I shared my story on a Facebook group run by Clemmie Telford called ‘Mother of all Meet Ups’. It’s a group set up to support creatives that are also mums. I wanted to get their opinion on what had happened and ask the group if leaving at 5pm was an unreasonable request. It seemed it wasn’t at all. Kimberly Gill, Creative Director at BBH said "I carved out working hours that suited me, leaving work at 5.15 most days. I don’t apologise nor do I make a fuss about it, and I carry on with work when my daughter’s in bed. Having a couple of hours in between to sing ‘Let it Go’ several times does wonders for the grey matter."
It was great to hear about the agencies making it work for mums. Lottie Nusca, Senior Creative at Cheil also said "I've got a 4 day contract and I leave around 5pm to do nursery pick up. When I have unfinished work I just take my laptop home and do it once my baby is in bed. When my baby had a fever and I had to go and pick her up at lunchtime, they didn't bat an eyelid. I'm not saying this to gloat. It's just too depressing to think that I'm a solitary positive case. Why do employers cling to this prehistoric view that you can only do your work at your desk? Of all industries, advertising should get it the most. We have our best ideas on the train, in the shower - why should we be micromanaged into sitting at a desk for x amount of hours a day to do a good job?"
Lottie hit the nail on the head. Why was it that the agency Lol and I almost worked for insisted on being in the office to think of ideas. It was so archaic. Have they heard of smartphones? Video conferencing? Of course if I was needed in the office in the evening, provisions could be made, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
Charlotte Adorjan, Creative Director at AMV BBDO summed it up brilliantly. "Flexible working is the future for everyone, not just mothers. Pretty soon agencies will find no one wants to work at companies that refuse to let you have any kind of life or responsibility beyond the job. The ideas in those agencies will dry up because everyone is chained to their desk staring at the same miserable faces."
I wanted to get an employer’s perspective on the matter so I spoke to Alice Tonge, Head of 4Creative."4C is super supportive. For creatives, brilliant ideas don’t need to come from someone being sat at a desk. I’m very pro flexitime. I’d rather people play to their strengths in a supportive environment, surely you get the best work in return?"
Kimberly Gill, put it perfectly again. "Being a mother and a creative doesn’t make you a second class employee. Agencies need mums in the creative department and clients want mums working on their business. We’re valuable."
She’s right. Since mums make the majority of the purchase decisions surely having some real mums working on your account makes sense? Not to mention mums are super-efficient, have exceptional time management skills and are fine-tuned negotiators. There is no better lateral thinking training than when you have five minutes to get your toddler dressed and out the house and they insist on wearing nothing but their swimming costume.
Out of office
If we really want a more diverse workforce, agencies need to rethink the old fashioned notion of core ‘office’ hours and agency structures. We need to rethink the ways in which people present and share their work. With Google docs you can share your ideas from anywhere. People in the office can comment within the doc and feedback can be acted on immediately. With Google hangouts you can chair a meeting and present work from anywhere. You’re still working, you’re just not in the office. What’s important is that you are present.
Who’s to say that the team still in the office at 8pm grazing a dead pad thai from Deliverance are actually present in anything more than physical form? They could be scrolling their Facebook feed thinking about their taxi home.
In 2018, for an agency not to hire someone because they aren’t physically present in the office between 5-6pm is nothing short of Jurassic. If agencies genuinely want to attract diverse talent, and fill the gaping chasm of women over 35 in creative departments, it’s time more agencies starting using these digital collaboration tools.
As a case in point, Lol’s business ‘Lemon Comedy’ is run across Toronto, Melbourne and London. Her team have never once all been in the same room. Using solely Facebook messenger, Google drive & docs she led an entire design overhaul and programmed the Melbourne comedy festival. There wasn’t an office in sight.
Whilst I’m not suggesting remote working for the entire ad industry, adopting this way of working alongside being in the office could be a really practical way of helping parents with childcare responsibilities. Whether that’s carrying on with work once the kids are in bed or on those days when you have to work from home because your child is poorly. Thanks to technology, there is no such thing as out of office anymore.
Could do better
So, how can we make change happen sooner? In our industry nothing exists yet to show how companies compare to each other in regards to parental leave packages, return deals and flexible working policies so Lol and I contacted Campaign about an idea to publish ‘Nursery School Reports’. In this we would rank agencies against each other in terms of their parental provision. Or perhaps, like Creature’s fantastic ‘Placement Poverty Pledge’, we get agencies to sign up to a scheme that shows they are a parent friendly agency. That way the ones that don’t meet the criteria will be exposed. Campaign responded by saying that they had actually just teamed up with Duke and were about to launch a comprehensive survey about the experience of mothers in the advertising industry. This was great to hear. I hope that by celebrating the good agencies, it will force some employers to pull their (baby) socks up and be as good as their counterparts, thereby creating real change in this area.
Ultimately, for the situation to continue to improve, it’s important we have more mum ECDs. Only a mum that has returned to advertising really understands how it feels to go back to work after being out of the industry for a number of months or years with a baby. Having that empathy at the top means they’ll know the best ways pathways to support returning mums in their department and therefore how to get the best work out of them.
Lets hope that in the wake of ‘Times Up’, where 180 top female ad leaders have joined up to rid the industry of out-dated agency structures and attitudes, change is on its way.
Please make it come our way soonbefore you see me handing you a donut in Westfield.
Nathalie Turton and Lorelei Mathias are an award-winning CD team (Ex AMV, Mother, BMB, Glue, BBH) now available for hire. lollyandnat.com
(This article first appeared on CampaignLive.co.uk)