As a client services director, I regularly interview people to join my team. One young woman recently asked me, “What’s it like to work with so many young people?”.
I was taken aback. It was an odd question because, after all, our industry is full of people of all ages. But then it dawned on me why she asked: because I’m a woman. Sadly, it’s a rarity for a senior women, especially a working mum, to have a leadership role in an agency.
She’s probably right to factor this into her career decision-making, because there aren’t enough senior female role models in the industry for her to look up to. Looking at her career path 10 years from now, will she still be working in this industry? Would we have created an environment that encourages her to grow and thrive?
At Karmarama, we’re very lucky to have an agency culture and an amazing HR department that works with staff to mould a working environment inclusive to everyone, but many people within the industry aren’t as lucky. Having been part of a group within the agency pushing for greater inclusivity and diversity, this would be my advice to young women at the start of their careers: make sure your work place encourages your growth.
It's our responsibility as the leaders of these businesses to make the industry more open, diverse and inclusive. So, to all senior agency folk, I would recommend a five-point-plan:
- Review your existing policies and push for more female-friendly ones: What is your agency doing to make the workplace better for women? For example, agencies should be completely transparent about their maternity policies. It shouldn’t take 10 rounds of interviews and contracts before candidates get sight of it, and existing employees shouldn’t have to hide in the shadows searching for a document hidden on a server somewhere. Also, look for ways to normalise the conversations – why do maternity conversations or ‘four-day week chats’ need to be just for women? Working dads want time with their family too.
- Get your gender pay gap sorted: Your company has probably done a gender pay gap survey. If they haven’t published the results, why not? Push for this information and what’s being done to address it. Get involved and have a point of view.
- Set up female support networks internally: Determine a list of topics and work through them as a group. At Karmarama, our HR Director recently ran a #PressForProgress initiative consisting of a series of development workshops based on the research Joan Williams and Rachel Dempsey laid out in What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know. Having an open discussion amongst our female peers helped us understand how best to support and develop others who may be at different stages of their career.
- Keep informed: Look outside of your own environment, at other companies and wider culture. See what people are doing to support women in the workplace – perhaps there’s something you could ‘borrow’ and bring to life in your own office.
- Don’t stand for the boys’ club: It can be in the form of a golf day or gun shooting day (yes, in this day and age it still happens) or it can be a wider culture steer which means that the culture (usually without realising it) is derogatory to women. Try different tactics to initiate the discussion as well as making men part of the solution. Think of the bigger picture and look for ways to make it an inclusive, non-gender club where everyone benefits. For example, a few years ago at Karmarama, we started a ‘Good Man Movement’ by inviting self-identified “good men” to a secret pub meeting. They thought they were meeting one of our male creative directors but instead they met myself and fellow female colleague. Over a pint we discussed subjects such as language used in meetings and whether they thought certain topics were appropriate. It certainly helped to reframe the conversation, made them understand the issues and most importantly they began to behave differently.
There are also things that all women in the industry can be doing themselves to promote better equality:
- Identify role models and mentors: find inspiration from other women. This can be as simple as the people you follow on social media, or by joining organisations like Bloom. Even approaching a senior woman (within your company or externally) who you admire and ask them to be your mentor. They’ll be flattered that you asked! Seek out those who challenge and want to do things differently, initiate conversations, and find ways to activate learnings.
- Wear the working mum badge with pride: Working mums are a rare breed in the agency world, so be ready for the likelihood that most of your colleagues won’t understand what it takes to be a mother and a business woman. Be ready to educate them. Be confident, you’ll be as good at your job when you get back as you are now. Hell, you’ll probably be even better. Be clear on your timeframes and boundaries and don’t apologise for it. Just because your hours are different doesn’t make you any less efficient, if anything you’ll be more focused with the time you have. Be prepared for two worlds to collide and have contingency plans. Work out a ‘what if’ plan with your partner. Be adaptable in how you work. You’ll have less time to do your job, so get ready to prioritise everything within an inch of its life – only the really important stuff makes it on your to do list. Find a mum buddy at work, who shares these challenges with you. Use them to sanity check, troubleshoot, console and laugh.
Quite clearly there is plenty to get our teeth stuck into it, but this shouldn’t be about extending your already overloaded ‘to do’ list. Find something you’re passionate about and drive change from there. And whilst it’s frustrating that women have to lead the charge, the world is ready for this step forward and if we can support each other and bring men into the conversation, we can make our industry a long term career option for women, and a place where they can thrive.
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