The Ad Industry Is Failing Caregivers. Here's How It Can Do Better

Brands and agencies can help their people balance the competing demands of work and family

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From the well-meaning but hapless skateboarding foster dad depicted by British retailer John Lewis in its 2022 Christmas ad to the unconventional moms spotlighted in Johnson’s “The Other Mothers” spot, advertising has come a long way in representing the personal issues of modern families.

For the people making those ads, it’s a different picture behind the scenes though. Many marketers feel employers discriminate against them based on family status.

We’re not just talking about moms and dads either. This affects people caring for varying kinds of dependents, whether that’s a preschooler or an elderly parent or a sick sibling. These caregivers say they are being let down by the brands and ad agencies they work for.

In 2021, 27% of marketing employees said their business didn’t treat everyone equally regardless of family status, according to the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) 2021 Diversity Census. And it’s worse for women. Of the 10,000 marketers studied, 40% felt their family status had “hindered their career.”

Following the peak of Covid-19, talent has been leaving the workforce in droves, and the so-called Great Resignation has been largely fueled by tensions between career ambition and home living.

With 1 in 7 respondents admitting they would leave a business that was lacking on policies to drive diversity and inclusion, the sector is risking a brain drain simply because it cannot accommodate family life. The solution lies not only in better people policies but also in flexible working conditions and tough, honest conversations.

Applying a marketing mindset to people policies

According to an October 2022 report in The Guardian, the number of people who aren’t working in the U.K. because of caring responsibilities has reached its highest peak since 2020. Last year also marked an increase in stay-at-home parents and carers after three decades of decline. There was a gender divide, too, with working women comprising a huge 84% of the 1.75 million people who had given up work to look after their families.

In the U.S., Oregon State University associate professor Kelly Chandler has described the competing demands of work and family roles as “a public health issue that deserves immediate attention.”

Some companies in the marketing space are already putting their best foot forward to work alongside, instead of against, caregivers. Among them is Kraft Heinz, which has an array of progressive HR policies in place that go above and beyond minimum government requirements in its U.K. and Nordic markets.

Kraft Heinz people and performance director for Northern Europe, Alessandra de Dreuille—a former marketer for the CPG giant herself—is spearheading the changes.

Over the last 18 months, Kraft Heinz has put in place six months of paid maternity leave on top of the U.K. government’s mandatory 12 weeks. Secondary caregivers now receive three months of paid leave.

I apply a marketing lens to how I think about HR.

Alessandra de Dreuille, Kraft Heinz

Working parents at the condiment giant can also divide 50 weeks’ leave between them following birth, placement or adoption, too. All parents can take up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave before their child’s 18th birthday without their role being impacted. Five paid days each year are also offered to all caregivers to deal with an emergency involving a dependent.

This approach to policy feeds into Heinz’s broader diversity target to reach gender parity across its management by 2025. In the U.K., it’s currently at 49%, having risen up from the “lower 30% range” a few years prior.

“I apply a marketing lens to how I think about people [management],” said de Dreuille. “I now see the teams that work for us as my ‘customers.’” She said the way forward for others in the sector was to apply this same thinking to their own family and flexible working policies.

The next step for Heinz is to think about extras for new parents and carers, including an idea being floated around paying for sleep consultants.

“Sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of mental health issues that can arise after returning to work. It can be disruptive to [staff],” she said. “This is one of the things we’re looking at as we look to improve what we can offer caregivers.”

The agency angle

It’s not just brands putting in the legwork to retain and attract talented people who also happen to be caregivers. Agencies are making changes of their own too.

Jen Berry, chief executive at Publicis-owned Digitas U.K., said it was important to ensure the right support was baked into a company’s infrastructure as staff went through different phases of life from fertility to pregnancy, surrogacy to adoption and beyond.

In 2021, Publicis Groupe U.K. launched new policies that increased its previous maternity policy benefits from 16 weeks at full pay to 26 weeks, and paternity benefits from two to four weeks at full pay. It also launched policies on fertility and pregnancy loss. It also has an emergency care policy to support those with dependents, recognizing that they may need to take time off work at short notice.

These policies are supported by training programs for employees and managers.

“We listen and respond to what our people are telling us. Our enhanced policies were implemented from listening to feedback and working to develop and improve the experience of our working parents,” he said.

Ogilvy U.K.’s head of people, Gemma Davies—who has also recently implemented similar enhanced policies—agreed listening was key as well as supporting flexible working arrangements.

She continued: “Aside from the impact on engagement for not doing this, employees will ultimately vote with their feet. Since the pandemic, people are no longer satisfied with accepting terms that don’t work for them or their personal lives.”

That works for me

Jessica Heagren, founder of flexible working platform That Works For Me, has been there and done that when it comes to striking a balance between a successful career and a young family.

Her digital business connects skilled mothers with businesses looking for flexible workers. It recently ran a study of 1,000 moms around careers after babies, and the findings underscore the work all industries, advertising included, must do to support women caregivers in particular.

Aside from the impact on engagement for not doing this, employees will ultimately vote with their feet.

Gemma Davies, Ogilvy U.K.

Seventy-five percent of women who returned to a different job in the same business post-baby reported falling out of the workplace. Thirty-two percent said they’d lost their management job on return from maternity leave. While many countries have laws protecting women’s roles upon return to work for a limited period, 80% of British women in director and C-suite roles returned six months or less after birth to protect the role they held prior to parenthood.

“What that tells you is that women in leadership roles are falling out of the workforce because employers are refusing them flexibility,” she argued.

Heagren noted more interest in partnerships from “big brands” looking to tap into the flexible working market, but companies were still lagging when it came to accommodating women post-maternity leave.

She is looking to introduce an accreditation or certification with different tiers that brands could use to signify how progressive and flexible they are.

“There are some businesses that are great at this stuff. Being able to showcase those would be really worthwhile,” she said. “Brands have come to us, having read our data and matched it with their internal data on returners. They want help. Hopefully, we’ll see more of that.”

To stem a talent drain, Adland must act quickly to understand and improve caregivers’, and in particular women’s, lived experiences. Support plans will need to be tailored to the cultural nuances and employment conditions in each market, but the common threads to pull are flexibility, concrete policies and—perhaps most importantly—listening to what people want.

This piece was produced as part of Adweek’s partnership with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) as it releases its second DEI Census from March 15-Apr. 15. If your company would like to participate, learn more here.

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