Parents in AdLand: Make Your Voice Heard

September 4, 2018

My journey as a mom and a career woman started out bumpy (and arguably never stopped being bumpy). My first son was born six weeks early. I spent four months on bed rest with my daughter. When I told my doctor I was having a third, she told me I was crazy and predicted, rightly, that I may have yet another premie (he came five weeks early).  Navigating a career with all of this disruption was challenging as hell, and a particular kind of hell given I was a leader at an ad agency. Eventually, I was forced to step back and regroup.

So you can imagine the sense of irony and honor I felt to have been awarded the Trailblazing Mother award from She Runs It this past February (#humblebrag) - and how much I felt like an imposter (#truth). Here I was: a woman who’d paused her career for family and then traveled a windy road to relaunch, only to be exalted as a model of "working" momhood. Really?

Turns out, my path was not unique. I learned that most of the other “trailblazing” moms on that dais had also taken a non-linear path. Kimberly Kadlec, SVP for Global Marketing at Visa, had worked as  a freelancer for close to five years in order to integrate her professional and personal goals. Donnalyn Smith, North American CEO for Momentum, had worked part-time for the agency for nearly two years after the birth of her third child. Like me, these women downshifted and then relaunched to rewarding careers.

Why do I bring this up?

Our industry is about to hit a baby tsunami. 

Here are a few stats you might not know:

  • 64 million - that's the number of Millennials expected to become parents in the next decade
  • 28 - that's the average age of Millennial women
  • 28 - that's the average age women become first time moms in the U.S.
  • 33 - that's the average age of people in advertising
  • 85%  - that the percentage of American women who become mothers in their lifetimes
  • 39% - that's the percentage of women in advertising who are moms

In case the number's don't seem to add up, let me clarify: Most women in our industry are NOT moms.

Why? Well, many women are not interested in becoming a parent don’t end up becoming a parent. But for those who do become moms, most of them follow my path and eventually leave advertising.
Not because we lack ambition, or can't cut it, or whatever agency leaders use to convince themselves as a rationale for the female brain drain. We leave because we have no other option. Our human capital is too valuable to waste on an industry that doesn't respect what we bring to the table.
Here is the problem, though: agency leaders say they want women in leadership. But if most women become moms (and as you saw from the stats above most women do) and most of those moms leave advertising for greener pastures, how are we going to increase the number of women in leadership? It’s a negatively reinforcing loop that needs to stop, now.

It’s not just about moms. We need Dads to speak up to, too.

In case you think this is just a women's problem, you should hear the Millennial fathers I interview for our certification and consulting work. Men tell me they’ve left agencies that aren't offering them better solutions for work/life integration and moving to agencies that do. Like women of my generation, these fathers are ambitious, but want time mastery - the ability to work hard, but on their time and in a way that works for them, their families AND their employers.

So what is the reality for today’s moms and dads in advertising? That’s where you come in.

We’re launching the 3% Parents in Ad Land survey to learn from you what it’s like to integrate work and family.

Does your boss and your agency leadership support you? What about your colleagues? If they do, how? If not, what could they do differently?
Your collective insights will be shared at our fall conference to be held in Chicago on November 8th and 9th. They’ll also be imbedded into our consulting and strategy work. In other words, your input will help us shape the future of our industry.
So – please fill out the survey. And send the link to all of your friends. And please make sure every dad you work with also fills this out because we know integrating work and family is not just a women’s issue.
Thanks for your help!
Lisen's Family
P.S. For the many of you whom are not yet parents or who are not interested in being parents – we get it. This survey will be focusing on parents, but we’re doing work on caregiver bias that impacts not just moms or dads, but also those caring for parents, siblings, friends, beloved animals, and even ourselves – in other words, all of us. More details on that soon. In the meantime, please share the survey with your friends and colleagues who are parents. Thank you.