The baby question isn’t going to go away. It’s time to deal with it

Damian PincusThe time has come to deal with an issue that’s not going to go away, argues Damian Pincus, who sits on The Communications Council’s Gender Diversity Group.

There is a mantra we in advertising like to trot out with a fair degree of regularity. Talent, the men and women who fill our agencies each day, are the backbone of our businesses. Without their experience, and toil we are nothing.

It’s a great sound bite, but the reality is half of those that we value the most are likely to encounter some covert form of discrimination during their working lives, forcing them to abandon any hope of a long-term career in advertising.Discrimination is a provocative word to use, but it’s the right word. Only 24% of management roles in advertising agencies such as a general manager of an agency office; head of account management; group account director or creative director are held by women. That’s shameful especially given the fact that women are recognised to bring significant financial and social benefits to their employers.

Gender diversity in advertising, particularly in senior management positions has been put into the ‘too hard’ basket because as an industry we simply don’t know how to cope with balancing the needs of our clients with those of our supposedly valued female employees. Maintaining the status quo is just much easier.

At least we’re finally trying to understand why such an important section of our workforce is effectively being driven out of its middle management ranks and lost forever. The Communications Council has created the Gender Diversity Group, of which I’m a member, and we now have some preliminary results from the first phase of research.

One of the key findings is that agencies believe clients need access to creatives and account management around the clock and as a result part-time or flexible working is often not an option for those employed in these areas.

Ensuring the needs of clients is obviously important; we wouldn’t be in business without them after all. But it’s too convenient for us to make them the scapegoat, and have we even asked the clients, the majority of whom are perversely women anyway, if this is indeed the case? That might be a good place to start.

I’m not saying clients don’t have their part to play, but agencies must also shoulder some of the responsibility as well. We’ve made it difficult for women who want to climb the corporate ladder to be able to combine a family at the same time.

The research has also found that women set their career sights lower than men and often can’t envisage themselves in top jobs, especially if they want to have babies. The lack of progressive and flexible working practices almost universally applied across the industry has created a disincentive for women to re-enter the workforce.

That can only start to be reversed once agencies get their houses in order and develop structured career paths for its female staff and begin treating them as long-term and not short–term employees. Creating real and sustained gender equality is not going to be easy but the simple truth is the baby question is never going to go away. Agencies have to accept it and move more quickly to fix it. It’s not just the right thing to do morally, it also makes sound business sense.

Our research into this important area is still continuing and if you’re a woman that is working or has worked in the advertising and marketing communications sector you can help us. Please fill out this survey and help us improve the industry.

  • Damian Pincus is creative partner at The Works


  1. Alan
    7 Dec 12
    11:49 am

  2. So how many woman are in senior management roles at The Works? Just wondering.

  3. Danni
    7 Dec 12
    1:15 pm

  4. It’s fantastic to see this research being conducted and one of your final statements is the most important Damian – “It’s not just the right thing to do morally, it also makes sound business sense.” This can’t be seen as something agencies ‘must do’ or that they feel forced into making changes or the culture will simply not allow women to flourish. Working with clients to make a difference to how agencies work with them is a great start to assisting agencies in providing opportunities for flexibility is key – but agencies really need to ensure they are prepared for the hard work that this is going to take, like all things that are worthwhile!

    Well done Comms Council it’s a great start!

  5. Ricki
    7 Dec 12
    4:55 pm

  6. I do understand the point but of course its not just ‘the baby question’. Its also a question of networks and preferential treatment for mates etc. I’ve lost count of the number of golf days I’ve NOT been invited to because ‘chicks don’t play golf do they?’.

    True fact.

    So I strongly welcome the research and genuine attempts to find new ways of supporting women in the industry.

  7. Yechk...
    8 Dec 12
    11:14 pm

  8. I heard someone mention years ago they don’t hire women because of maternity leave etc. I didn’t realise this hideous view still existed. Horribly outdated.

    In my experience, I’ve found hard working, talented people who don’t engage in office politics (and therefore aren’t in the ‘in-group’) are the ones who are discriminated against – male or female.

    While they’re at their desk toiling away, other people are stealing the credit for all they’ve done.

    Seen it time and time again. Nothing to do with gender politics, it’s to do with being nice.

