Mothers In Advertising 2018, Maren Elliott

"Work isn't separate from life, it's part of life. "

Maren Elliott
Chief Talent Officer Swift, Portland


Tell us about yourself and what you do in your current position.
Growing up, I was a competitive athlete in both individual and team sports. Those experiences contributed to my drive and confidence as a professional and helped me understand the importance of operating as a cohesive team-while valuing each person's contribution. I recently moved from Chief Operations Officer to Chief Talent Officer, overseeing strategy for recruiting, retention and employee development programs. My vision for Swift is to be a place where employees feel supported to bring their best selves through our doors every day and, in turn, do amazing work.
Describe the culture at your agency; What is it like?
Swift was founded by two women, and in its early years our CEO would bring her newborn to work and nurse him on the couch. When I interviewed for the job, there was a corner of the 400 square-foot office dedicated to kids' (and dogs') toys. The understanding that people have lives outside of work has been part of our company since the beginning. Even today, with 140 employees, there are dogs roaming between desks, and on any given day someone's child is in the office. It is a culture built on respect-for each other and for people's lives outside of work.
How does that culture compliment the juggling act that is being a working mother?
A number of Swift's policies support families. We provide 16 weeks of paid primary caregiver leave and a 3-month transition of 32-hour weeks at full salary for returning caregivers. Each year, we build in 16 hours of paid work time for volunteering that can be used with your family (chaperoning a field trip or volunteering at the food bank together, for example) and 8 hours paid work time for family-related activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, attending a school assembly or children's pediatric appointments. Benefits like these reinforce Swift's belief that work is one part of our very full lives.
How has being a mother changed how you approach any aspects of your job?
You often hear women express how parenting helps them be better at their job. I found that being competent and successful at my job before I had kids helped prepare me for motherhood. It gave me the confidence that I can do hard things, and everything about being a new mom felt hard! I had learned to be flexible and adapt to change, which is constant in advertising. And I knew the value of asking for help.
What would you say are the most rewarding aspects of being a working mother?
Being a role model for female employees and new moms. Given my role, the way I approach maternity leave and try to juggle motherhood and my career sets the tone for the rest of the working moms (and dads). Stepping out of meetings that run over because I have to pump or leaving early to pick up my sick son gives permission to other parents to do the same thing without fear of being judged or penalized professionally.
What are the biggest challenges, if any?
Letting go and asking for help. It isn't physically possible for me to work as much as I did before having kids. Between daycare drop-offs, packing lunches, bath-time, bedtime and all of the moments in between, I can't dedicate as many hours to work. This requires leaning more on my team and co-workers and asking for help when I know I can't get everything done. The beautiful part of this challenge is that it allows people on my team to stretch up and take on more responsibility and has forced me to delegate projects I might not have pre-motherhood.
What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
The term "work-life balance" brings to mind an image of a teeter-totter where life is on one side and work is on the other, and the goal is to make them equally balanced. But work isn't separate from life, it's part of life. Depending on the circumstances, there are times when work takes priority and there are times when personal life takes priority, and I try to be really honest with myself, my team and my husband about when those shifts happen. For example, I recently had a busy period at work with multiple presentations, speaking engagements and travel. I had to be realistic that I wouldn't get to spend as much time with my family as I wanted, and that to feel successful at work, I'd need to prioritize that time. This meant my husband needed to take the lead with caring for our son and flex his work schedule. When that busy period subsided, I had to switch gears and decide what really needed to get done at work and what could be pushed off so that I could have more time with my family. It is constantly in flux.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of the people at Swift and the incredible careers that many employees have at our agency. Under my leadership, our talent acquisition team has developed a thoughtful and rigorous hiring process that attracts outstanding employees who bring a wealth of experience to the agency. We are working hard to ensure everyone has clear professional growth goals, direct performance feedback and opportunities to develop their skills. That focus on the complete employee life-cycle has allowed junior employees to grow and develop into more senior roles, which makes me incredibly proud.
What changes do you hope to see for future working parents?
First and foremost, we need to push for universal access to adequate paid leave for new parents. It is unrealistic for anyone to be successful at work if they didn't have enough time at home with a new baby. Swift is proud to work with Family Forward Oregon to make this state law. Secondly, both the public and private sector need to address assistance with childcare costs. There are so many women who leave their careers because childcare costs exceed their income, which is deeply flawed and greatly affects a woman's earning potential and ability to re-enter the workforce.
Who are some working mothers that you admire/look up to?
Both of my parents. My mom was a psychiatric nurse practitioner and my dad was a teacher. They both cared deeply about their work and were well-respected in their individual fields. I knew they were good at their jobs but never felt like I was the lesser priority; they struck that difficult balance of putting their whole selves into their careers and being fully engaged as parents. This is more difficult today given how pervasive technology is in our lives, but it is a model I try to hold myself to. When I'm with Henry, the work emails can wait.


Maren Elliott
Chief Talent Officer Swift, Portland