7 Ways Agencies Can Entice Modern Parents to Work With Them

Moms' and dads' skills can be a competitive and cultural advantage

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The best advice someone gave me as a newly minted executive creative director was this: Find your heroes in the industry. So I went hunting for the best among us. I wanted to find those who I could look up to for their work, of course. But I also really wanted role models who were juggling an awe-inspiring career alongside motherhood.

However, my search showed me a new problem. While we all actively lament the shortage of women in leadership, even fewer of these leaders are moms. As a mother of two young kids, I wanted parents I could look up to and learn from. Too often, they tend to disappear from agencies, and not surprisingly. Advertising plus parenthood is a tough equation. Late nights, lengthy travel, exhausting pitches, last-minute assignments, all while raising kids, requires a certain sort of masochist.

Katy HornadayIllustration: Alex Fine

This absence of parents was terrifying to me, not just personally, but also as a manager. It should be to all of us. This industry desperately needs the modern parent—both moms and dads. What they juggle on the home front gives them the life and communications skills that go well beyond anything learned in an agency.

Parents are adept problem solvers. From getting creative about last-minute childcare to being quick on their feet when their 2-year-old stuffs a marble in his ear, they’re solving problems at every turn. This makes parents exceedingly valuable in the face of client feedback, shifting timelines and fielding the unforeseen.

Modern parents waste virtually no time. They are decisive because they have too much to juggle for waffling. And they’ve honed their empathy, making them champions at connecting with clients, mentoring and just flat-out dealing with people. We’ve heard the adage “If you want something done right, give it to a busy person.” Well, parents are very busy people. Parents who also work in advertising will blow your mind. But first, we have to figure out how to keep them around.

Maternity and paternity leaves are a start, but what about when parents return to work? I think there are a few things we can do to help make agency life more amenable for the modern parent. This year, we’re imploring parents to take advantage of a handful of practices at Barkley—each of which has little to no cost for the agency or the work, but potentially great upside for moms and dads.

No-go days

In January, we encourage parents to mark the days on their calendar they cannot be out of town—birthdays, first day of school, piano recital, etc. These aren’t PTO days, they are simply times when you can’t be away.


At Barkley, we give creatives who are parents the option to “four-wall” editors—bringing the editor to us instead of traveling to them—so they don’t have to be away from their family even longer after the shoot. The cost evens out when we aren’t flying the whole team to the editor’s location.


As we routinely upgrade equipment, we’ve put a heavy emphasis on videoconferencing, allowing us to have face time with clients without missing bedtime with kids.

‘I’ll be online later’

For too long in the agency world, working hard has meant staying at the office all night. “I’ll be online later” is now something we use as short code for “I need to leave, but I’m going to still get everything done this evening.” Making offsite work acceptable makes the juggle a bit easier.

Parent mentors

We’ve started to partner moms and dads with other parents when they return from leave, giving them someone to ask about everything from the Pumping Room to how to sign up for flexible spending accounts.

No apologies

Don’t let parents apologize for being a good parent. If you need to leave to pick up a sick kid or you have to take a call from the car on the way to a parent-teacher conference, you should do that. You just can’t say “sorry.”

Model the model

Policies are crucial, but everyone from the top down has to model them. Every time a leader is open and vocal about prioritizing his or her family, everyone else feels like it’s allowed. A CEO excusing herself to make it to a soccer game can do more than any policy ever will.

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This story first appeared in the Feb. 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.