Why Mom and Creative Director Don’t Mix

Kammie McArthur is a creative director at Swirl, a San Francisco advertising agency. She is a cofounder of The Mentory, a virtual mentorship group. This is republished from the group’s blog, The Mentory. Follow her on Twitter @thementory

No one just falls up into leadership positions in the ad industry. There are so few roles at the top at any one agency, in any one city, it takes a ridiculous amount of work and success to show that you’re the one worthy of the job. And if you’re a woman, you’re not the obvious choice to lead in a male-dominated workforce, so you have to work even harder and be even better than the guys to be a contender.

Then, just as your career is heating up and you’re about to get promoted, you get pregnant. Your responsibilities explode. You have to juggle things that man leaders don’t have to think about. Pumping your breasts between meetings. Preparing kids’ lunches. Volunteering at school. Scheduling birthday parties, soccer practices and play dates. Doing double the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning. These are all things that traditionally fall under mom’s jurisdiction. Not in every household, but in enough, for sure.

It is at this critical juncture where women become moms (as we tend to do) that the industry loses so many of our potentially great female leaders. We lose women because they simply can’t and don’t want to keep up. At certain points, being successful at work and at home at the same time is impossible. How do you pull an all-nighter when your babysitter is sick? How do you go on production when it’s your kid’s first birthday? What kind of mom misses her kid’s first birthday? What kind of creative director misses a $1.2 million shoot? Even for the most ambitious women, the math starts to not add up.

So, women leave. We go freelance, or drop out completely. Sometimes the plan is to only drop out while the kids are little. But in this business you’re only as good as what you did last night. A portfolio that hasn’t been refreshed in five years is a non-starter. And this is a fact that is not often spoken: sometimes when we choose to stay in a full-time agency job, burning the candle at both ends can affect our performance, which makes us vulnerable in an industry famous for laying off and building back up in cycles.

So what is the solution? What can companies do? If we believe that women (half of our population) are valuable enough to keep in the industry and in our creative departments past mid-to-senior levels, how can we help each other and ourselves?

Is it fair for an agency to make accommodations for a woman to work at home a day or two a week if that’s not offered to everyone? Is an agency willing to create part-time positions or job shares for senior roles? Is an agency willing to delay a woman’s date of hire so that she can get her child acclimated in a new town and new school? (Mine did!)

Is it okay for a woman to ask for these accommodations? Or does it make her seem unambitious? Does make her vulnerable to lay offs? Does it make her less valuable?

The answers are not apparent. But it sure would be nice to find some. Because woman make great leaders and it’d be nice to have more of us around.

Image via Shutterstock

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