Episode Eleven: Roxanne Smith, EA at DeepMind

Episode Eleven: Roxanne Smith, EA at DeepMind

Episode description

In this episode of The EA Campus Podcast, we are thrilled to be joined by Roxanne Smith, PA, at DeepMind. Roxanne is a thoughtful and determined Assistant who brings such a depth of knowledge to any conversation about the Assistant role. Roxanne is ten years into her Assistant career and is building an impressive range of skills that make her stand out in our industry. In this episode, we talk about her return to work after starting a family, how she works within a team of Assistants, managing the challenges that come with the role and what she hopes to see in the future for the Assistant industry.

Show notes


Nicky Christmas 00:00
Do you want to know what it takes to work as a high performing executive assistant? You'll find out when you listen to the EA campus podcast. Join me Nicky Christmas, the founder of practically perfect PA, and the EA campus for a weekly interview with successful assistants, who all have first hand experience and lessons to share on what it takes to excel in the role of tune in, get inspired and learn how to create an assistant career where you are valued, motivated and ready to face every challenge head on whether you are an assistant just starting in your career, or prepared to move to the next level. Building a successful assistant career just got a little easier with the EA campus podcast. In this episode of the EA campus podcast we are thrilled to be joined by Roxanne Smith, Pa at DeepMind. Roxanne is a footfall and determined assistant who brings such a depth of knowledge to any conversation about the assistant role. Roxanne is 10 years into her assistant career and is building an impressive range of skills that make her standout in our industry. In this episode, we talk about her return to work after starting a family how she works within a team of assistants managing the challenges that come with a role and what she hopes to see in the future for the assistant industry. Hello, everyone and welcome to the next episode of the AI campus podcast. I am so excited for this episode because the assistant that we are speaking to today, I've known for quite some time and she was one of the first assistants that got in touch with me when I started practically perfect PA. So she's almost been on this journey with practically perfect pa as long as I have. So I'm delighted to welcome Roxanne Smith to our episode today. It's such a joy speaking to you Roxanne,

same time. Thank you so much for having me,

Nicky Christmas 01:52
I want to dive in. Because as I was saying to you before we started recording, you're always full of really great wisdom and practical advice for assistants. And I know that you've seen it all and done it all so very much excited to talk to you today. Why don't we start by introducing you and telling our listeners a little bit about your career to date?

Yeah, sure. So I had a very unconventional path to being an assistant, I took what I thought was just a simple admin job after graduating film school, with all of the intention and aspirations getting to the industry. Obviously, I gathered that didn't work out. And what happened was I just built up an organic relationship with the managing director of the company that I was working for at the time, it was like a much love food brand. And eventually, after doing kind of that small admin role that he approached my I think it was my manager at the time and approached me about being his PA. So from there, I worked with him for him for about five years. And that came to a natural end with him leaving the company to go on to do other things on the benches. So that really gave me a moment just to pause and reflect and figure out what I wanted to do next. And I've always known I want to go on to do something that has a positive and really important impact on people. But little did I know that I did not working for one of if not the world's most influential AI company, and some of the brightest minds behind it. So from there, I've been at DeepMind ever since I actually originally went to fill a three to one role. So that was me working with three of our senior research scientists. And I did that for about a year. And beyond that I moved into a one to one role supporting our VP of at the time, he's our VP of research and technology. We did that for a couple of years into the pandemic, I then took a year out to start a family and returned back to DeepMind in January of this year, when I joined. So I came back, still supporting our VP of research and technology, but within a kind of smaller and more focused insistent team. So I'm one of three. And that's kind of where we are.

Nicky Christmas 03:52
So overall, it's been how long would you say you've been an assistant now over 10 years now? Is that right?

Yeah, I've been 10 years, which a long time.

Nicky Christmas 04:01
I've mentioned that, again, it's been a while. So you've been doing it a while, I'd like to go more into the way you operate and the way that you work. But just to get a sense of where you are in your current role at DeepMind. You've been there for a while. And like you said, it's a the industry that you work in AI is incredibly technical, and you work with scientists. So I wonder if you can break this next question down into two parts. What does the main aspects of your role look like? And then how do you go about supporting people who are in such a technical field and role within that technical field?