  9. Al
    10 Dec 12
    9:00 am

  10. I went for a job interview once. I said that while getting the job was important to me, I had some other personal stuff I wanted to do, so at some time in the next few years I would need to take a year off. At the end of this year, I may choose to come back to work, or I may not, but I would expect my job to be held for me. However when I did come back, I would only want to work two, maybe three days a week of my choosing. And while I only had plans for one one-year break, I couldn’t promise there wouldn’t be more down the line.
    I’m also below average height, so would expect favourable treatment when it came to promotions in the name of diversity.
    Strangely, I didn’t get the job – discrimnination, obviously. Who can I call about that?

  11. msisle
    10 Dec 12
    1:30 pm

  12. This issue is very relevant to me, this very minute…
    I’m working in comms in a government department (having moved from agency to have a more flexible role while I rear two kids) and they have the worst practices possible when it comes to work from home/part time etc (despite having the policies to ‘support flexiblity’ – you still need to make a business case for this and I was turned down – excused by difficult economic times – and yes that doesn’t make much sense!).
    I’m almost tempted to return to agency to see if things have changed?
    I’ve found it’s not always the men who treat mothers in particular unfairly – some women are just as bad :(

  13. Alison_F
    10 Dec 12
    1:40 pm

  14. I agree with @Ricki and then some…
    Why are questions such as ‘gender diversity in senior positions’ and ‘unequal pay between men and women’ (for example) always caught up in the BABY scenario??
    What about the women who don’t have kids and therefore, won’t be taking time off to have them?
    I fall into that group and it’s pretty obvious that discrimination and generalised assumptions will be coming from every side…

  15. Jabba Jabba Jabba
    10 Dec 12
    3:12 pm

  16. Discussions around discrimination and gender equality are really just obfuscations. The issue really is, as your headline points out, about babies. Or, more specifically, it’s about taking time out to have and raise babies. And the more time you dedicate to raising the kids, the less time you dedicate to your career. And, sadly, if you put more time into your kids, you’re worth less to an employer. It’s not discrimination Damian, it’s economics. Is it a shit deal for women? You bet. But the facts don’t change; women simply cannot do both things equally well (career and kids). While you’re doing one, you’re not doing the other. And it’s worth pointing out it’s the same shit deal for guys if they choose to be a stay-at-home dad. It’s just less of us do. I’m afraid that no amount of soapboxing around issues of discrimination or gender will ever, ever change this simple fact. Women have the babies, and that’s not going to go away.

  17. Peter Rush
    11 Dec 12
    11:58 am

  18. Don’t suppose, while we’re on diversity, that there’s any point bring up age diversity in the industry? Didn’t think so.

  19. Joel
    11 Dec 12
    4:00 pm

  20. Throwing a spanner in the arguments… in this age, with telecommuting/the cloud/etc. is it actually all that relevant? From looking at several women around me, it’s not uncommon for there to be plenty of down-time between feeds, naps, etc. in the first few months (when most women can’t come into work and tend to take maternity leave).
    Why then, can we not provide the ability to work from home? Given that they’re likely up at all hours, and awake for 20 hours a day, surely all that time simply supervising a child could be spent working, or learning for when they do return? Sure, the parent may not always be available for a teleconference or phone call when it’s most opportune, but a ‘call me back when you can’ email, or the ability to dial-in, would surely negate pretty much every argument and help keep these extremely valued individuals in the work place?

  21. Wheelie
    17 Dec 12
    11:22 am

  22. @ Jabba Jabba Jabba

    I (a full time working mum of 1 toddler) take exception to the notion that you can’t do both well. I work and take care of my little one (whether personally, or through quality paid for care). All I need in my work place is some flexibility and understanding.

    If you have a team around you that understand that sometimes you need to leave to get your sick child, and then pick up emails etc once you’ve put them to bed, then there’s no harm done, is there? What I struggled with on my return to work, is the employers that say they understand and then give you “that” look when you leave the office at bang-on 5pm to pick up your kid from child care. Never mind that you’re one of the most time efficient and proactive multi-taskers in their office!

    I was lucky i didn’t need to come back, i wanted to come back and using my brain and talking to adults all day long, makes me a better mum. I’m happy and so my toddler is happier too. When we’re together its all smiles and games, and when i’m at work I have my game face on too (a different one of course!) :)

    Saying you can only do one at a time basically winds back all the progress we’ve made in helping women come back from having kids. Its not all or nothing in my view.