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‘Truly integrated’: As an unusual school year commences, agencies are aiming to help working parents more than ever before

This past Tuesday, Perri Grinberg was on back-to-back calls for most of the day, much to the annoyance of her children. Later in the day, during yet another meeting, she could hear her children making noise in the other room. So could an agency executive with whom she was on the phone. 

“He was like ‘Do you need to take this later?’ and I was like, ‘It’s now or never,” said Grinberg, vp of human resources for Rapp, adding that accepting the occasional, or not so occasional, home office chaos that comes with the current moment has been necessary and that, in recent months, there’s been a noticeable shift in the attitude around working parents at agencies. “There’s no more feeling like you have to apologize for being a working parent. It’s now truly integrated.” 

Grinberg is one of a number of working parents figuring out a new way to balance work/life stresses as well as an unusual school year due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic. As the school year has begun once again, agencies are adapting and employing new perks for parents to help manage tending to the needs of their clients as well as the needs of their children throughout the day. Some are reviving virtual activities employed in the spring for the fall like offering storytime Zooms or nannies to Zoom with children while employees are in meetings. Others are offering more paid time off, avoiding meetings during certain hours to help accommodate the needs of parents and enlisting the help of consultants. 

Agencies, which have long had reputations as difficult work environments for working parents, are adapting to be more flexible for parents this year.   

“We all, including talent who are parents, have a unique set of needs brought on by these unusual times,” said Barbara Jobs, chief talent officer, Publicis Media Americas. “Flexibility and empathy are what is needed right now for everyone. This includes providing time off in increments to support childcare or schooling needs, flexible schedules and encouraging all of our employees to use time off for self-care.” 

Publicis Groupe now hosts regular support forums for parents, per Jobs, as well as hosts an active business resources group for parents. The holding company also launched “Publicis Schooling,” a series of virtual classes for pre-kindergarten to high school aged children, taught by Publicis Groupe employees using the holding company’s AI platform, Marcel, to connect. So far, there have been 37 different classes created and more than 1500 students have participated. 

Publicis Groupe isn’t alone in employing virtual class offerings for employees children during the pandemic. The Goodway Group, a media agency that was fully remote prior to the on-set of the coronavirus, has also engaged employees’ children via virtual classes to help working parents. This fall, the shop has also rolled out a virtual nanny and tutor service with certified teachers on stand-by to help parents during working hours, according to Jillian Pap, director of people experiences at the Goodway Group. 

During August and September, Omnicom Media Group hosted two sessions for working parents within the agency with consultant Daisy Dowling, the founder of a company, Workparent, which helps working parents and their employers figure out new working systems. “We felt it was critical to offer help to our working parent community as they started to re-navigate remote learning support for their children, “ said Carolyn Parodi, OMD USA Managing Director, who serves as executive sponsor of the OMG’s Working Parents Network. 

Figuring out new ways to work as well as allowing for newfound levels of flexibility for parents, as well as employees who are caregivers to elderly parents or sick loved ones, has been a necessary shift in thinking in recent months, according to agency executives who say the attitude around accommodating the needs of working parents has changed for the better. 

That’s because “you can’t ignore it anymore,” said Laura Norton, director of office services at Carmichael Lynch, adding that seeing coworkers’ or clients’ children via Zoom has changed the dynamic for working parents at agencies. “We’re seeing them in their role for business but also that’s their mom voice. It adds this level of connection.” 

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