‘From the moment you fall pregnant you start to worry’: Four working mothers offer their thoughts on balancing a career and family Posted on


It’s tough for working parents, particularly women, to navigate the advertising industry landscape, as recent research by NABS highlights. Here, Jen Faull digests some of the key findings and speaks to some successful women in advertising, who also happen to be mothers, to get their take on balancing work with family. 

The ad industry is an intense, fast-paced, chaotic place. Briefs are overhauled on a whim, meetings chop and change and pitches often require an all-or-nothing approach.

Keeping on top of an erratic workload is difficult at the best of times so add to that the responsibilities of being a parent and it’s no wonder statistics suggest that 57 per cent of people in marketing know someone who has quit a job due to the pressures of being a working parent.

Taking a closer look at these issues, Nabs recently published a survey involving 500 parents split equally between creative agencies, media agencies, and media owners. A massive 85 per cent stated that they have felt guilty because they have to balance work and/or parental commitments, with one in 10 having actually left a job because of the additional pressures of parenthood.

Women are also less likely than men to be in a position of combining senior management with parenthood, with the research finding only four per cent of those surveyed have a majority of working mothers on their management team, in comparison with 62 per cent who have a management team comprised mainly of fathers.

For that reason The Drum caught up with four women at different stages in juggling successful careers and parenthood to further understand how they feel the industry treats working parents, and what more could be done to ensure women don’t feel there is a ‘parenthood or career’ choice to make

“Without doubt in business working parents are suffering,” said Leigh Thomas, CEO at Dare and mother to two children aged eight and two. “They say it takes a village to bring up your kids, but we just don’t have the support that used to exist. Our industry is incredibly fast paced and over-subscribed, highly competitive, and our financial model is out paced. So it’s possibly the worst of all in terms of trying to have a balanced, organised life.”

While Thomas isn’t in the 11 per cent that have felt the need to leave a job because of the demands of parenting, she said during her pregnancies she was very conscious of being put on the “mummy-track”.

“From the moment you fall pregnant you start to worry. There was an underlying concern that I would be put onto the mummy track and in most instances my nervousness was proven wrong. But I certainly put a lot of pressure on myself.”

Even when she returned from maternity leave Thomas did so with a sense of having to prove herself and still finds herself concerned that she might be letting her team down when she leaves the office to be with her kids.

“There’s a definite sense of people are here working late at night while I might be putting my children to bed. I might pick up work again remotely, but I’m not present, and that’s something that creates some guilt.”

Guilt was a key theme in the Nabs research. 16 per cent of respondents said they feel guilty at work because of parenting responsibilities, 26 per cent said they feel guilty at home because of work responsibilities and the majority (43 per cent) said they felt guilty both at home and at work.

“The crunch always comes with working late and leaving early, or on time. They are very uncomfortable situations for working parents,” explained Cilla Snowball, group chairman and CEO at AMV BBDO and mum of three kids, all now in their 20s.

“That moment when you know you’ve got to leave to do something with your children but a meeting is in full flow… Whether it’s guilt or discomfort or a fact of life, everybody has to support working parents at that moment where you’ve got to get up and leave.”

One of the main pillars of support has to be the agency itself. Encouragingly, only five per cent of those surveyed felt their agency didn’t support them at all, while 55 per cent said they felt supported “quite a bit” and 19 per cent felt their agency had done “a great deal” for them.

Amongst the women The Drum spoke to, the consensus was that agencies are doing a lot to make sure that the workplace is flexible to the needs of working parents. However, Anna Vogt, strategy director at BBH, said that it is equally important that as a parent you don’t expect everything to be catered to you.

“It’s up to you as well to come up with some practical solutions and ways of implementing different working patterns,” she suggested, explaining this was the approach she took after recently returning to work following the birth of her daughter seven months ago.

“It’s hard for an agency to double guess so you have to be realistic and make your own solution rather than just being hopeful the agencies are going to support you on that. You can’t expect everyone to hand you things on a silver plate just because you become a parent.”

Charlie Hurrell, head of account management at DLKW Lowe and mum to two boys under the age of six, admitted that she is unsurprised by the low proportion of mothers in management teams.

“It’s an enduring issue that the industry is trying to tackle and tackle head on. We do still have male dominated management in agencies and I hope that with a generational shift that will change,” she said. “There’s still a societal onus on mothers to be the main carer of children. That’s a bigger societal picture, but in our industry, being more forward thinking, we are starting to see changes. At DLKW Lowe, we have working fathers who do the school run. As they should. So while that stat is disappointing at the moment, it is changing.”

By Jennifer Faull, 28th May 2014

This feature was originally published in The Drum’s 28 May issue, and is available online at www.thedrum.com here: http://bit.ly/1wxz7nn