Working Moms Need More Support. Are Agencies and Clients Addressing Their Needs?

Lack of work-life balance deters working parents from the ad industry

Working moms require support not just from the agencies that employ them, but from their clients as well. Getty Images
Headshot of Donnalyn Smith

Research has shown that workforce diversity leads to higher levels of innovation and creativity as a richer range of perspectives and life experiences are brought to bear. In an industry that exists to create deep, compelling consumer connections, it strikes me as a strategic imperative for our industry to ensure our staff is composed of diverse talent.

While many agencies and clients are working together to attract diverse talent, we still have plenty of room for improvement. Our industry struggles to attract, and then retain, the very talent we acknowledge is so critical to our success—like working moms.

Momentum recently commissioned a survey to learn more about what’s driving talent to leave the industry. Over 86 percent indicated that they left a job in this industry or are actively pursuing other opportunities because they haven’t been able to balance professional and personal responsibilities and goals in a manner that satisfies their specific individual needs. Eighty-three percent of respondents said they would leave our industry if they could not find a work-life fit, and 40 percent would leave even without another job lined up.

These statistics are even more extreme when we look at moms. In the U.S. overall, 76 percent of college-educated women have children, but in advertising, only 39 percent of women have kids. That’s a lot of educated women not being leveraged in our industry. Working in advertising should not be a choice between career success or success at home, as the two are not mutually exclusive.

As a working mom of three children, I’ve lived the struggle to make both work and life fit. It’s never easy, but with the right support, working moms can thrive both at work and home, having highly successful careers while being an integral part of raising a family.

Many agencies are putting programs in place to ease new moms into the transition back to work. A surefire way for new moms to question coming back to work is to disrupt their ability to nurse their babies once it’s time to go back to the office. For instance, by offering private nursing areas and separate refrigeration, many women can make it through that difficult transition.

Agency programs and support are unfortunately only half of the equation. Without the support of our clients, we will never fully achieve the environment so crucial to the success of this important talent pool.

According to our survey, 64 percent of respondents said that overwork is due to client/agency demands, while only 7 percent said overwork is due to personal or family demands. On top of that, 66 percent feel the client demands they face are unrealistic, with impractical deadlines at the root of this particular pain point.

The all-too-frequent client demand that arrives in the agency inbox on Friday afternoon with a deadline of Monday morning can particularly throw working mothers’ lives into chaos as they scramble to reconcile client demands to family weekend plans, which also speaks to the broader industry need for improvement when it comes to flexible working hours.

Working in advertising should not be a choice between career success or success at home, as the two are not mutually exclusive.

Often, simple measures of accommodation can actually go a long way in making working moms feel that their companies care. We’ve seen moms take one hour to volunteer each week in their children’s classrooms. This is a very small time commitment that more agencies and clients should allow. They get to participate in something very meaningful for them and their children while not disrupting agency business in any significant manner.

It is imperative that clients and agencies collaborate through measures like these on a more enlightened paradigm that provides working moms with the programs and support to flourish both at work and home. This is simply good business practice because these talented moms will be empowered and incentivized to fulfill their potential when the organization respects and empathizes with their story.

Agencies and clients have a great opportunity to come together now to find new ways of working that can ensure we are positioned to attract highly talented working moms who will stay and grow with us.

Some clients are already in agreement and forging a path ahead.

Janey Whiteside, evp and gm at American Express, says, “We need to start treating our agency partners as we treat our internal teams. … As a client, we have to understand the needs of our agency talent and we have to be respectful of that. We have to give them the support and environment to create the great work we demand.”

As clients look to their agencies to line up incredible, diverse talent, it requires sincere alignment from both parties to ensure that the different needs of working moms are met and respected. As a part of every client-agency partnership, I would like to see all of us strive for a clear understanding agreed upon at the outset to establish best practices in a tangible, fully articulated, point-by-point manner that will be the blueprint for spectacular performance and happy, fulfilled talent. This model would ensure that working women with families can succeed in our business and not feel guilty or tormented by balancing work-life demands that are often untenable.

@smithdonnalyn Donnalyn Smith is president, North America of Momentum Worldwide, based in New York.