Inspirational Woman in Public Affairs: Elin de Zoete
Date posted: 25/04/2019
Inspirational woman in Public Affairs: Elin de Zoete
Elin de Zoete is Managing Director at PLMR, responsible for managing the team and providing senior counsel and strategic advice to clients. In March 2019, Elin was listed as a Top Ten Inspirational Woman in Public Affairs.
How did you get into Public Affairs?
I read Politics and East European studies at university. I had never heard of the Public Affairs profession at university and was torn between pursuing a career in Politics or Journalism. Upon graduating, I undertook some work experience with my local MP, as well as The Week, The Sunday Times and Elle Magazine. I then completed a Master’s Degree in International Development at LSE.
Following this, I interned for an environmental think tank which was doing fascinating and interesting work, but didn’t have a budget to employ any extra staff. During my time there, the National Co-ordinator of the think tank Melanie Smallman took me under her wing and took me to Labour Party Conference 2008, with a shared mission: to get me a job. This was my first experience of women really helping other women in business. I brazenly networked with everyone over beige buffets and warm white wine, and took home a pile of business cards, including from someone I met from PLMR.
After the conference was over, I followed up with everybody, including my newly-made PLMR contact. As a result, I got the opportunity to meet with PLMR’s CEO Kevin, who immediately gave me a trial, after which he offered me a job as a Research and Monitoring Executive – one of the most junior roles in the company. Ten years later I am the MD.
When I joined PLMR, the team was just five people in an office next to a taxi cab office in Clapham. Now, we are a 50-person team in Westminster, with offices in Scotland, Birmingham and Chelmsford.
I didn’t go to a private school, I grew up in North Wales and I had no existing networks I could draw upon when I moved to London. I took proactive steps early in my career – writing personalised, well-researched letters to MPs and journalists, asking to shadow people, looking for work experience and securing my own opportunities.
What do you love most about Public Affairs?
I love helping clients to navigate intense scrutiny and winning legislative changes for them. I also enjoy building and developing a strong team, mentoring others, and ensuring women in PLMR put themselves forward.
I spend a lot of time supporting team members across the business and have invested in coaching from the brilliant Nikki da Costa and others for my colleagues. I believe it is important to put time and energy in to the people within the business, not just the client work.
It is a really exciting time for PLMR; we acquired two businesses a couple of years ago, both led by brilliant women, who I am working with to build up our collective offering in Westminster, regionally and internationally.
What is it like to be a young woman in public affairs?
As a young woman in public affairs, there have been many times when I have felt like I need to go above and beyond to prove myself – there has been more than one occasion in meetings with politicians where it was assumed at the beginning of the meeting that I was just there to take notes. It is sad that those preconceptions still exist, but I relish a challenge.
How have you dealt with that?
Personally, I like to over-prepare for everything so that I don’t feel exposed. Everyone has imposter syndrome, at whichever stage they are at in their career – and this is particularly the case for women. I need to feel confident that I am on top of the detail, so that I can hold my own in any work scenario.
What advice would you give to other young women in the industry?
I would say, be a little bit braver.
Get as much work experience as you can; it will make you stand out and will show employers that you are really committed and that you really want it. Push yourself forward within your company, put your hand up for opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want; rest assured that many of your male colleagues will be.
How did you feel to be listed as a Top Ten Woman in Public Affairs?
I found out on my first day back to work from maternity leave, so it was a lovely boost as I was re-entering the workplace. I was truly flattered to be listed alongside such amazing women. I think it’s a brilliant thing to do – we should celebrate each other and promote the great work that women do across the Public Affairs industry.
PLMR has many women in the office, what are you doing to attract and keep women?
It was refreshing to come back from maternity leave and see that even more brilliant women have joined our team. We have seen more women coming into public affairs over the last few years and at PLMR, we are now the dominant gender!
Embracing flexible working is important to retain all staff, not just women. We are investing in our IT and tech to enable our workplace to be more flexible, and software like PolicyMogul will help teams like ours to collaborate virtually.