Sure. So I think speaking really broadly about the key aspects, communication, momentum, and optimization like those are really fundamental things that my role like dances around if I think more specifically, things like a standard stuff like business as usual stuff day to day stuff. As I mentioned, I'm one of three so I partner with the colour system. We also have a team assistant and the three of us we make up this dedicated This isn't team for our VP. So I just want to make sure that's really clear, it's really important to know because we share responsibilities we share. There's lots of input across all of our projects, and we communicate across absolutely everything that we do. So some people that are really specifically so for me, it's kind of a me as an assistant within that kind of smaller team. I'm responsible for organising the majority of our VPS engagements like speaking engagements and copyright communications. There's also anything that comes through the culture space to think about an oversight chart might need our VPS attention, projects, performance and promotion, people challenges development, that kind of thing. I'm also responsible for any engagement required from our VP on our diversity, inclusion and equity work. So in a nutshell, like any business relating to our organisational infrastructure kind of stuff that comes through, so anything that needs our VPS input, buying sign off that kind of thing within those realms to answer the second part of your question, it's a really great question. And something that comes up throughout our interview process, because our role usually tends to be not not from a technical background, I don't think that it needs to be, I think, ultimately, as long as you can understand the broader picture of the work that your leader is doing, and where you can insert yourself to optimise that and enable them to do their best work, I actually don't think you need this deep understanding of, kind of, it's not I'm not the expert in certain areas of research here. And it's not my job to be. So I think just remembering that and really leaning into the core skill set that's needed to be an assistant within a research environment. So things like, again, knowing how to communicate certain ideas and certain concepts in layman's terms. And if you can't do that, having the confidence to really pick it apart and ask questions, I think that can sometimes be a bit intimidating. If you don't like, for example, I don't come from an academic background. Like I mentioned, I come from film. So I'm like, technically, a creative This is, I felt like a slight fish out of water, even thinking about joining an academic research environment. But you very quickly learned that it's not, you don't need to be an expert in the matter as long as you can apply your skill set correctly, appropriately to support your leader to really kind of free up and enable him to run at pace, whatever they might look like in the context of his work.

Nicky Christmas 07:07
Yeah, that is so important, isn't it? Because I think as the world is developing, there are going to be suddenly more technical tech, not just tech related, but as you said, academic and scientific industries. And within that there are still going to be these roles for assistance. So it's understanding as you said, it's understanding the business and having an awareness of the business and the goals and objectives within it. I think having that being able to understand it, and being able to speak about it without the technical background is so important. And as you said, with that comes a lot of confidence that you are then using your skills as an assistant to move your executive forward and free up their time, still knowing that you're operating in the same framework and still trying to fulfil those goals and objectives. So I think you've given probably, with your answer, giving assistants a lot of confidence that they don't need to be academic. They don't need to understand the real nitty gritty of what your executives do. And you just need to understand the broader picture.

Yeah, absolutely. It's about freeing up their headspace so that they can focus on those like details and really lean into their expertise. But it's not about matching your expertise with this at all. I don't think,

Nicky Christmas 08:16
yeah, I agree. There's two sets of skills. And we sometimes lose that, don't we, when we're talking about partnering with your executive such as you, you both come with very different skill sets that then are supposed to work in sync, supposed to. So I want to come back to what the role looks like, as I said, how you operate. But I'd also like to get an understanding of what you do outside of the role as well. And I always think a really good place to start is what you do in the morning. So why don't you let us know about the morning routine for you and where you are in the morning. Do you go into the office every day? Or have you got a hybrid role? Just talk us through what that looks like.

Yeah, sure. As I mentioned Oxfam, I've got young family my daughter's she turned two in December. So when I came back, I negotiated a four day working week. Post pandemic, though the hours and where we work in the world, how we work is very different now. So I do have the luxury of working slightly more flexibly towards the back end of the week. So Monday through Wednesday, we are expected in the office, I say I don't work and Friday, I work from home. So Thursday to Friday is an optional work from home day for the whole of the company. So I really just take advantage of that. So I'm at home on Friday, not online on Thursday. So with that said Monday to Wednesday is more like the routine is I have more of a routine in terms of what my morning looks like. And like I said I've got two year olds here as you can imagine I'm up pretty early. So with that I kind of just start with your lovely stuff like a morning cuddle, I might get breakfast ready. I basically just try and assemble a few things just to help out a dad manage the morning before I need to and then once I'm out the door I've got a 90 minute journey which takes two trains across a 90 minute journey which says a quite a big chunk of time and essentially I just decide on the morning what would serve me best so that could look like you know meditating on might sign on very quickly to manage a few emails before I reach the office. I might text friends, family, sleep is a really big one. I love to sleep on the train, just whatever feels most appropriate that day. And then once I get into the office, it's straight to the coffee bar, and then I plug into the day and get going.

Nicky Christmas 10:16
That sounds like Yes. I think a lot of people will be nodding like yeah, that sounds very familiar.

With like, Absolutely, that's me.

Nicky Christmas 10:26
cannot start the day. Without it, though.

I'm in complete agreement,

Nicky Christmas 10:29
I'd like to just get back to something you mentioned there about negotiating the time that you need to be able to have that balance between work and family time. Just wondered, was that a difficult negotiation that you went through? Do you think it would have been more difficult pre pandemic? Or was it something that your company, we're happy to accommodate?

