Fashion, feminism and glossy pages – working for Cosmopolitan

The bold, pink capital letters of Cosmopolitan’s logo are now synonymous with feminism, empowerment, and the magazine’s four brand pillars; fashion, sex, relationships and careers. The very word itself is associated with being worldly, well-travelled, mature, experienced, cultivated, cultured, sophisticated, …suave …polished …refined. But although the magazine is defining its typical reader as such – or at least positions itself to be read by an audience with aspirations of achieving some of these characteristics – I was curious to delve beyond the magazine, to discover whether the company practices what it preaches.

cosmo magazine

“One of the common misconceptions that people have is that we work in an Ugly Betty-style office,” Cosmo Editor Louise Court tells me. “It’s not quite like that, we don’t have those kind of  modern furnishings or anything, but it is a buzzy, creative place to work. And the staff on the editorial floor are mostly women.”

In fact, Louise goes on to explain that although other brands under the Hearst Corporation (which, incidentally, is currently run by a woman; Anna Jones) such as the celebrity titles, have a more mixed editorial rooms – and Men’s Health and Esquire are the ‘men’s floors’, Cosmopolitan only employs two men in in-house roles. “We do have male and female photographers and writers working for us, but it is mostly women who apply; mostly women who want to work for Cosmopolitan,” she explains.

Louise Court cosmo ed

‘When Cosmopolitan was launched in 1972 it caused a sensation’ reads the first line of Linda Kelsey’s National Magazine Company endorsed book Was It Good For You, Too? – 30 Years of Cosmopolitan. ‘It was the first magazine to encourage women to take their careers seriously and it was the first to talk about feminism in a way young women could relate to’. But dig a little deeper into its pages and Linda Kelsey confesses that within the early days, Cosmopolitan’s advice for finding rewarding work was to simply find a job ‘where men are’; men who have power and money; men who are looking for dates – or better still: wives.

cosmo book

So how has the brand who once believed ambition equated to marrying the boss, gone on to feature a dedicated Careers Clinic section within its magazine, and employ an army of females? Including ‘Cosmo’s resident superwoman’, Karren Brady of BBC’s The Apprentice fame; right hand woman to Lord Alan Sugar but also Small Business Ambassador to the UK Government under Prime Minister David Cameron, who is presented as having her own column in the magazine, in which she responds readers’ career dilemmas.

karren brady cosmo

This shift in attitudes that has become so crucial to Cosmopolitan’s identify began in September 1979. Cosmopolitan had run a story about a three-day developmental training course – The Pepperell Development Course – aimed at encouraging women to develop their potential and achieve greater results at work; it remained somewhat unobtainable however, at a cost of £200. That month Cosmo linked up with Julia Cleverdon, who ran the Pepperell Course, and offered readers a one-day programme for just £25. To keep pace with the huge response, Cosmo offered more and more workshops; a legacy that continues today.

I’ve realised within the last two years; as the overwhelming tidal wave of job hunting information and networking opportunities has washed me onto the beaches of the graduate world; that Cosmopolitan is a one-brand Armada of promoting itself as the ultimate place, for the ultimate woman to work. Featuring interviews with staff on career advice hub, presenting elusive and sort after internship opportunities and running five Careers Masterclass panel talks last year; Cosmopolitan knows how to tap into the talent of tomorrow.

cosmo logo

Editor Louise Court eloquently explains to me that: “Cosmopolitan is 42 years old in the UK, 50 years old in the States. It has built its reputation on giving women the confidence to be ambitious and being in the career or job that you like is essential to that.

“In the beginning, supporting women with their careers was breaking the glass ceiling. Now we’re just building on that legacy. Careers are an important part of most women’s lives and increasingly women are getting frustrated. Nowadays you have to go to university to be a journalist or even a midwife, all these things that you didn’t used to need a degree to do. All these highly qualified girls are coming out of university and having to do two jobs to get by. Cosmopolitan uses it’s Careers Masterclasses to advise and support with the emotional side of careers, as well as the practical.”

cosmo careers masterclass

One branch of the brand, a supplementary magazine known as Cosmo on Campus, is distributed free to universities, appealing to students to contribute to the Cosmopolitan website. The Editor’s column in its Spring Term 2014 issue states: ‘Cosmos always been about empowering women and giving them a voice – we hope you’ll add yours to our universe’.  Interestingly, the same message of Cosmopolitan empowering women through providing them a platform was one of the lasting messages I took from the three of five 2013 Cosmo Careers Masterclasses I attended. “Cosmopolitan is about an attitude,” is one of the statement’s that Louise Court sang out at the first ever Careers Masterclass “of being the best you can in all areas of life.”

Reflecting on that panel talk a year on,  Louise hopes that seeing a panel of smart, young women helped to inspire the almost entirely female audience, but also give a realistic view of these highly sort after careers through providing insight to the good points, the bad points and also the pitfalls of careers. “I think one of the pre-conceptions that people have is that we don’t have to work too hard at Cosmopolitan: I can honestly say, I have never worked so hard in my life!”

cosmo panel

But perhaps Cosmopolitan’s greatest strategy in creating its image of being the ultimate feminist workforce comes in the form of the Cosmo Ultimate Woman Awards. By presenting some of the most inspiring, successful and recognisable women with highly sort after Cosmo awards, the brand’s network as an employer becomes all the more elite and diverse: a reputation that has mutual benefits.

Cosmopolitan Award winning blogger Zoe Griffin sums up the affiliation with the brand as bringing credibility to her business: “On winning the award, I had a certificate that I could display on my blog.” Zoe explains. “The Cosmo brand is well established and because they’d endorsed me, it gave people confidence that my blog was of high quality and worth reading. The prize also involved contributing several guest blogs to Cosmo Online and they included links back to my blog. My traffic rose by 20 per cent.

cosmopolitan zoe griffin

It is clear that since 1979 marked the start of Cosmopolitan’s mission to encourage the ‘career woman’ by making training and career knowledge more accessible, Cosmopolitan has found its identity and not looked back.

Zoe leaves me with the telling anecdote: “My good friend, the former gossip columnist at The Daily Star, is now editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Middle East. Sonja Stephen is only 34, but Cosmopolitan took a chance on her. They promote women based on promise and enthusiasm rather than established experience – I love that they are willing to take risks.”

Click to comment
To Top