A Gold Star For Agency Mothers

Contributed By Kerry Griffin and Beryl Greenberg 

Those who know the advertising industry landscape intimately know that it is unique and special in so many ways. We love it for the breadth of business challenges we solve for our clients. We get to put our thinking caps on in so many wonderful ways. We also know the environment for its intensity, fast pace, multi-channel workflow. We also get to wear jeans, ball caps, t-shirts and flip-flops into the office. And if we show up at 10am, that’s cool, too.

But don’t be mistaken by the laid back reputation as a slow-paced career option. Agencies are disposable to clients. We must exceed expectations at every turn. We must hit the gas and hug the corners on two wheels as we surprise and delight. Tapping the brake is not an option. Go! Go! Go!

As excited as talent are when they join the agency for the coolness of the industry and culture, if not supported, trained and coached, the industry either spits them out or they self-select out. Things move too fast! It’s too much pressure, too much work and not enough of that elusive work-life balance.

Leadership are in control of making accommodations for their valued talent. Creative options are common by way of job sharing, flexible work arrangements, enhanced parental leave benefits. Additionally, agencies are investing in women’s/mother’s support networks that provide precursuary access to role models and methodologies for those affinity groups. Employees seek their agency’s innovation to create policy and practice to align with their mission and vision.

And when women approach decisions to have kids, the reality of the intensity becomes overwhelming. Famously, the 3% Movement calls out the lack of women in leadership roles within advertising. Likely not a surprise to most, the 3% Movement ties the issue to the root cause, “Many women leave agency life when they hit their prime childbearing and rearing years. Those moms who do stay found it a challenge. 49% of moms told us being a parent negatively impacted their career.” Pledge Parental Leave is helping shape standards and1 agency accountability for leave policies.2

Beyond policy, agencies are tapping into tools to help this valued segment of their populations—mothers—to discover how we can be successful with our endless juggling act of multiple work and home priorities. You know it well, the boss, co-workers, partners in the business all with high expectations on varying priorities. All those balls are in the air. Then, add the home priorities: the constant and ever-changing logistics, daycare, sports, feeding schedule, sleep schedule (if that exists), pets, house, car, social schedule, family, planning for special events… the list is endless. Can we look at expectations in the same way as before we had kids? How do we keep up?

And do we even want to continue working anyway? Is it worth our time? What are we left with after we pay for childcare? The New York Times codified the pay variance for parents in their article called The Motherhood Penalty vs. The Fatherhood Bonus. “When men had children, their earnings went up 6%. So they're rewarded for being a father. When women have children, their earnings decrease 4% with each child.”3 We’re realizing that although the gender of 3 working populations is dynamically different from a generation ago, women are still stuck in the past from a wage perspective as well as the division of labor between work and home. Further, if we decide to hit the pause button, we forever impede our lifetime earning potential, even if down the road we find someone with an open mind to make room for us to come back.

Trending in the media is shifting culture and taking action for this unconscious bias. CBS’ 60 Minutes captured the phenomenon in their April 15, 2018 piece Leading By Example to Close the Gender Gap.4 Salesforce, a tech company who topped the 2017 Fortune list of 100 best 4 places to work for large companies5, were forced to look in the mirror on the topic of 5 unconscious bias. Here, the company had all kinds of progressive perks and a strong commitment to unique rewards, but when they opened up their employee files and audited male to female salaries, no one was more surprised than Founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Benioff that there was a $3 million delta. Even as he was building this amazing culture and investing in his people beyond what most could fathom, the bias was cemented in their pay structure. To Mark’s credit, he paid the $3 million to address the issue, and went way beyond to ensure gender equality at Salesforce. (Good for him!) But why were those actions so far down the road, after so many other fluffy extras?

Other initiatives push the ethics perspective too. MeToo encourages empowerment through empathy. Times Up Advertising sees it as their responsibility to impact workplace equity. There’s power in these movements. There’s momentum in speaking up. There’s power in speaking up.

