HAVE CHILDREN, WILL WORK
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
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.”