Opinion: Ad shops must let their employees thrive as parents, too
Kids of parents in advertising must love Take Your Child to Work Day. Ping-pong tables, Foosball, giant white boards with markers, snacks galore and screens everywhere. What more could a kid want? As an agency leader, you make sure that a fun day of activities is planned, swag is handed out, and you can pat yourself on the back for another job well done.
That means you win on cool factor, congratulations. But do you know where agencies aren’t winning? Recruiting and retaining the kids’ parents.
I’ve been living the agency life for more than 20 years. During my tenure, I have watched most of the women I grew up with in this business opt out at some point for better balance and the ability to focus more on their families. I also meet with a lot of up-and-coming talent, and recently heard from a young, single woman that she has been given the advice to work at an agency early in her career so when she “grows up” and is ready to “settle down” she can transition to client-side or something less demanding.
As a mother, and someone deeply entrenched in agency life, I reject that. If you have passion for agency life and want to build your career there and have a family, you have the right to do that and to be a present parent at the same time. (This isn’t just a mom issue.) It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, and yet our industry has not and is not advancing fast enough to meet the needs of modern families. As a result, we are losing our best and brightest talent at an alarming rate.
Trust me, these notions are not just based on my own experience. A very insightful Parenting in Adland report, created by the 3% Movement in collaboration with VMLY&R and released last year, shows that nine in 10 moms and eight in 10 dads surveyed agree that the “advertising agency is a challenging place for parents.” But the drive and willingness to work doesn’t go away when the baby arrives.
Although they don’t always act like it, agencies’ greatest assets are their people. We are in a talent war, and the people we are fighting for have children. We have to champion our teams and give them the support to be their best selves, at work and in life.
Unfortunately, there is no one silver bullet. There are a few simple steps that can be taken on both sides to make a positive impact.
Start by asking questions. You get the information you need to create the right solutions for working parents and agencies to thrive, and your team will take notice. Ask about their challenges, hopes and dreams for making agency life work with family life.
Set the right example. You can tell people that you don’t expect them to work weekends, but if you’re emailing all day Sunday, that’s not the message they are receiving.
Strive for progress, not perfection. If you’ve gathered input from your team and you have an idea for a program or initiative, try it. Keep the conversation going.
Create your own boundaries. I thought I was doing this until one day my boss informed me that while he appreciated the passion I had for my job, he had committed to supporting me in my quest to be a present mom and I wasn’t living up to my end of the deal. (It was almost as though I had been waiting for him to tell me to go home, or not to go the extra mile.) I realized I’m my own worst enemy and I have to take responsibility for creating the life I want.
Ask, don’t assume. If you feel like you aren’t being supported in the right way from your management team, have you talked to them about it? I’m often surprised by how many people just assume they won’t get what they want so they don’t even ask.
Being a parent at an agency isn’t just about hours and flexible schedules. Consider how you’re managing your energy. According to Harvard Business Review, we need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and take responsibility for changing them. For example, without intermittent recovery, it becomes very challenging to sustain highly positive emotions for long periods. We work in an industry that is founded on creativity, and so we need to give ourselves the time and space to be inspired, to think clearly, to focus. We can practice small actions to help improve our energy levels.
So spend some time focusing on the parents. Your team and your bottom line will thank you.