Reroute: An interview with Diane Young
“Every beauty and greatness in this world is created by a single thought or emotion inside a man. Everything we see today, made by past generations, was, before its appearance, a thought in the mind of a man or an impulse in the heart of a woman.”
“I mean, is that not just ridiculous?” Diane proclaims incredulously over the phone. She’s recounting the above quote, the one that was carefully and considerately copy and pasted into the body of an email she’d received from an industry body that very morning. I can see why it annoyed her; that sort of sentiment, that ideas either come from the mind of a man or the heart of a woman, is the shit that equally winds me up. And in all honesty, it goes against all that Diane stands for as a businesswoman. To reduce her life and work achievements down to simply an “impulse” of the heart would be, well, ridiculous as she said.
A tenacious and determined businesswoman, Diane has gone through several/numerous life and career changes before finding where her real talents lie, rising quickly through the ranks at The Drum Magazine where she now sits as co-founder. Moving through early ambitions to be a school teacher, to pursuing a diploma in prosthetics (a self-confessed random choice), completing a degree in mathematics and taking a statistics job with the NHS, she now runs the UK and Europe’s leading marketing and advertising publication. With offices spanning London, New York and Singapore, the Glasgow-based magazine has grown exponentially over the years, in no small way achieved through the support and guidance of Diane.
So when choosing the next influential and successful woman to interview for this series, Diane was an obvious fit. A force to be reckoned with in both the communications and publishing industries, she has worked hard to establish herself in a fast-moving and often ruthless space. Our interview is coloured with Diane’s characteristic pragmatism, where she pushes her female peers to recognise their capabilities and overcome any feeling of self-doubt.
Not everything goes smoothly in life, a fact that Diane can attest to from her first experiences. Having gained a diploma in Prosthetics and went onto university to study and graduate in Mathematics, she was poised for career success. But then the first financial crisis hit and threw those ambitions awry; there was now no career trajectory to follow, and jobs for a qualified graduate were hard to come by. This is a position which many lower tier millennials could find easy to relate to in today’s somewhat bleak employment climate, and for many is a cause of feelings of self-deprecation. When asked about her own response to unemployment however, Diane takes an opposing view: “I was more frustrated by the situation than self-critical,” she says. “The circumstances were beyond my control and while I was disappointed, you have to find a way to make it work and get through.” So she did just that; taking a position with the NHS where she worked with statistics and put her aptitude for figures and rational thinking to good use.
It was after graduating from university that Diane met her husband-to-be, Gordon Young and his business partner and friend Nick Creed. It was this meeting that brought Diane into the world of The Drum Magazine, and finally the most impacting steer on her career. She took an interest in work at The Drum from an early stage, helping to run events and create a buzz around the brand while working full-time in her statistics job. Electing to cut back her work and instead take on a full-time internship with The Drum, Diane learned the business inside and out from the bottom up. Fast-forward to just 29 years old, and she was now the Managing Director of The Drum.
It is this exact work experience that Diane believes has led to her eventual success. When asked about the advice she would offer young people coming up in any industry, she really pushes getting as much experience as possible. “As an employer, it makes a huge difference to your perception of a candidate if they have a range of work experiences,” she states. “It shows that you’re willing to take the initiative and make things happen.” She urges those starting out in their career to challenge themselves by branching out of their home cities, and stepping out of their comfort zones.
Diane is passionate about leadership and keen to offer advice where she can, whether that’s career advice or speaking at women-focussed events and encouraging greater gender parity across the board. She recognises the pressures placed on women these days, where they are expected to deliver on all fronts, at home as much as in the workplace. This is a widely accepted truth, but as before with the economic recession, she takes a different view: “There’s a great opportunity for empowerment through gender,” she says knowingly. “Women need to realise the power of their position within this current market; the press opportunities available to them and how they can actually use their identity as women to their advantage.” Solutions, not problems.
“My first job was as a class assistant for my high school work experience project,” Diane tells me when recalling her first career ambitions. “It was just a week but I knew quite early on that being a teacher wouldn’t suit me. I loved kids and being a teacher, but the work structure was too regimented, too small… I didn’t like the idea of sitting in the same staffroom with the same people, every day.” So perhaps primary teaching wasn’t really on the cards for Diane, but that doesn’t mean education wasn’t. It is this passion and belief in learning that has defined her career, helping to direct her movements and imbuing her with the fearlessness needed to make her own choices. “It’s about respecting individualism”, she says. People make decisions at different points of their lives, either earlier or later. There really isn’t a right way to do any one thing, except what’s right for you at that time. A sentiment quickly and perfectly summed up in her question: “What is normal anyway?” I couldn’t agree more.