For mothers, speaking up can be difficult. We become overwhelmed and see leaving or cutting back as the only choice. In order to feel that we can thrive at work and home, we need to explore our own unconscious bias. What is going on in our minds that has us believing that agency work and being a mother are not possible? Why do we think that we’re being judged for leaving the office to pick up the kids at daycare, attending a school play or staying home to care for our sick baby? Why can’t we proudly own being a mother AND being a rock solid agency contributor?

This is essential for agency mothers, but it’s also vital to the agency business as a whole. Mothers are a critical segment of our agency populations, and represent, in many cases, the ones who decide on the brands we bring into the house. We understand the targets for many of our clients because, well, it’s us! Our perspective is necessary. Our clients are asking for this too. General Mills told their agencies in 2016 that they must meet specific diversity quotas, with at least 50% of creative teams staffed with women.6 That is likely very hard for agencies to 6 pull together, especially within leadership, who Kat Gordon tells us has a long way to go up from 3% (now 11%, thanks to Kat!) If we continue to have this leaky bucket, we’re failing our mothers, our populations at large, our work and our clients.

OK, so we’re talking about it. Good. We’re reporting about it. Great. But what can we--the mothers impacted by it all--DO about it? Ugh. Another thing on our to-do list!

We need to be guided through own journeys toward shifting mindsets, and to see that it is not that hard or time-consuming. Agencies need to make an investment in their mothers to help us with that internal transformation that will support this necessary cultural shift. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a one-time training.

Agencies are doing great in identifying the need for policy and shifting practice. They are stretching their ways of working to support mothers in a meaningful way. Further compliment to their efforts can be magical. A way to not only say it’s important, but to provide additional investment to help mothers cope emotionally, thus eliminating some of the balls in the air. One impactful program for mothers in the industry is aptly called Mothers@Agencies. This is a virtual coach-led leadership development program where the mothers are guided to their own answers. The program works in tandem with the new policies and modern practices.

Mothers@Agencies works methodically toward change within 8 workshops over 4 months. Mothers learn leadership development concepts, think about what’s important to them, test ideas, try on change, enroll those around them in change. It’s a thoughtful process over time in a safe space with other agency mothers having the same challenges and thoughts. One participant powerfully recognized, “Though there are some functional changes too, the biggest change for me is emotional...I now no longer feel like I'm failing at this balancing act.”

Modern leadership development and adult learning theories suggest that growth is an inside job. It all starts with perspective, mindset, approach. In order to continue to develop women as leaders who cultivate the brands for our valued clients, support mechanisms need to address the mindset of agency mothers. We know that when we can free up our perspective in a different way, we take different actions. We are empowered to make things happen that we previously did not think were possible. One Mothers@Agencies participant summed up her metamorphosis, “I feel like I'm truly engaging with my teams to help relieve some of the pressure. I've always known they were there, but now I know it's much easier to ask (and expect) them to contribute to the cause, be it at work or home.”

When we address our own perspectives as agency mothers, it’s true that we are fundamentally helping ourselves. To our leadership’s delight, this new outlook is contagious. We are setting the example for those around us, including future agency mothers. We are demonstrating to the rest of the agency that it is possible to be a proud mother and a rock star agency professional, instead of apologizing for it. We are inviting others to lead a well-rounded life that will feed our creativity, and make better work.



Learn More About the 4A's Mothers@Agencies Program




Beryl Greenberg and Kerry Griffin gave birth to the leadership development program Mothers@Agencies. They are uniquely qualified to report on mother’s mindsets, agency expectations and the reality of the day to day for this target because they’ve spent a combined 50+ years in this wild and wonderful industry. And they each are called Mom at home too; Beryl has 3 kids and Kerry has 4. While it doesn’t get any easier at home, Beryl and Kerry love the people in the agency world and have found bliss in impacting hundreds of mothers in the business.







4 https://www.cbsnews.com/news/salesforce-ceo-marc-benioff-leading-by-example-to-close-the-gender-pa