The Elephant in the Pitch Room: Where are all the Mom CDs At?
Susan joined mcgarrybowen in 2013 as a Group Creative Director and oversees work for Disney Parks and Resorts and Maven, GM’s car sharing platform. Prior to joining mcgarrybowen, Susan was SVP, Creative Director at FCB Chicago for over 10 years. Prior to FCB Chicago, Susan worked as a Copywriter at 141 Worldwide in Chicago and Doner International in London.
Susan is dedicated to mentoring young creatives, especially women. She began a program to connect female creatives at the agency called mcgarrywomen, has served as a board member for AAF, spoken at numerous conferences, won many creative awards, and served as a judge at the Addys, the Effies and was recently honored as a She Runs It Working Mother of the Year. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and lives in Chicago with her wife, 19-month-old daughter, and is expecting her second child this July. She writes about what it means to be an LGBT ad Mom on her blog, SheSheLife.net
The 3% Movement thankfully has shed a light on the big, white, hairy beast that is creative leadership in the industry, motivating agencies and clients to push for long-overdue change.
In just a few years, there has been huge progress leading to 11% of Creative Directors who are women. We still have a long way to go because far too few Creative Directors are non-white, LGBT, or, dare I say it--Moms.
As a Group Creative Director, I know firsthand the struggles of standing up to the boy’s club mentality causing a #metoo reality that have hindered far too many women striving to become CDs. Early in my career, I once was told when wearing a black leather skirt, “You can’t wear that if you want to be respected for your brain.” I have been inappropriately cornered, hit on, and harassed by a few bad bosses. But thanks to many more supportive men and women bosses along the way, I was granted opportunities that had nothing to do with a black leather skirt and everything to do with my work.
Having been a Creative Director for more than 12 years and a Mom for just under two, I’ve found there’s another lumbering elephant in the room that needs our industry’s attention. If less than 50% of Creative Directors are women, what percentage of Creative Directors are also Moms? The fact that you can't even find a statistic means it’s likely not only that low of a number, but worse yet, something that’s just not on anyone’s radar.
The truth is, once many Creative Directors become Moms, they decide to leave the mania of a full-time traditional agency for freelance or a career that requires less travel, less late nights, and a more predictable schedule.
"Moms try to set boundaries like leaving on time only to get the side eye from colleagues."
Juggling it all feels like treading water at best. Moms try to set boundaries like leaving on time only to get the side eye from colleagues, especially when working on a pitch or last-minute client ask. We delegate and empower both in our homes and the workplace, only to feel like it will never be enough. Eventually, many Moms tire from sheer exhaustion and frequent gulps of a combination of Mom guilt and ad guilt.
As someone who was honored recently as a 2019 Working Mother of the Year by the She Runs It organization, it’s one of my personal missions to show it is possible to be a dedicated Creative Director and a hands-on Mom. In addition to showing it’s possible and promising to be both, we need to challenge the industry to do more to support hard working Moms, especially Creative Directors, who we need to nurture, grow, and sustain.
So, what can agencies, clients, colleagues, and Creative Director Moms do to make the agency model more sustainable?
Thankfully, more and more agencies like mine are recognizing the challenges put on new parents in this industry and instating new paid parental time off and flex time policies. My agency now offers primary and secondary caregivers 16 weeks of paid time off, regardless of tenure. The more agencies that offer benefits like these, the more we can create a new norm. So, if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant someday (or just want to work in a place that supports families), consider parental leave policy as a determining factor on the agency that is right for you. And, if your agency doesn’t offer parental leave that’s equitable within the industry, draft a proposal to management and start the conversation.
Similarly, if you’re about to be a new mom, make sure your agency offers resources like Mothers’ Rooms that can accommodate all the breast pumping Moms at your agency before you head out on maternity leave. One of my biggest stressors coming back to work after having my daughter was scheduling pump time with other Moms in between my constantly shifting client calls and demands. Remember, it’s a federal law that breastfeeding moms have a private place (that is not a bathroom) to pump and be given reasonable breaks to do so. If you find yourself without these basic adequate resources in your agency, make sure to ask for them.
Remember as Moms we need to self-advocate and not be afraid to ask for what we need to make life work at work and home. Maybe that means working from home one day a week. If so, put a case together on how your work won’t suffer, talk to your ECD or CCO, and make it happen. That said, do make sure to have child care at the ready for every hour you work. Trust me, you can’t be on a client call when your 16-month old decides to climb the cupboards.
Or, maybe you need to leave early to pick up your little one from day care. If so, figure out a way to come in a bit early. Show you are committed, and check-in on work after hours whenever your team is still working. Taking pride in the businesses you run and the work you shape is your job. Technology is a double-edged sword, and some say it’s not fair to be expected to be always on, but I’d rather be available to respond to a few emails on a Saturday then be in the office.
Next, Moms, (and everyone) take your vacation days. Over 50% of employees still leave days on the table every year, while at the same time complaining that they don’t have enough downtime with their families. Here’s a tip: don’t wait until the end of the year when everyone else is doing the same and when there will inevitably be an end of year rush of work. Spread out your vacation days, and don’t be afraid to enjoy a staycation, whether it’s a random Wednesday or an entire week.
As kids grow up, demands don’t become easier for parents. Sure, those bleary-eyed, breastfeeding newborn years are tough, but Moms (and Dads) also want to be able to take time off to chaperone a field trip or catch that 3 p.m. tee ball game. This is where communication, trust, and partnership matter most within your agency. As a Creative Director, you undoubtedly are respected for your creative problem-solving skills, so figure out a way to prioritize some of these special kid events too. Make sure you are empowered to say “yes” to the occasional afternoon out of the office and “no” to the three-week shoot in Chile that your team can handle without you. Your team will grow, your clients will learn to trust others, and most importantly, you and your kids will remember those moments forever.
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