When ‘what’s best for our business’ is not hiring a pregnant woman, adland has failed

In this anonymous submission, a pregnant agency planner challenges the ad industry to be better for women.

I’ve never had a problem with being female. For the most part, the modern male figures in my life have been nothing but respectful, supportive, sensitive and smart. My experience in the ad industry as a twenty-something planner was similar.

And then.

Towards the end of last year, I interviewed for a position at a new agency. The chemistry was great, we really hit it off. The follow up interview went no less swimmingly, and things were looking good.

To their credit, the agency had requested female candidates preferably, to correct the gender imbalance in their ranks. They even told me as much.  

Just not too female, as it turned out.

In the meantime, I discovered that I was pregnant (much to my own surprise).

The job offer came through after New Year’s. It was my dream job, with the promise of great training and mentorship, salary, career progression, and a seemingly lovely team – the full package. Initially, it was a three-month contract, with a view to make it a permanent position.

What now?

Mentors were consulted, as were trusted colleagues and close friends.

Certainly, I could see out the initial three months, but what then?

Friends and family working at progressive places – whether in corporate, law, finance, consulting, design or elsewhere – recalled multiple instances where pregnant women were hired, insisting that this should not affect my eligibility in a modern organisation, especially as I was barely a couple of months along.

Colleagues from our industry were not so sure, the recruiter included.

Ultimately, honesty prevailed as the riskiest but most advisable approach.

“You’re going to need an incredibly open, supportive culture going forward, and how they respond to this will give you a pretty accurate idea of what’s ahead,” I was told.

I took a deep breath and called the agency, explaining the situation.

“I can do this,” I said. “I’m the same candidate who came in a couple months ago. I have an incredibly strong support network, and I’d like to work together to make this work.”

Their tone changed. “We’ve got to do what’s best for our business,” they said, promising to get back to me.  

That was in January. It’s April, and I’m still waiting.

I heard they hired a young, less qualified guy instead.

I guess that’s “what’s best” for their business, a business shortlisted as a finalist for agency of the year in our trade press.

And yet.

We’re an industry that thrives on finding creative solutions to business problems. Our best work comes from risk taking – when we push ourselves and our clients to go out on a limb and venture into the unknown, the uncomfortable. We all know that’s when the magic happens.

This magic is (or should be) built into the culture of an agency. It’s in the diversity of individual experiences that we all bring to the table, collectively.

As an organisation, as a decision-maker, as someone in a position to hire and fire: your watershed moment will come not with awards won, or with how you celebrated International Women’s Day.

Instead, it will come when real life lands on your doorstep in all its messy, beautiful, unexpected, human glory.

It will be how you define “what’s best for our business”.


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