i So from my experience, and kind of watching other people go through something similar, I found it fairly straightforward. I knew that before I went off on maternity leave, I had a very any sort of subject to change. But I had a very rough idea of what I wanted that to look like. And I think when you communicate that kind of thing really early, you get a bit of a head start to figure out what's possible and what's not. But again, I was really lucky, before I left, I knew that I wanted to come back working for my VP. And I knew that I probably wouldn't want to come back to five days a week just yet. And so I think it was really important for me to be honest about that, and upfront as early as possible, so that I could really understand if that was actually possible to do if it was feasible. See, I when I came back, we obviously started talking a few months before my return. And again, I was just really open and candid about what my family life looked like, and really what I needed to create the optimal balance, to do my job well, and it's all really present at home. And, you know, balance isn't a perfect sight. It's not an exact science is it and it goes off kilter, depending on what's going on. And so there's lots of kind of like, give and take in that regard. But ultimately, I think the foundation that I agreed with work really works in terms of where I can push and pull on certain stuff. And not to mention, I've got an absolutely incredible team supporting me and advocating for me, and really respecting the boundaries that I've had to put in place to to maintain that balance. Ultimately, it's got to be sustainable. And again, like nothing is perfect. When you first set something up, there's teething, there's tweaks that need to be made. So I've made some changes along the day. Along the way, I've swapped certain days, I've changed certain hours, I've made adjustments at home. But ultimately, I've never compromised on what is most important. And what is most important is to feel like I have a thriving career. And to feel like I'm a present mum, and family woman, and I'm allowing my family to have that balance with my job as much as me. But yeah, long. Coming back to your original question, I found those negotiations really fair, really straightforward. As long as you come at them with like, an openness and just really honest about what you need off the bus stops, you need to go.

Nicky Christmas 13:02
It's so important. And it's great to hear that because as you said, you want to bring your best self to both situations, don't you and ultimately, an organisation should want that for their employees as well, and should be able to facilitate that. And I think certainly after the pandemic, you are seeing that more where there is that flexibility for assistance. In particular, I'm talking about assistance, because most of us didn't have that pre pandemic it was you had to be in the office, and that was that whether you had a family or not. So I think it's really good to hear that there are organisations that are making that structure easier for assistance. Specifically, I'd like to touch on the team that you mentioned, you've said a few times that you've got a few other assistants that you work with, and you're able to communicate and manage everything that's going on when you're in the office and when you're not in the office. So can you talk to us a little bit about that, how that set up and is sorry, was there three of you said, how you guys communicate and make it work?

We nonstop communicate is the first thing to do. Yes, the dynamics of our team are so I work very closely with like, in a colour system role. It's me and the assistant who supported our VP whilst I was away for the year. So we joined forces when I came back. And also during that period that I was away, we also brought in a team assistant, I guess there was a lot of kind of just to hit the ground running stuff. We just had to figure it out along the way. But like I said, I think the first thing to that we established quite quickly was that my hours and my days are not matched to the other two assistants in the team. And I wanted to make sure that wasn't breaking anything in any way. And that was kind of hindering anyone in any way, certainly not my VP. That is the last thing that that I wanted from this arrangement. So I think just establishing that again, that honest, open communication, that chance to give feedback and to be really honest about it is super important. So the way we're set up more logistically is that we have a number of different channels of communication so we talk all day on Slack about all of the projects, all of the everything that sits, everything kind of works here, and that we need to keep moving, we have daily touch points, I think it might be helpful to share here that we actually have two scheduled touch points with our VP in one in any one day. So every day, we've got a morning sync, and we've got an evening sync. And then we've got like various different touch points as and when we need to kind of get in touch with him throughout the day. And then in between that sandwiched in between that there's our assistant team sinks, where we'd go through the week ahead, we go through any kind of projects that are coming up any outstanding actions, the business as usual stuff, obviously, there's agendas, to add to these meetings to reschedule. There's just kind of general points of discussion to make sure that we're all aligned on what what each person is owning and driving and delivering. So lots of communication emails as well, obviously, there, there is an element of socialising how to work with us, I've been back in the job for nine months. And that's enough time for the organisation to know roughly who to get in contact when they need to reach out for something to do with RSVP. But there are instances naturally and understandably where one of us might get a lot of people are left out of that communication. So we all rely on each other to give each other that visibility. So I think there's just a, an understanding of trust there. And constant, open, honest communication that is super needed to make sure that we're successful as a team and for our Exec.

Nicky Christmas 16:25
It sounds great. It sounds as you said, when there's things that don't quite work, communication is missed that you guys don't don't take it personally, you just make sure everyone gets caught up and back in the loop as quickly as possible. But it we're seeing this so much more with this group of admins working together and assistants working together. And I wonder if particularly in a really forward thinking organisation like yours, that this might be something that we see more often. So I know for our listeners, there'll be quite a few of you that work with other assistants. And it's really interesting how that dynamic works slack, a Slack channel, I think is probably

the way to go. Yeah, you're not shy of emojis. Okay. It's like it's a very lively fun chat channel to be a part of. And yeah, and you're totally right, you've seen more and more kind of a system teams and offices be set up around certain executives and certain leaders. And it's becoming more and more than normally, it was very rare that I saw that. And now it's building out to be something so unique. And it is a unique experience for the team to be a part of. And I think you won't get any two exec teams that are alive, even just thinking about DeepMind. And our executive team, they each have a core group of systems, or most of them have a core group of systems that work directly with them. And we cross collaborate, collaborated and shared ideas and shared ways of working. And you'd be surprised just how differently we all work this, you know, fundamentals and communication piece of the sharing visibility piece, but generally like tracking stuff and collecting information. And also, we have to remember that when you're working one on one with a VP, that's you in them, that's you having a one on one rapport building relationship, it's more complex and to do if you're an assistant team. So we all want to establish how to keep that rapport and build that relationship with our exec whilst being a functioning wheeled, efficient assistant team. So it's a tricky balance to strike. I think it really depends on BPD. But like you said, it's becoming more and more common, which is really cool. I think it's really cool to have that.

