact practice, her work involves designing and implementing global communications campaign for foundations and social impact organisations.
“If there were one piece of advice I would give to my 20-year-old self, it would be to read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry again, regularly. There are several passages in it that I have only begun to appreciate when I read them through my adult lens. “And yet, what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose…” is one of my favourites. Drive, hard work and ambition are important to succeed, but fulfilment is achieved when we are mindful of what matters: of the relationships we have built over the years, the times we have spent learning from others, and the importance of being open-minded. I am confident that curiosity, altruism, and diversity of experience are what translate most effectively into new ideas and creativity.”
Leila Mountford, Creative Director
Leila advises clients on best practice integrated campaign strategy and creative. Having worked agency side as a creative for a decade, Leila has lead campaigns on behalf of airlines, healthcare providers, tourism boards and financial institutions such as Clydesdale Bank.
“There is no ‘small’ brief or role in a pitch or team, only small thinking. Every new role at work is an opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s how to approach a new problem, how to work as a team or build relationships and trust with clients. If you look for the growth opportunity in each task, you’ll find it more rewarding for yourself and your colleagues will appreciate the positive attitude. Even if the task or new role scares you, this is when you should be most revved to give it a go because, more often than not. we are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for.”
Dalia Alqudah, Arabic Copywriting Director
Dalia is an Arabic Copywriting Director specialising in creating powerful stories that resonate with various target audiences. Her work spans writing, training for high-profile clients across a wide range of industries, crisis communications, and brand empowerment tactics, among other aspects related to strategic communications.
“I would tell my younger self to try to understand herself better and observe how she interacts with the world around her. It is then that she can deconstruct her experiences and learn from them. That how she deals with her mistakes will greatly shape her future steps and attitude. I would ask her to dictate her own happiness and sense of purpose. I would always remind her to be more gentle towards herself and remember all the challenges she overcame and not take them lightly. I’d let her know: there’s still so much to discover about yourself and it’s an amazing journey, despite all the fear associated with it.”