Kirsten Flanik doesn't believe women can have it all.
The renewed wave of media attention last year around the question of whether women can be "perfect" at home and at the office inspired Ms. Flanik, managing director at BBDO, New York, to start the agency's Women's Council. The 10-member group promotes what Ms. Flanik calls "an ongoing dialogue" about challenges women face at certain points in their careers.
"I felt that 'having it all' was the wrong conversation to be having," she said. "Everyone sacrifices something at some point. But how can we send the message that this is an environment where you don't have to opt out?"
Ms. Flanik is referring to the difficult choice many female agency employees face when they want to take time off. Still in development is a program called the "Family Leave Plan," where women sit down with execs and coaches to map out a career plan if they expect to step off the path for a while -- to travel, have kids, spend time with parents or try their hand at writing a book. Working with outside career coaches and mentors within the agency, the group develops a formalized plan for when the employee leaves and returns, including who will take on their job responsibilities and how the transition will take place.
Other agencies have similar initiatives, although not all are gender-based. For example, WPP's Ogilvy & Mather has a Working Parents Network that offers mentoring for expecting and returning parents to help them navigate leaves, conversations with bosses and teams, and questions.
Omnicom sibling DDB Worldwide recently launched "Empower," a website created in celebration of International Women's Day (March 8) that features photos of real women in the network, along with tweets from female employees answering the question "What empowers you?" The agency will also host panels and events across North American offices, and the agency's California office will soon launch an online video celebrating the number of women at the shop.
BBDO's culture feeds into what the Women's Council is trying to do, said Ms. Flanik. "If you're a mom and have a parent-teacher conference, go for it." About 60% of BBDO, New York's employees are female; 75% of its accounts are run by women.
The council exists only in New York but there is potential for othermarkets given that many of its execs around the world are women.
Other initiatives from the council include speed-networking sessions with agency senior management. The council also rotates its 10 members.