Making the Advertising Industry Work for Moms

We're terrible at keeping them. Let's change that

First, I acknowledge that a guy writing about anything mom-related is going to raise ire and more than a few snarky (and likely anonymous) comments. If this makes you mad, I'm sorry.

That said, let's get to the point: Our industry is terrible at keeping mom talent. Really bad. 

I got to witness this firsthand when my wife was pregnant with our first kid. She was an account director at a big/renowned shop. She asked the agency's managing director for what she needed so she could stay with the agency and also care for our newborn. She was denied. No "hey, that doesn't work on this account, but let's have you do this over here." No "that doesn't quite work for us, but what about xyz instead?" Just a metaphorical "nah." So she left. We made it work. Eight years later, our kids are both in school, she's back in the agency game, and while a few things about advertising have changed, one thing has certainly not: This industry treats moms badly. 

Much has been written about why this is. I think I can sum it up in two reasons: 1) We're a service industry, so anything that requires accommodation that could potentially inconvenience a client is very scary for some people. 2) My experience is this industry attracts people who are bad at boundaries. So we combine those two things and end up with a lot of people with bad boundaries who are afraid to tell clients, "We need to push that meeting an hour because the CD has a prior commitment." This is a very stupid reason to lose out on some of the best talent in the industry. 

Enough has been said about the power and value of the experience of motherhood. And how it's the hardest job anyone will ever have, etc., etc. It's all true. But even if motherhood were a delightful cakewalk, it would be immaterial. Our industry cannot bear to lose this many smart people. Talent density is everything.

The Covid situation has proven out the following: There is no agency. There are just people. There's nothing inherently valuable about your agency that can't walk out the door when someone offers them 20 percent more money. And here in the Bay Area, there are plenty of companies who can do just that. 

I'm the CCO at a small shop. I don't have those big Zuckerbucks to throw around. But I have skimmed the book Moneyball, and I've seen the movie twice. If you haven't read/seen it, I suggest you do. It's about uncovering talent other people overlook. That's something I've had to become adept at. A good place to start? Make working at your agency easier—or merely possible—for moms. 

Here's what that means for us: I was hiring a new creative director. I talked to 27 or so. (We're a small agency. Talent density is everything to me. You get the picture.) I met a great one! Couple of issues: She's not in our market. But I don't care. I don't think the Covid WFH thing is going away anytime soon. And anyone who can't WFH effectively won't last long with us anyway. Second issue: She's a mom. She needs from 4 to 6 p.m. PST off to put her kid down. When you hear that, do you balk? If so, you're missing out. Because when I heard that, I thought, "Awesome. I can 100 percent do that. And I won't be competing for this one because advertising still, still, still sucks at keeping moms." 

Even though the industry is bleeding talent in every direction.

Even though about half our clients are also moms. 

Even though every mom I know gets shit done. Because they don't have time for anything else.

So I get this great new creative director. Her book is nails. Her design sensibility is *Italian chef kiss.* Her category experience is perfect. And all I have to do is remember not to call her from 4 to 6 p.m. This is an easy trade. 

Last word: This is not virtue signalling. This is coming from a guy who's watched his wife deal with this issue firsthand. And who has two daughters who I would not want to see join this industry in its current state. I'm trying to do better, be better, and make this industry better for everyone who's willing to endure its myriad delights and disappointments. So let me ask you this: Is your talent density where it needs to be? Because if not, maybe you need to hire yourself a mom. I know some great ones. 

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John Reid
John Reid is chief creative officer at Evolution Bureau.

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