Nicky Christmas 18:20
It takes the pressure off a little bit, doesn't it? I suppose the other aspect of it is also respecting the other time that the assistants have with the VP so that no one assistant is monopolising the time of the VP, but as you said, is becoming more common. And I think for assistants for such a long time, so many of us have felt siloed in this just one on one relationship with an executive who often then has a team of executives below them. Where do you as the assistant fit in, you don't really have a team. So it can be quite an isolating and lonely role. So I really liked the aspects of maybe two or three assistants working together to help an executive for sure.

Yeah, and I think from my experience, obviously speaking, really selfishly coming back as a part time assistant, and as a mum that needs to get me out the door by 4pm that team aspect knowing that they've got my back and that nothing is falling through the cracks for RBP is so valuable. And it gives me peace of mind to be with my family have an evening knowing that okay, yes, I'm there are people still working whilst I've technically shot my laptop for the day. But ultimately, I know that it's covered. And again, I think that there is an immense feeling of trust when you work in that small resistant team that you know, and I've worked with one before, but you don't it's all on you, isn't it? So you have to set those boundaries yourself figure out how to balance such as yourself. Whereas in other teams, there's so many benefits every assistant experience is valid and exciting in its own way. But speaking from the assistant exec team, actor environment, there are so many pros especially if you're someone that kind of adjusted reduce letter hours in comparison to your peers.

Nicky Christmas 19:57
Yeah, it's exciting. I think it'd be interesting to See how that develops over the next few years. And if that does become more of a norm, we've, it sounds so positive the experience that you've got there. So I wonder what's the most enjoyable part of the day,

I get to contribute to the planet's coolest mission to solve the world's most challenging problems through proto AGI that never gets old to think about. And again, I know it sounds super dramatic, but it is incredibly true. Every individual at DeepMind. And there are many of us now, are solely focused on our mission and having that transformative impact on the rest of the world. So there's that is what kind of is the overarching motivation and purpose of my role. And if I think about me, as an individual, I get to bring my whole self to work as your nine if you like being a mum, it's a huge part of this huge part of who I am now. Not that I would ever want to, but you can't hide being a parent where you become more vulnerable, because people just naturally see a bit more of your life outside of work. And my team, they do such a wonderful job of striking a balance between giving me space to be Roxanne, the assistant, and then Roxanne, the mum. And quite frankly, I just would not have the balance that I do without them, respecting that my approach to work has to be a bit different. So that is a huge sentimental reason why I love what I do, because I can absolutely bring every part of me to work including this newfound identity of being a mum. And so there's that and then I'm challenged every single day to be a better version of myself, there is so much diversity of thought, there is so much to feel challenged by in a really healthy, exciting way. I feel like at the end of each day, I've learned something new. And that can be through all different ways of learning, I might have done something I might have been mistake or failed in some way. And there's always a learning from that. But ultimately, at the end of any day, week, month and year, I can look back and say that I've grown quite substantially mainly because of the pace that we have to run to try and solve this really big kind of optimistic vision. Mission. Sorry,

Nicky Christmas 22:02
can you give us a again, without using being too academic or too specific? Can you give us an overview of what the mission is there at DeepMind? The problems that have been being solved? Yeah,

if you think about any of the world's kind of biggest challenges, the climate crisis, having a sustainable planet that we can enjoy for many years to come is a huge problem. And that one, one that we obviously don't have an answer for, there's drug discovery challenges and diseases, kind of impacting humanity as a whole. And think of any kind of big problem, any problem at all, we are developing technology, a type of intelligence that will be able to find a solution in a way that our kind of human minds can apply it to the challenges to eliminate them to allow us to kind of really evolve as a human race. Like it's just it sounds like really cinematic stuff. But it's absolutely true. Like these are current problems in the world today that we don't have problems that don't have solutions for and this technology absolutely can be the solution for it. I think it's really inspiring. And it's what allows me to zoom out from that day to day whenever I'm getting kind of too stuck in the details too bogged down with all of the stuff that come with all of the weight that comes with a very big kind of heavy workload. And I just remember, that's what we're working towards. And it puts everything into perspective.

Nicky Christmas 23:23
It must be an amazing day in the office, when a breakthrough has been made, or something's worked or something that you've been working on has come to fruition, it must be an incredibly exciting moment.

Yeah, definitely. And we're really good at that, like Deep Mind is super good at celebrating our successes, because they are really difficult problems to solve. And it might be that solution is only a very small part of an incredibly. So I think once you've been working for so long on something that is seemingly small, but you reach that goal, it absolutely requires celebrating because these are not easy challenges to come up against. So yeah, we do take that very seriously. We're very good at celebrating our achievements, for sure. But we're also very focused. Now it's very much like, Okay, we did this really cool thing, we hit this milestone, we're pivoting more like we're getting closer back to it, we need to stay focused. And that's like a really important part of the work that we do.

