The 10-Year Tension: Women Need More Time, Not More Balance

Flexibility alone can’t solve women's physiological limitations and society’s expectations

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Organizations nationwide, especially ad agencies, say offering balance is key to attracting and retaining women talent. From unlimited PTO and job-sharing opportunities to remote work and childcare allowances, we’ve received many undeniably excellent benefits to support caregiving responsibilities and promote well-being.

But the fact is, women still can’t have it all.

Promoting work/life balance as the path to leadership only compounds the pressure and onus placed on women to do it all, while concealing the real issue impacting the growth trajectory of our careers: Biology.

While flexibility on the job is greatly appreciated, it simply can’t solve women’s physiological limitations and society’s expectations. To level the professional playing field, we’ve got to hack biology. And with the right resources, like unfettered access to exceptional healthcare and fertility benefits, the ad industry can accomplish this major feat.

The 10-year tension

For women, ages 25 to 35 are considered the golden years during which our career trajectories and earning potentials are established. They’re also the years during which our fertility is highest. That presents an issue we call the 10-Year Tension.

Unfortunately, the motherhood penalty still exists, and women must choose between money and motherhood within a decade. Conversely, men have 20 years, roughly between the ages of 25 and 45, to build their careers, grow their incomes and welcome children.

With half the time to build what we aspire to, and half the time to decide what our aspirations are in the first place, women are at a loss. Faced with a physiologically imposed time constraint that puts ambition and parenthood on opposing paths, women are forced to make life-changing decisions under enormous pressure.

Because of our biology, and the way our culture is structured, it feels like men have more choice in life and at work because they have more time to make their wants and needs reality. Meanwhile, women are left to answer a difficult question: Will it be having kids or a career? Will it be now or never?

No matter what we choose, we’re sacrificing something we want or could want later. If agencies truly care about equity, they must stop promoting balance alone and shift focus to helping women buy more time.

Advertising is behind

Right now, the tech industry is leading the pack in closing the gender gap by rolling out robust healthcare plans encompassing the many facets of women’s health, from infertility to menopause.

Adobe is doing it right, offering adoption and surrogacy reimbursements with lifetime maximums of $50,000 for each event and fertility benefits including coverage for artificial insemination, ovulation induction, egg freezing and storing, IVF and much more.

Within the ad industry, Mekanism is helping drive awareness around the impact a woman’s biology has on her job with “The Menoclause,” a movement to make workplaces more menopause-friendly. But that’s just a starting point.

If advertising wants to attract and retain female talent, grow female leaders and set the workplace’s wellness standard, it must step up and provide comprehensive care for all routes to motherhood. It’s not enough to recognize that we’re built differently than men and that our biology does indeed impact our livelihood. We have to do something about it.

Decision-makers, hold your agencies accountable when it comes to investing in benefit portfolios that give women the same personal and professional opportunities as men; benefits that overwrite the traditional system by helping extend women’s fertility, giving us the time we need to fully engage at work while still planning for and starting families beyond 35.

Egg-freezing, egg-storing, IVF support, genetic testing and expanded coverage (including surrogacy) for geriatric pregnancies and LGBTQ+ talent shouldn’t be considered perks that some progressive companies offer; they should be promises. Across the board. Especially in the ad industry, where better representation internally leads to more effective campaigns, campaigns that successfully reflect the voices of the audiences so many brands are trying to reach.

How the ad industry can reflect today’s world

Women drive around 80% of purchasing decisions but account for less than 40% of C-suite positions in advertising. Ensuring women have the chance to work without sacrificing the desire to become mothers means alleviating the pressure we’re under. It means sustained career growth. It means opening the door for more women at the top.

10 years isn’t enough time to do it all and be it all. So, give us 20 like the boys and let us decide what we’ll accomplish.