Mothers In Advertising 2018, Nikki Stammers

"I want the next generation of women in this industry to know that they can have a stab at being a good mum and have a prosperous career."

Nikki Stammers
Strategy Lead Karmarama


Tell us about yourself and what you do in your current position.
I’m Nikki Stammers, a strategy lead at Karmarama. I’ve been in the comms industry for about 16 years. Six of those were spent in Sydney, Australia, where I worked for the likes of Naked Communications and The Monkeys. I’ve experimented a lot with different communications methods. My PR and experiential days saw me launching video games in snowdomes and dressing the windows of London’s Selfridges. In the current climate of digital, data-led comms, and service design, I’ve been creating digital products for first-time mums and strapping air pollution sensors to pigeons and tracking them in real-time! It has been, and continues to be, lots of fun.
I’m also mum of Isy, four and Sonny, two. Along with my husband, we live in Forest Hill in south-east London. Oh, and not forgetting our gnarly old Burmese cat, Burt.
Describe the culture at your agency; What is it like?
Karmarama’s culture is extremely special and very rare. It often gets accused of being very ‘nice’ as a place to work. This isn’t wrong, but it also doesn’t do it justice. The agency is incredibly nurturing, inclusive and supportive of staff. There’s no hierarchy and no egos – the creatives are treated the same as our receptionists – with respect! But it also has swagger – it’s not all saccharine and sweet!
They plough a lot of time and effort into looking after their people at every level. From free daily breakfast, heavily subsided cooked lunchtime meals, all-agency annual ski-trips and in-house sessions with massages, hairdressers, eyebrow threading and afternoon tea on days beginning with ‘t’. Karmarama also takes part in Wellbeing Week, which starts on the 14th May. This year the company is offering mindfulness classes, morning meditations and free advice sessions from a nutritionist, physiotherapist and mortgage advisor. Outside of this, employees can train to become a Mental Health First Aider and also get access to gym memberships and yoga. This place is totally epic.
How does that culture compliment the juggling act that is being a working mother?
The agency recognises you as a person not a ‘resource’. People have messy, complicated lives full of other human beings – some of which depend on you. Whether they be elderly parents or nippers. Karmarama embraces this – as all agencies should, but often don’t, as many in the industry have sadly experienced.
When I started, our head of HR and ‘chief mother hen’, Jo called me. I work four days a week but she insisted that for the days I am here that we formalise where I need flexibility to start late or finish early to accommodate nursery runs. That way, everyone knows where they stand, and time is protected. This saved me feeling like I had to constantly be stuck to my email and carry my laptop with me.
As an agency that recognises that they are in the people business, they also realise they need to cut people some slack when they need it. And parents need that slack often. This all comes down to respect and understanding. This goes both ways here at Karmarama.
How has being a mother changed how you approach any aspects of your job?
My life used to be my work. I used to spend all my time at the office and all my friends were people I worked with – often owing to working in agencies that have a bar! These days there is a much clearer divide between work and my personal life. Although Thursdays (my late days) I still manage to squeeze a work drink or two in. In this industry, having relationships that extend beyond the work is vital.
I’ve had to be much more focused and realistic about what can be achieved on any given project. It’s meant having to give up being a control freak – never a bad thing because the upside is that it forces you to collaborate and ‘hand over’ things to keep them moving down the track. The additional upside of separating yourself from your work is that you take the knocks much less personally. You have more perspective and can see a project for what it is.
As a planner, being a mother forces you into places in society that you would have never otherwise gone, picking up new insight and perspective. You’re forced to pick up new skills under extreme pressure and you learn to have fun with things and see them a fresh again. You also learn the importance of encouraging and rewarding curiosity – a crucial skill for any planner.
What would you say are the most rewarding aspects of being a working mother?
That’s kind of a leading question. A lot of the time, it’s really tough emotionally and physically being a working parent. You never really reconcile whether it’s a good or bad thing. Particularly as I grew up in a household where my mum stayed at home, cooked us fresh meals every day and importantly ate with us and chatted with us together every day. It’s always a mental battle.
I think it really focuses you in on making sure you enjoy what you do. I could never justify being away from my children as much as I am if I was just clocking in and clocking out every day. I need them to see that in life those that are fortunate have choices. You should pursue those roads that bring you fulfilment (as far as this is possible) and bring you joy – for me this is about mental stimulation and working in creative environment with interesting people.
What are the biggest challenges, if any?
Another mum, also a working parent and an inspiring head of design to boot – once said to me, ‘You know, as a parent, you never escape the feeling that everything is just about held together with sticking plaster’. It only takes one small thing and the whole delicate ‘balance’ is in a mess. Juggling the demands of bringing up little humans, giving them everything you think they need while also pursuing a career is challenging. Not least because of logistics. When you don’t have the luxury of having one parent at home, you are literally running from one thing to the next – just to make sure things tick along. It’s exhausting. Finding time for yourself in amongst that is a big ask. Learning that you’ve been sold a lie is a tough lesson in life, you can’t have everything. Nobody can. There’s always sacrifice. Always.
What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
I don’t have a balance – it’s something I’m striving for. I do work four days and I’m uncompromising on protecting that day. That’s for my kids. Everybody knows better than to ask me to give up that time for work.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
My most recent job move. I’d previously been with another incredible agency that supported me whilst I took time away to have my two children. They also supported me with flexible working on my return. I spent just over four years there and became institutionalised in the sense that I was terrified about moving on. Taking time out had knocked my confidence, I felt like I was being given special treatment because they knew and trusted me. Totally ridiculous, but true. I was frightened of having to pitch myself again and worried that I’d fail anywhere else. Mostly I was convinced there would be nowhere where I could be continually to be ambitious whilst being supported as a working mum. I was wrong, Karmarama is amazing and so am I (in a non-egotistical way). It took taking the leap to teach me that.
What changes do you hope to see for future working parents?
I think perhaps drop-in creches that operate in the same vicinity of your work would be helpful. I believe that societally we still have a long way to go in equal representation of both parents being seen as ‘working parents’. It still tends to be ‘mum’ that stays at home or takes time out. They certainly take on the ‘mental load’ of childcare long after maternity leave has finished.
The big challenge is supporting dads so they feel like they can be the ones at home. Being part of Accenture, it is possible to take shared parental leave and that is a major step in the right direction, and an area in which the business is leading the way.
I think there could also be a role for more formalised support in getting over the emotional hurdle of coming back to work and help dealing with any erosion of confidence that can happen.
Who are some working mothers that you admire/look up to?
I look up to my peers. The women I work with day in, day out. The ones striving to be the best they can be for their children and their employers. The ones dashing out of the office for the school play. The ones that make the time to do the school run and eat dinner with their kids – even if it’s one day a week.
Those women that don’t renounce their femininity and role of a mother for what they perceive to be required in the workplace. We need more parents, mums and dads to be active parents, that talk about their kids at work and impose more on the business to allow them to be that. I want the next generation of women in this industry to know that they can have a stab at being a good mum and have a prosperous career.


Nikki Stammers
Strategy Lead Karmarama