Let’s Start Viewing Parenthood As An Industry Asset

May 7, 2018

“How are you handling everything?”

As a new mom, I constantly find myself being asked this question. It’s typically paired with a head tilt or an empathetic shoulder touch. Maybe a knowing glance if the asker has been there before, knowing at any moment something can upset the apple cart and throw off the balance of everything being juggled on a daily basis.

My beef isn’t with the question, or the question askers. It’s that we live in a world where being overwhelmed is a rite of passage for a working parent. A world where conversations about “the balancing act” are subtle nods to the fact that too much is sitting on our shoulders and “having it all” really means letting nearly all of it go to make it through a day.

You do find this effectively acknowledged by many of the world’s biggest brands in  their creative campaigns. Like this one from Yoplait:

We – as marketers and advertisers – are helping some of the world’s biggest brands connect with consumers in an authentic and natural way by tapping into the difficulties of being a working parent. And yet it doesn’t feel like the industry is following suit. Are we really walking the walk when it comes to industry culture?

Sort of.

In many ways agencies are responding to the “life” needs of employees as they become new parents. Fast Horse has always had a flexible work schedule, which allows you to work where you’ll be the most productive. We recently updated our maternity leave policy to 12 weeks of paid leave through PTO and short-term disability insurance and two weeks of paternity leave. These things are great and helped me feel supported in the critical weeks after Otto (my son) was born. But it’s not the industry norm.

There are many parents out there who don’t have that kind of support. And there’s still an unspoken workaholic culture within the industry that rewards tireless hours. It can make prioritizing family life feel like you’re skipping out or asking for special treatment. On top of work responsibilities, the strongest bonds with coworkers often happen after hours, at happy hours and on work trips, all of which are hard to prioritize when you’re juggling parenthood.

It’s hard to know how to be a change agent in the situation, but if our clients have taught us anything, it’s that we have to listen and change our approach. We’re no longer in the era of Mad Men, with late nights, martinis, Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons (who was a successful, but childless female copywriter – there’s a lot more to discuss here). We’re in the time of Kate Morrison Schermers, who started at 72andSunny when she was 24 weeks’ pregnant, and Fast Horse going from having a handful of parents to four new babies in a year and a half.

There’s a lot of blue sky to supporting employees and their journey to manage the balance between “life” and “work,” especially in an industry whose clients regularly target and speak to moms.

I know Fast Horse has great benefits and I know they aren’t the norm. But they should be. Let’s de-stigmatize the realities of being a working parent in the industry and highlight the benefits that parenthood brings to the workplace. We are infinitely more creative, thoughtful and stronger when we are valued for our whole selves, and when parenthood is seen as an asset, not an excuse or exception.