Nicky Christmas 24:16
And talking about challenges, what are some of the things that you find challenging in the role, there's just

so much going on at once. So just involving the right stakeholders at the right time with the right amount of information in the right way, it can all just be really quite tricky. And each situation can be drastically different and kind of love that because it keeps me on my toes, but it's definitely I'd say a challenge that we come up against on a daily basis. Like there is so much that just kind of comes through our pipeline. So there's that I'd also say recognising the impact that you're having assistants can eat in my experience assistants can easily just get lost in the small details. And when you're running at pace, it makes it really hard to stop and just take stock the way that We've kind of unknown challenge internally amongst our kind of like wider existing community. And the way that we combat that is with very good advocating for our community and the work that we do. And we also we celebrate our successes we celebrate each other. And I think doing that really helps to our everyday impact into perspective. Sure.

Nicky Christmas 25:21
Is that something that's always been the case at DeepMind? Or is that something that's developed over time as more assistants have come in and the team has developed?

Yeah, I think when we were a smaller, like a much more of like single digits assistant team, I don't think there was any formal way of making these successes really obvious, or there wasn't any set thing that we would do. But I have to say that the people that are hired by Deep Mind, they're very altruistic, and they're very kind. And I think we always want to show a level of appreciation for each other, because we're all feeding off each other in a way. And there's lots of there's lots to be inspired by whether you're working with anyone at DeepMind. But especially when you're working with like minded people who are doing a similar job to you, I think it's really important to celebrate each other. And, yeah, like, there wasn't a formal way of us doing it when we were smaller. But we definitely did it, it was definitely really important for us to round of applause and just really thank each other for the hard work that we're doing. Because, like I said, that you're always running a pace, it can feel as if there's not a lot of time to stop and take stock. And that's where we all rely on each other to call those things out. As a bigger team. We have kind of carried through that theme of celebration and celebrating successes and that taking stock in a more formal way. We have like, yeah toasts of the month, where we can all submit as known to toast too big or too small, where we celebrate each other and just call out lovely things that just put a smile on each other's space, I think it's important as a team to come together, and really feel good about the work that we're doing. Because if we're not advocating for each other, we can't expect other people to and as you all know, the assistant role is shrouded in stereotypes about our capabilities and our impact. And if you're a deep mind, like it is well known that you are a career assistant, and I don't think that's something that is translated across a lot of companies out there. So we're very fortunate in the role of the assistant role executive assistant, our team system is taken so seriously, and is just as valuable, just as important as any other roles.

Nicky Christmas 27:26
It's really interesting that you've said that. And, again, it's something that really makes me happy to hear because, yeah, I think collectively, assistants are stronger together, aren't they? It's almost like a union, when you come together and you've got that voice within any organisation. There's power in that. And there's power in those numbers. Particularly as you said, a lot of the time, people don't know what we do, there's stereotypes around the role anyway, we tend to have that mentality of getting on with things behind the scenes. But if we're talking together in one collective voice and saying that this is all of the important stuff that we do in an organisation, then sure your voice will be heard. And the role will be taken considerably more seriously than in a lot of organisations it does. So as a real testament to that when you're able to put a network together or bring all of the assistants together so that you're speaking in one voice is so important, it makes a difference. So if you've noticed that over the time that you've been at DeepMind, that people have noticed that and if there has been a difference in their behaviour, or attitudes towards a role,

I definitely think so. And I think it comes down to there's a number of individuals like right from day one of the assistant team at DeepMind that have been trailblazers, and advocates for the assistant role. And that is hugely important in any organisation where there is a system, a single assistant or a team of assistants, that there is someone advocating for the incredible impact that we can have and the capable skill sets that we that people can lean into. And I think we do have that as the mind we've got people that collaborate with assistance in a way that isn't typically done in many other organisations. And it is such a shame because you lose out on you lose out on I don't need to feel like I'm preaching to the choir saying this but you lose out on so much quality work and so much progression when you don't kind of partner and collaborate with assistance. As a first step. Yeah, there is just so much value in the in the work that we do. I cannot say that enough.

Nicky Christmas 29:23
And talking about the kind of stereotypes of the role and some of the boundaries that you might have experienced in your career. I wonder how you've gone about pushing those boundaries so that you are seen as a career assistant, and your work is valued.

This is really interesting because it's like twofold. I firstly I respect the key elements that make up the traditional role, the colour, the planning and scheduling is at the heart of every day. And it's not an easy job to think about to think strategically about time and headspace and I really don't think it deserves to be dismissed as unimportant, but it's really critical and it takes a great deal of skill to do successfully. So That said, I encourage anybody to think beyond these tasks as well. Don't limit yourself to what someone tells you an assistant is. And it's not every assistant role is what you make of it. There are definitely some glass ceilings and when it comes to being an assistant, and I think if you don't have people proactively smashing through them, it is down to you. And yes, that takes a concerted amount of effort. And it takes allies really believing in the work that you do. But it is absolutely possible. So it is what you make of an assistant role that really makes a difference. I'd also say, and I've learned a lot from doing this myself, get involved in projects that don't sit within your normal responsibilities. If you do that, you'll end up exposing yourself to a number of different things and new areas of the business, you might end up building relationships with people that you don't normally work with, I have had many valuable, I've had many kinds of relationships that have been built out of working with people not in your ordinary every day. And so I think that's a really important one. Also, I feel, you might find that you have to challenge those limiting beliefs that whether it's you having those limiting beliefs, because there's so much kind of heavy stereotypes around the role, but I think it's also our responsibilities to challenge the limiting beliefs of others around our role. And in my experience, yes, it's been frustrating at times, but I find it really fun as well. It's really show someone what you're able to do. So in a nutshell, like absolutely advocate for yourself, I think that's really important.

