FREE THE WORK is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to identifying systemic inequalities in film, television, advertising and media. The organization is working to find actionable solutions to expand access for underrepresented creators and helps connect creators with creative opportunities through its curated talent discovery platform.
Noun Project has joined forces with FREE THE WORK to launch a new collection of stock photos that celebrates empowered women leading at work, at home, in their communities, and beyond.
We spoke with Pamala Buzick, COO and Director of Partnerships at FREE THE WORK, to learn more about her work, the importance of visual representation, and her advice for navigating the path to leadership today.
Hi Pamala! Tell us about yourself — how did you get to where you are today? What inspired you to join the team at FREE THE WORK?
Well, to be honest, it wasn’t something I knew to look for. Like other pivotal points in my career, it came when I pivoted. I spent about 15 years in the advertising industry as a rep. Reps are talent agents — we go out to ad agencies to get our exclusive rostered talent work. It involves hustle, networking, being two steps ahead of knowing what your client wants and knowing how to talk about talent that can help pave the way for evolving and growing their careers. I was really good at it and at some point I just got tired. Tired of convincing the client why they should be giving this up-and-coming director a chance, tired of building another career of some guy who probably doesn’t even know my name, tired of a client misinterpreting our networking drink as a date. So, I pivoted. I closed the talent agency I co-owned and went into tech. I took night classes and fortunately landed a job with friends at a startup. I started in sales, naturally, but was devouring everything around me. Deciding to get into tech at 38 was risky. You only ever see images of young men in startup land.
Fast forward through a few different opportunities, I landed at FREE THE WORK right as they were relaunching from Free The Bid. Being at a nonprofit that uplifts underrepresented creators via a discovery database sits at the perfect axis between working with creative people, tech, nonprofits and the possibility of making change across the TV, advertising, and film landscapes. I find myself incredibly fortunate to be part of this team.https://player.vimeo.com/video/342691769?app_id=122963
FREE THE WORK is leading the charge to champion underrepresented creators across creative industries. What is a day on the job like for you as FREE THE WORK’s COO and Director of Partnerships?
As COO and Director of Partnerships, I get to be in the weeds and also have the 35,000-foot point of view. I spend a lot of time interacting with our team and our donors on a daily basis. Our number one goal is to bring as many opportunities as we can to underrepresented creators. We use several tools to enable us to do that and our discovery database is one of them.
Alma Ha’rel, founder of FREE THE WORK, originally started the database because she realized that donors needed a database to find the underrepresented talent. You can’t just pledge to diversify and not also help build the resources with which to do that. Otherwise, it’s an “I wish” vs “I will.” I love speaking to our donors to understand more about their jobs and how we can help empower them. We support them and in turn this enables them to hire more underrepresented creators behind the lens.
What are your thoughts on the power and importance of visual representation to help support the rise of more women in leadership in creative industries?
Exposure is everything. Almost all of my bosses have been women. From each I learned an element about leadership, sometimes even what not to do. And when they hit the glass ceiling, they all went on to open their own businesses. Funny, I never consciously realized that until now. And that’s why it’s important. The images around you soak in and permeate your psyche.
When you look to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you currently most excited about?
Building more diversity on production sets. And hopefully adding photographers to our database soon!
What advice would you give to women who are currently navigating the path to leadership at work and in their communities?
Learn how to weave your story. It’s unique and it’s you. Maybe not everything happened according to your perfect plan and, reminder, this is true for everyone! We are all human. Turn the hurdles you jumped into victories. Turn the missteps into lessons learned. You bring something to the table that others do not. Awareness and reflection are very powerful learned traits.
About FREE THE WORK
FREE THE WORK is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to identifying systemic inequalities in film, television, advertising, and media, and finding actionable solutions to expand access for underrepresented creators.
This mission is supported by FREE THE WORK’s field work & advocacy, editorial content, events, partnerships and curated talent-discovery platform.