Working parents make great employees and here’s why
ears ago, before the thought of having kids was much on my mind, a colleague told me that people in advertising were well prepared to be parents because they were used to a near constant level of chaos. This comment was on my mind when my son was 6 weeks old. After the initial excitement I was crashing down to earth, exhausted. The diligent research I had done and insights I had gathered to prepare were no use. My new client was unpredictable and never satisfied. He demanded my attention at strange hours, was extremely vocal when he wasn’t happy and making him smile was the ultimate aim. I was on a retainer with an unlimited scope for the next 18 years.
As my son continued to grow and we rode some more loop-de-loops on this wonderful rollercoaster, I realised what my colleague had said was true. Being in advertising might well give you a little helpful preparation for the chaos that ensues when you become a parent (as much as you can ever be prepared to change an explosive nappy at 4:37am).
However, what I didn’t realise until I returned to work is that the reverse is equally true and that being a parent can also prepare you for some of the challenges of agency life. As I reflect on my time back at work, I’ve noticed that there are several situations I encounter in my day-to-day where I’m using the lessons I’ve learnt becoming a parent.
Just keep swimming
All too often we work right up to a deadline, taking our time initially only to rush towards the end. Anyone who has taken a 3-month-old to a swimming lesson knows this won’t work. Building in time before the class to get your baby into the swim nappy that promises no ‘faecal leakage’ (I’m yet to find a better description for a product) is infinitely more beneficial than spending 10 minutes finding the one missing, matching mitten before you leave the house. There will never be as much time as you would like to complete a project, so I’ve truly learnt the benefit of planning ahead, motoring from the start and not stopping for a cup of tea until the nappy bag is packed.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Along the way to creative success there are often a great many hurdles that can distract and, worse, veer us off-course. Similarly, to reach the end result of having a child who takes pleasure in a wide variety of food, and eats in a way that doesn’t leave you scrubbing a stain out of the shirt on an ironing board on the other side of the room, can feel like a long and winding road.
You need a thick skin, so meals lovingly prepared that largely end up on the floor don’t leave you crying as you salvage as much as possible to eat for your own lunch. You need unending enthusiasm and energy to convince your 6 month old that blitzed broccoli is exactly what they need after half an hour of aeroplane spoons. And you need the patience of a saint to make it through a mealtime where the bowl that sticks to the table becomes unstuck, splattering you, your child and the surrounding walls and floor in pureed squash. Overcoming hurdles is part of our job and holding tight to the creative North Star is crucial to navigating them and ensuring you don’t lose your enthusiasm for the final result. When a large proportion of creative concepts don’t go anywhere, the ability to bounce back and not take things personally is an invaluable skill.
It takes a village
As professional problem solvers it does not always come easily to say we cannot find a solution. Asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness, even if only to ourselves. This is acutely felt by new parents too. When the assumption is that being a parent comes naturally and instinctively, it’s hard to admit when you need help. When it looks like everyone around you is doing it without a second thought, it’s easy to assume that you’re failing if you are not. I spent far too long struggling with breastfeeding before getting help, far too long wondering if I should ask my mum for more support and far too long after returning to work to talk about how I was finding it. So I’m still learning on this one, but getting the right people around a problem rather than trying to solve it alone is always more efficient and effective.
It’s this last point in particular that led me to realise how important it is to speak to others who’ve been, or are going through the challenging phase of returning to work as a new parent.
How the creative industry can do better
The juggle is real for all of us, but it’s important we share our experiences and know we’re not alone. The NABS Working Parents Initiative White Paper [link] reveals that ‘60% of parents know someone who has left their role because of the pressure of being a working parent’ and that ‘a third of parents reported to be made to feel uncomfortable about their parenting responsibilities at work.’
These stats indicate the industry has a way to go to achieve greater inclusivity for our parents and to mark National Inclusion Week, we at The&Partnership have been reflecting on this. In line with this year’s theme of ‘Time to Act’, we would urge all agencies to use this moment to consider how they are doing their bit to make their workplace more inclusive for working parents. Here are three areas to get you going:
- Start a support group – this could be your quickest win and takes next to no planning or budget. One of our client leads recently set up a parents coffee hour every three weeks with an open invitation to ‘hang out and celebrate us as working parents’. Giving parents an opportunity to talk about what they’re going through is one thing, but the positive impetus behind it also inspires new ideas about how to make things better.
- Prioritise training – a key way to overcome some of the misconceptions around working parents is through education. ‘NABS believes that training line managers and leadership teams to understand their colleagues who are working parents could be of particular value in our world of advertising and media, given the typically young profile of the industry’. In addition, consider training to better equip managers in dealing with sensitive conversations that may come from their team, like fertility and adoption. Training and coaching for parents returning from leave can also help to smooth that often challenging transition and build confidence.
- Review Parental Leave – a clear marker of an agency’s commitment to facilitating family life is their approach to parental leave. With the financial burden of having a child becoming more prohibitive with the cost of living crisis this could also make a real difference to those planning to start or grow their family. This year The&Partnership updated our Family Friendly Policies with industry leading maternity and paternity pay and to cover a range of associated scenarios such as IVF and loss.
We have all learnt a lot in recent years about why it is important to have an inclusive workplace and a workforce that is representative of the people we create advertising for. By putting time and effort into initiatives like these I believe agencies, and the industry as a whole, can attract and retain more parents and see the benefits from doing so.
After all, someone who can simultaneously cook an omelette, fill the washing machine, play hide and seek, clean something that may-or-may-not-be-banana off the floor and order more eczema cream online, is surely someone you want on your team.
Written by Stephanie Trowbridge, Head of Account Management.