Nicky Christmas 31:24
It's really interesting when you speak to somebody who just doesn't understand the role is really dated. And then you explain to them your background, all of the things you've done all the projects, you've worked on all the skills you had, and just seeing their little body change or their body language, their facial expression is in every assistant, I think there's got that capability of doing it because the skills we have are so vast and actually do add such an incredible amount of value. It's just having that confidence to do it and finding your voice. Because as you said, nobody's going to advocate, if you're in that environment where people don't get the role, no one's going to advocate it apart from yourself. So you've got to try really hard to get it out there and show people what you can do. So take a step back. What do you think you would do if you weren't in this system? Gosh, I've got a feeling it would be the same answer as me. But

you got I don't know, actually, people always tend to be quite surprised when I tell people I've got interest in this. I come from a film background. When I was knee deep in the world of film, my focus was production design, production design is like anything that you see on screen relating to the set. So there's I like the visual element of things like creating that kind of visual story. And within that I do have a side hobby, which I haven't managed to do for two years, I've got kids and it's very time consuming. If I had more talent at the sewing machine, I would love to be a costume designer, specifically for like period films and stuff. I just think it is such an honour. And I adore when I'm looking at the screen and really feeling that effort of like storytelling and the richness of character development through the expression of clothing. I just think it's so fun. It's so interesting. The stuff that people pull out of their minds is incredibly impressive. And whilst I don't have any kind of like outrageous style, I love that people can express themselves through that. And it says something about it says something about them, whatever you want to interpret that to be see, I think a costume designer for like period films can be really cool. But I also really struggle with that question because I just love what I do. I really love being an assistant, I really love the people that I work with. I love that it can feel really focused and specific at the same time, it can feel super broad, the world's your oyster, I love that freedom. I love that freedom to really get creative with the work that I'm doing. And if I want to get involved with something, try a new skill set out or work on something different and apply myself to a project. With the kind of work that I do. I'm able to do that. Because it's it's a diverse set of tools that I've got in my toolbox. And I credit that all to being a career assistant. Absolutely. Now I'm interested, what would you do?

Nicky Christmas 33:59
I also come from a film background. So yeah, it's same I absolutely love it. And when you were talking about I've just like immediately transported back to my university days. And I was like, that was on set. So yeah, I will probably do something similar but I was really I loved film history and learning about different film actors and directors and so I always thought I'd really like to go more into academics and write about film history or maybe be a film critic or something like that. So be still be like words and writing focused. I always tried very hard to get up doing anything practical. I was always like no, I just want to be writing and reading and watching films and things like that. So I probably would have gotten into that route. But same as you I love what I do now and I now get the enjoyment of just watching a film. But I still find that really hard just to watch a film I always kind of studying it. Are you busy? Yeah, I've got that joy that still there. I just like to find more time to sit on the sofa and watch films or be in a cinema so is a job that so many of us sort of not necessarily fell into. But maybe it's not something that we did at university or thought would be the fulfilling career that it ends up being. Yeah. When you speak to other assistants, if I was a journalist or I studied law, or whatever it happens to be, it's never is very rarely I did administration or business support or anything like that. Yes, we always come from a colourful background, for sure. That's true. It sounds as you said, the role is heavy, and there's a lot to it. So how do you switch off and unwind apart from watching films?

Yeah, so I don't have a lot of time to do that anymore. So I think again, just whatever serves me my Saturday, as soon as I walk through that door, there is very strict like a set routine, my bag drops to the floor, like my shoes come off, I hit the ground, I'm just playing with my daughter, for as long as it takes to get us to dinner, bath and bed. Once we've gone through the motions there. And I've got my feel of mum time. And despite seeing how much it was day was, when she's in bed, that's like the time for me and my partner, we try and cook. But I think after you've done a full day's work, and an evening of parenting, you naturally just want to park your backside, on the TV on the sofa and just kind of relax. But whenever we do that, it's we know, both of us know me, I'm apart. And we both know, it's hugely important just to talk and connect. So we try and do that. And just generally, like remind each other, how hard balancing life is, and just kind of what a great job we're both doing. Despite it not always feeling that way. Like you're nervous Nicky balancing any kind of personal life, whatever that may look like, and a career and work and everything that comes with being alive, can be really heavy sometimes. And I mean, my partner, we try and lean on each other in a way that relieves us of kind of the stress of the day. And we do that just through talking and cooking and reading out on the side from watching any kind of party programme that doesn't take a lot of brain energy. One day, I might take up an evening hobby right now family time and rest. It's just it's the only fire of the evening. Yeah,

