The com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try makes it hard for moth­ers to come back to work af­ter hav­ing ba­bies. This isn’t just bad for women, it’s hold­ing back our busi­ness too, writes Helen McGuire

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - Helen McGuire is co-founder of Hop­scotch.ae

B efore you be­gin read­ing this ar­ti­cle, how many mums do you know in se­nior po­si­tions at agen­cies in this part of the world? And how many of those work at multi­na­tion­als? I’m no Der­ren Brown, but I’m guess­ing the num­ber you’re think­ing of is some­where in the low dou­ble fig­ures.

Four women formed a panel at the Dubai Lynx to talk about the lack of mums in the in­dus­try, why it’s a prob­lem and how to re­solve it. En­ti­tled ‘Mums I’d Like to Hire’, we formed part of a cam­paign through SheSays and Hop­scotch.ae to find skilled women who’d left their roles af­ter hav­ing kids.

SheSays is a not-for-profit global or­gan­i­sa­tion that sup­ports and pro­vides a net­work for women in the agency world, and Hop­scotch is a pro­fes­sional women’s com­mu­nity – launched al­most one year ago, it was the first or­gan­i­sa­tion to source flex­i­ble work for fe­males and sup­port them through free train­ing, net­work­ing events and ini­tia­tives.

Our aim was to flag the ex­tra­or­di­nary pool of tal­ent that’s ly­ing dor­mant and start clear­ing a path back to agency life for th­ese women. We asked mums who had been away from their pro­fes­sions in the me­dia and ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try to send us their CVs and rea­sons for want­ing to get back to work. We have just closed, and we will fil­ter the best of the best to around five fi­nal­ists, who will be pushed to the comms in­dus­try through Hop­scotch and SheSays this month.

So what’s the is­sue with hir­ing mums? Well, for starters, in a world where equal par­ent­ing poli­cies are rarely im­ple­mented, car­ing for a fam­ily of­ten falls to women. That means Mummy can’t be stuck to an of­fice chair from dawn til mid­night. Or work tra­di­tional hours. Be­cause, you know, kids gen­er­ally can’t drive or cook their own din­ners. Does this mean Mummy can’t work at all? Of course not.

On the panel, we talked about the ‘mum time-zone’. Many mums can work around school or nurs­ery hours, par­tic­u­larly as hav­ing help at home is more com­mon in this re­gion. Client-side, lead­ers are al­ready work­ing with this flex­i­bil­ity by cham­pi­oning poli­cies that work with mums into their com­pany’s DNA. Yes, we get that not ev­ery role can be made ‘flex­i­ble’ or part-time, but em­ploy­ers in­clud­ing Mastercard, Nes­tle, Lenovo, GE and Pep­siCo ac­cept that mums have dif­fer­ent re­spon­si­bil­i­ties but are no less ef­fec­tive em­ploy­ees be­cause of it.

Some agen­cies are get­ting there too. “The agency world can be ideal for mums re­turn­ing to work, pro­vided that com­pa­nies em­brace flex­i­ble work­ing on terms that work equally for clients, mums and agen­cies, and fo­cus on ca­reer de­vel­op­ment at a pace that suits the in­di­vid­ual,” says Lucy Har­vey, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of H+K Strate­gies MENA. “At H+K we em­ploy mums who work half days, flex­i­ble free­lance-style hours or re­duced days per week. We be­lieve that parenthood shouldn’t sti­fle ca­reer am­bi­tion, but can pos­i­tively en­rich the per­spec­tive that peo­ple bring to their clients and their teams.”

From work­ing from home days to lunchtime ‘school pick up’ breaks writ­ten into con­tracts, con­ces­sions like th­ese mean no raised eye­brows when mums have to leave the of­fice. Flex­i­ble means just that; the women on the panel em­ployed mums and con­firmed that they worked dif­fer­ent hours, but no less ef­fec­tively. Flex­i­ble work can also mean flex­i­ble lo­ca­tions. The bot­tom line is the job gets done – and, in a re­gion where good tal­ent can be hard to find, a whole new pool of skilled women opens up.

And let’s just take a minute to think about what those skills in­clude. We’re not just talk­ing about the ones on the CV here. I once need­lessly pointed out to a pregnant PR friend the ways in which her life was about to change. Kids test your pa­tience, I said. They stretch your abil­ity to do stuff on lit­tle sleep, de­mand at­ten­tion and cre­ativ­ity and good hu­mour and pa­tience and ne­go­ti­a­tion and judge­ment, all the time. Her re­sponse: “My clients have given me plenty of prac­tice, then.” The point be­ing that th­ese are skills we all need to get by in agency life, and by the time a mum is ready to go back to work she’s even more adept in th­ese ar­eas.

Our Mums I’d Like to Hire cam­paign has at­tracted ap­pli­ca­tions and CVs from hun­dreds of women. If they’re work­ing at all, it’s as free­lancers, or look­ing to set up their own busi­nesses. The UAE has one of the high­est rates of ‘mumpreneurs’ in our re­gion, many set­ting up in­de­pen­dent agen­cies them­selves, such as Plus One and House of Comms.

Ac­cord­ing to men­tor­ing plat­form Mom­preneurs ME, this is be­cause their other op­tions are so lim­ited, ma­ter­nity leave is so low and they’re savvy enough to spot gaps in the mar­ket.

What does this mean for the in­dus­try? Aside from los­ing a very ca­pa­ble, trained tal­ent pool, es­pe­cially at se­nior lev­els, 91 per cent of fe­male con­sumers (you know, the ones who make nine out of 10 pur­chase de­ci­sions for their fam­i­lies) feel that ad­ver­tis­ers don’t un­der­stand them. Go fig­ure.

Clos­ing the gen­der gap would add $10 tril­lion to the global econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates. On a re­gional level, if women par­tic­i­pated as much as men in the work­force, the World Bank es­ti­mates we would add 5 per cent to GDP. And at an in­dus­try level, when we at Hop­scotch polled 200 non-work­ing women in 2015, we found 75 per cent of non-work­ing pro­fes­sional women would start ‘to­mor­row’ if flex­i­ble roles were avail­able. Em­ploy­ing more women makes good busi­ness sense and this is just the tip of the ice­berg. Ac­cord­ing to stud­ies by PWC, flex­i­bil­ity is the second most im­por­tant as­pect of work­ing life for mil­lenials, too.

Our talk caused mur­murs in the au­di­ence, “anger and controversy”, ac­cord­ing to one re­port, and cries of “but what about dads and sin­gle peo­ple?” from some on Twit­ter.

Well, here’s the thing: a lack of mums in the work­place is not a ‘women’s prob­lem’. It is not an in­dus­try prob­lem or a re­gional prob­lem. It is ev­ery­one’s prob­lem, glob­ally. To be truly solved it re­quires an ap­proach of di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion and flex­i­bil­ity across the board – for mums, dads, mil­lenials, who­ever – so that re­spon­si­bil­i­ties can be truly shared through so­ci­ety and all that wish to par­tic­i­pate in the work­force can do so. As an in­dus­try that prides it­self on think­ing cre­atively and tack­ling a chal­lenge, per­haps it’s time to ap­ply some more brain­power to this one.

“The agency world can be ideal for mums re­turn­ing to work, pro­vided that com­pa­nies em­brace flex­i­ble work­ing on terms that work equally for clients, mums and agen­cies, and fo­cus on ca­reer de­vel­op­ment at a pace that suits the in­di­vid­ual.”

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