Caution, Working Moms! Keep Out!

Breast Pumps Just One of Many Issues in an Office Full of Women

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Millie Olson Millie Olson
A full moon was hanging over San Francisco Bay recently as I enjoyed the ego bath of being honored as Ad Person of the Year. The event was held on a Love Boat look-alike that deviated in significant ways from its PR photos (but that could be said of many of us).

As the waves hurled us against each other, a board member confessed that they'd asked themselves, "Are we really gonna pick another guy this year? Can't we come up with a woman?"

Well, gee, thanks for sharing that. But really, why are there still so few of us starting and leading our own agencies? Few would now deny that there are women with the requisite talent, drive and ambition. But especially at a small, entrepreneurial agency, the demand to put work first and everything else second is still pretty punishing for most.

Judging by the women who fill leadership positions at Amazon, you need at least one of the following:

  1. A family fortune and a live-in nanny.
  2. A stay-at-home spouse with a Type B personality and excellent cooking skills.
  3. Kids well into their teens but disinclined to burn your place down or turn it into Animal House.
  4. Non-human kids who are welcomed at offices like ours with its concrete floors, squeaky toys and bags of liver biscotti.
  5. For newer moms, an ability to keep on pumping (literally) day after day, with a heap of understanding from your colleagues.
Milk management is part of daily life at Amazon. Breast milk sits in our Sub Zero next to the Low-Fat, No-Fat and Silk. A client cheerfully FedEx'd a batch to the agency after an Amazon left it in his freezer. A PA has been sent shopping for a replacement pump at a remote location on a shoot. One new mom has a standing offer: a free lunch to anyone who reminds her she's walking out the door without her milk. Another Amazon once breast-fed her 2-week-old baby during an emergency meeting in her living room, while several male managers huddled round in rapt attention. And -- let's honor all kinds of Momdom -- earlier this week I found my business partner feeding formula to a couple of 3-week-old kittens while conducting a conference call with London, Mexico City and Hong Kong.

A handwritten sign often appears on our storage-room door: "Caution, Working Moms! Keep Out!" From inside, you can hear the rhythm of the pump. But the unintended literal meaning could still be true of our business.

How do we help women with leadership potential make it all the way to the top, instead of pushing them away to more flexible career paths or serial freelance gigs? We can't afford to lose young women, with their energy and talent and fresh voices. We need their connection to real, flesh-and-blood lives, lived outside the bubble of our business.

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