Nicky Christmas 37:03
for sure. And give absolutely give yourself grace for that. Because it's not easy. I remember when I was in the kind of two year old phases with my kids as well, it was just a lot of with my other half it was you've got this, we're doing okay. We'll get through

mental high five. It's tough work, but it's rewarding. It really is. And if there's anything about coming back to work as a system, or whatever it is your job vocation is, I think, like you said, it's giving yourself grace and permission to find it hard. And also like celebrating every single milestone, every tough moment that you get through like that is hugely important. You've got, like, a long life in one sense a short life in another and just take the moments as and when they arrive to celebrate each other and celebrate yourself. It's so important.

Nicky Christmas 37:55
And to go back to the assistant role and celebrating that I wonder what's the one thing that you're most grateful for that your assistant career has given you two things,

I'd say they're linked to each other. The biggest thing for me has been mentorship has been invaluable. There is no way I could have kind of progressed through life through my career. Without having the mentors, I've had had a really lucky to start a really lucky start sorry, as an assistant fell into the job organically. And I was nurtured by great leaders who put time and effort into my development as a Junior Assistant. And with that, it gave me confidence in my skills. And, you know, they really tried to make clear that my potential was visible. And the moment I realised that is the moment that I started really trusting myself and leaning into my capabilities and really asking myself, What do I want to do not just waiting for people to hand me an opportunity or waiting for someone to push me in a certain direction. I think I took that mentorship and that kindness to see my potential really seriously. I've never wanted it to feel wasted. And so I think that's been a huge, huge part of my development. I'm so grateful for it. So with that, I think feedback is a brilliant thing. It's a beautiful thing, even. And I'm always grateful to receive any kind of feedback, I think you can be transformative to someone's career and someone's development when you provide respectful kind and data driven feedback. And that could be anything but constructive feedback, which is always really helpful in terms of learning to grow. And the lovely feedback when you're doing something great and awesome. Again, no matter how big or how small, it really matters to get that feedback, because when you do it can feel like you're dancing in the dark. So whenever you can give feedback to people it's yeah, it's really meaningful.

Nicky Christmas 39:46
And do you have Have you found giving feedback as an assistant to others because again, it's something that we certainly advocate for in practically perfect PA and providing that voice to your executive, which I know can be very scary. So Is that something that you are able to do? And how has that been? For you,

I think if you're always coming from an informed place, and there is an understanding, like there is trust, if trust exists in your relationship, when you're giving that feedback, I think it can be quite straightforward. Again, when you're coming from a place of being informed. And also, when you're being thoughtful about that feedback, there's been many times where my VP has asked for my opinion on something or brought me in on something where I can kind of apply that feedback. And I think it's always been well received. Because it's always come from a place of I want what is best for you. And ultimately, I want what is best for DeepMind. And so if you're not coming from those places, and naturally, it doesn't necessarily land, not that great. But in my experience, I think if you're thoughtful, and it's driven by data, it can be a wonderful thing, a transformative thing. And people can be very grateful, like people like me can be very grateful to have that feedback.

Nicky Christmas 40:56
I agree data driven, I think is a really important element of that as well for Yeah, for assistants to pass on any feedback to their executives, because so many executives are data driven. So if you're able to put some data together around an opinion, all power to you for sure, I'd like to talk about the assistant industry, it's changed so much over the last few years. But I wonder if there are any further changes that you would like to see going forward?

Definitely, the biggest one, for me, the most obvious one for me, and the one that I've seen little change in is diversity, we desperately need more diversity, there is such a lack of underrepresented groups within the assistant industry. If you look at it from a plain view, there is a high percentage of white, straight cisgendered female systems, I'm included in that stat. And I think that really needs to change. We desperately need more diversity of thought and diversity of experience it mainly for fairness and equality reasons. But also, when you think about it, we are influences in in the space of our executives. And it's vital that our leaders are being challenged and exposed to new ways of thinking and seeing the world by people who make up the world's diverse population. So I think that is a huge thing that I would love to see big changes on. I've seen some small changes. And I think the face of the industry, or the many faces of the industry is slowly starting to change. But by and large, I think it's still remained, like I said, very white, very female. And I'd love to see that change personally. The other thing I would love to see change, which it sounds as if you and I both had a similar experience growing up, I didn't know that being a career assistant was an option, which is why I don't know, you know what, sometimes you don't want to change paths because it would lead you down a different direction. But you know, what would have been different about my career had I had known that being a career assistant was an option. I genuinely believed that assistant just did admin. So they did paperwork, it was minus, it was boring, they were limited to that there was not really any stretch or great opportunities, but I was usually wrong. And if my daughter were interested in this line of work, I would be absolutely thrilled. So I'd love to say that at step one young children are thinking about their careers thinking about they want to do what they want to do, I'd love to see within that kind of development of ideas, the option to be an assistant because the world is your oyster, you can travel the world, you can work with incredible leaders, you can grow in ways you've never imagined. I just think the role itself is an unsung hero. And the sooner that people are aware that this is an option, the more people don't have to try so many different and there's nothing wrong with trying different things to figure out what you're good at and what you enjoy. But the sooner people can fall into something that they love. And it's might well be something that more people could love and enjoy and feel passionate about. I think the better.

