Interviews

Cristina Loaiza, Global Head of Brand, Graze.com

Cristina Loaiza, Global Head of Brand at Graze.com, has spearheaded a new programme with The Futures Network to support women back into the workplace after maternity leave.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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While motherhood is life’s ultimate leveller, the experiences and emotions that come alongside it are highly individual. Platitudes are all too easy to make when the truth is that so much of the experience of motherhood remains wordless.

This is particularly true of the experience of maternity leave and returning to work after the tectonic plates of your life have fundamentally shifted. Cristina Loaiza, Global Head of Brand at Graze.com and Co-Founder of The Futures Network, is preparing for her own creative comeback. After spending the mornings of her maternity leave, when her daughter Mia slept, interviewing women from across the industry about their experience of returning to work after maternity leave, she is not just paving the way for her own transition, but ensuring that transition is easier for other women across the industry.

The interviews and the survey from the Futures Network, an alumni group set up by winners of the WACL Future Leaders Award, presents a stark reality for the industry. At a time when column inches surrounding the lack of gender diversity in advertising show no signs of slowing, the fact that 40% of women in the industry feel unsupported as they return to work after maternity leave, shows how far the industry still has to go.

“It is an area that is really overlooked by a lot of businesses,” explains Loaizia. “Many focus on talent acquisition, yet they don’t give that much time to retention. There are so many little things that businesses can do to make the return from maternity leave easier; it just needs to be given more time and energy.”

She continued, “It has really opened my eyes; not just going through it myself but hearing others’ stories. As a leader I will be better equipped to help and support women returning from maternity leave.”

It is an empathy she will also extend to her dealings with agencies: “It is not life and death; it’s about creating a culture where we communicate clearly. We also need to take more responsibility for our own boundaries and being brave about being open to switching off.”

There are so many little things that businesses can do to make the return from maternity leave easier; it just needs to be given more time and energy.

Cristina Loaiza

One-size fits no one

Just as there is no universal experience of motherhood, Loaiza’s research found that there is not a universal experience of coming back from maternity leave. A fact that, she believes, makes listening vital: “We can’t assume that everyone’s circumstances are the same.” This is a particular challenge for line managers who may have experience of the traditional working dad and stay-at-home mum model in their own family. Or who could afford to pay for a full-time nanny.

Loaiza’s research confirmed that gender isn’t a boundary to either supporting or hindering mothers who return to the workplace. Notably the mantra of women supporting women is something of an empty one in some corners of the industry: “For some, the senior women that they worked for very much has an attitude of I’ve worked really hard to get here, in a structured way and I don’t see why it should be any different for you.”

Such a short-sighted approach perhaps helps to explain data from Creative Equals which shows that 12% of women are planning on leaving the industry in the next two years.

Mind the empathy gap

The research revealed the two biggest concerns surrounding having children were work life balance and the impact of taking time out of the office on career advancement. While 76% of companies offer flexible working, 86% of respondents think there are a lack of role models truly demonstrating flexible working roles.

The survey suggested the two biggest things that would make a difference to working parents were flexible working and empathetic managers who understood the needs of individual people. However, the survey revealed a lack of experience amongst managers, with 63% of managers saying they were not supported in helping team members reintegrate after maternity leave and 58% were not given any guidance on their company’s return to work policy.

“We recognise that upskilling managers to support working parents is just as important as supporting the parents themselves,” explained Loaiza. To this end the Baby Bounce Back programme is not just a programme for mothers, but also for leaders and managers seeking to build happy and high-performing teams.

In 2020 the Futures Network will be launching a range of support to help more parents thrive in the workplace. By placing support at the cornerstone of success, Loaiza proves that far from being a full-stop, motherhood can in fact broaden your horizons and be the fuel for more meaningful growth in business.