Nicky Christmas 43:44
We've got to keep singing the praises of the role, haven't waited because there's so many elements to it, which are so exciting for people that work in business. And it's just constantly and it's a shame we constantly have to do this and that we're not there a point yet where everybody just gets it. But it's constantly evolving, changing. You can make it as big as you want or at times in your career. You can make it a smaller role if you want to depending on how that fits into your lifestyle. We've got so many options in the roll. And it's such a viable and yeah, it's such a viable profession. It really isn't. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've said there, we need to make it more diverse in every way. And we need to make it more accessible and understandable to younger people coming in that it's a very, very, very valid career path that can lead to so much so yeah, I'll continue to shout but it'd be great if one day the shouting can stop for sure. That would be a good day, but have it speaking to people like you Roxanne who brings such thought to the role and so eloquent in the way that you talk about your profession and the work that you do. I think we'll get there much sooner. Fokine is very true. So I always like to finish the point. cost sharing some love and talking about some of the other resources that are available to assistance. So I'd love to hear from you some of the technology or websites or publications that you enjoy that have helped you and have helped shape to shape your career.

Oh, definitely, practically perfect. Pa Of course. Speaking, unbias Lee, I promised practically perfect Pa was the first resource in the assistant well, that I found and it was it was game changing Nicky, and I'm not just saying that because it was you. I think it meant a lot to see people dedicate time to the development of a system, definitely lean into your listening, definitely lean into the practically perfect pa resource. I've attended many a conference and then just think they're absolutely fantastic, and really trailblazing what it means to be an assistant, and really advocating to think creatively about what you can do with that role and how you can exist within it. And we're all different. We're all we all bring something really unique and individual to an assistant role. So I think your resource is a great kind of space to be in and exist in if you really want to push the boundaries of what needs to be in existence. So there's obviously this resource. There was a new recommendation made to me by a colleague that I found really useful actually, it's the book by Anne Hyatt, who is former EA to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, and Eric Schmidt of Google. So I found this book, it's called bet on yourself, by the way, sorry, it's really interesting in the sense of, if you want to get creative about your role, if you want to think more outside of the box and push the boundaries of the work that you're across, and the way that you partner with leaders. I think that's a really great book to pick up Sticking with the theme of books, I absolutely adore Michelle Obama as a whole as a human for her book becoming is definitely one to pick up and devour. I think the way that she speaks about people, the humanity, the world, the way that she thinks, her being strong female voice is just invaluable in terms of feeling inspired and highly recommend, I would say don't knock things on your doorstep, if you've got internal training, tap into that if you haven't, or if it's not relevant, or if it's not that useful. Look, elsewhere and look externally, there's incredible programmes out there practically perfect pa being one of them, sign on to and really devour the incredible training programmes that are on offer. And you don't be shy to suggest stuff in your workplace. If you want a mentorship programme, if it doesn't exist, suggested that if you want to coach don't be shy of paying out of your own pocket, I know that being able to finance the four things like that could be seen as a privilege. If you do have the means I highly recommend it. I think it's Game Changing firm your career. And then there's kind of the standard stuff, Harvard Business Review, you've got the executive a magazine, I do have a bit of a wildcard actually. So it might feel irrelevant to tap into this resource. But I found it really interesting. There's TED talks, which we're all very aware of. Then there's the TED Radio Hour, which it will take small topics or themes that you won't have even thought you won't have really thought of in terms of something to delve into. Or you won't know that there are academics or research going on around them. And it will bring it into this one hour show takes three talks around this theme. And I just think it's incredible for really opening up your mind to new ideas. If you just want a bit of a refresher something to take yourself out of the FHA normal kind of system resource, Ted radio on brilliant. I think that's most of my resources.

Nicky Christmas 48:26
That's a fantastic list. So we'll make sure to add them all to the show notes after the after the podcast so that everybody can check them out. But Roxanne, we've come to an end. We've been speaking for an hour and I could absolutely speak to you for the rest of the day. But we're both busy people. So

this has been a lovely conversation. I've really enjoyed my time with you. Thanks for having me on.

Nicky Christmas 48:49
Thank you so much for listening to the EA campus podcast. We would love for you to take a minute to subscribe to the AAA campus podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or really wherever you find your podcasts. If you could give us a review, we would so appreciate that as well. If you want to check out the show notes, you can do that by going over to the AAA campus.com forward slash podcast forward slash episode 11 Roxane Smith and take a look at everything we discussed. You can also find all the links to the resources, articles and tech that we mentioned during the show. If you want to join the conversation inside the a campus community, you will also find all of the information on the AAA Campus website. The community is continuing to grow and we have an amazing group of assistants who are all helping each other and sharing their careers. We have ongoing events and training for our members and we would love to see more of you inside the campus. Thanks for your time and I hope you tune in again to the next episode of the EA campus podcast.

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