Voices

Nothing is impossible; but being a working parent in advertising has sometimes felt like it

Gemma Phillips, Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi, lifts the lid on how the agency is transforming the workplace for working parents.

Gemma Phillips, Saatchi & Saatchi

Creative Director

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It felt like a brutal plot twist. Like the gods had decided parenting just wasn’t tough enough and decided to throw in the 2020 grenade to ‘liven things up a bit’. Any working parent in advertising will have felt it, and on the Global Day of Parents, it’s time to take stock.

Although it was difficult for all parents, it’s been toughest on working mothers. ONS data shows we were the ones taking on more of the home-schooling, the ones doing more of the childcare and the ones most likely to be made redundant across all industries. Meanwhile a LinkedIn survey in March this year revealed 60 percent of women considered leaving advertising during Covid, the highest number seen in any industry.

But lockdown wasn’t the start of the problem, the pandemic just exacerbated the issues that had been affecting working mothers for years. Even before lockdown, 77 percent of us had reported potentially discriminatory or negative experiences according to a 2016 report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Working mums have consistently felt overlooked and under-valued in every industry and particularly under-represented in advertising where the hours are often incompatible with parenthood.

It’s been a wake-up call to our industry which is now taking note. At Saatchi & Saatchi, our parents made their voices heard loud and clear and we encouraged them to. They started to come forward with ideas and suggestions, and we listened.

The power of active listening

We set up a Working Parents Group and held regular sessions where parents could voice both their frustrations and importantly put forward possible solutions. Chaired by our CEO Sam Hawkey, himself a working parent, but led day-to-day by a team of working parents across the agency, these sessions were about listening to the problems before sussing out how we could go about trying to alleviate them.  

It was refreshing to hear colleagues talk openly and honestly about their parenting challenges, sometimes for the first time. The issues went beyond the struggles of lockdown and encompassed all areas of parenting that previously hadn’t been discussed in the office. We heard from single parents, those who had struggled to conceive, those who had suffered multiple miscarriages and others who had been struggling to juggle everything with a partner who also worked full time.

We extended this out to our mums on maternity leave and set up a Mat Mamas group to ensure their voices were heard too. One thing was especially clear: no-one must be left out no matter where they were on their parental journey.

We needed to expand our policies and shift our culture to one that allows working parents, and particularly working mums, to not only survive at work, but to thrive.

Gemma Phillips, Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi

Taking action to shift culture

From these discussions, Saatchi Time Out was quickly set up to deal with some immediate issues such as setting periods of time in the day where meetings aren’t held. Even though schools and nurseries are open again, we’re still following this and will continue to do so. It not only gives our working parents valued flexibility but also our non-parents, caregivers and colleagues with grown-up kids too. Everyone has benefited. As they should.

In January, we ran our first ever Working Parents Survey to find out how we were doing, and crucially, to identify a way to measure its success to ensure we build back better in the future.

What we learned was hugely valuable and shone a much-needed spotlight on the extent to which working mothers’ careers are disproportionately affected by parenthood. It was clear that like most companies, we needed to expand our policies and shift our culture to one that allows working parents, and particularly working mums, to not only survive at work, but to thrive.

The struggles of being a parent don’t necessarily start the moment you become pregnant, and they definitely don’t end the day you walk back into the office.

Gemma Phillips, Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi

Within our agency there are four pillars which help guide our approach to building a business that people feel proud to work for, and work with.

Leadership Led: We believe, as with all key business metrics, leadership must set the ambition, strategy and behaviours to create systemic change.

Agency Built: We draw on the experiences, knowledge and energy of our agency team, client partners, expert partners and suppliers to build our approach to our work, our D&I programmes and our approach to innovation. 

Sustainable: We create programmes that are designed to grow in strength and impact over time and we are clear on metrics for success in order to track impact.

Open: We are a blueprint for anyone who wants to use our ideas or learn from us, always open on our progress, on our data and critically on our lessons learned.

 

By shining a light on them, we’re hoping we can remove some of the taboos around being a working mother and show the next set of parents behind us that you should always walk proudly out of the office to collect your child.

Gemma Phillips, Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi

The Saatchi Family was born directly from these pillars and designed to be a much wider reaching parent policy compared to the narrow reach of what maternity leave traditionally affords. After all, the struggles of being a parent don’t necessarily start the moment you become pregnant, and they definitely don’t end the day you walk back into the office.

We launched in April and we’re really proud of what it’s achieved and for whom it will benefit. Here are the key elements:

·  Four week’s fully paid leave for anyone experiencing miscarriage at any stage during their pregnancy.

·   A buddy system led by employees who are comfortable discussing their specific parenting experiences so the agency can connect individuals with the most helpful and relevant support.

·   A fully paid (but optional) phased return of up to four weeks for all those returning from maternity and shared parental leave.

·   12 months career coaching for parents returning from maternity or shared parental leave.

·   A commitment to monitoring the data that matters including our annual Working Parent’s Survey to monitor progress and track areas for improvement.

·   One week’s fully paid emergency leave to cover emergency scenarios, particularly for single parents and carers.

·   Ensuring continued flexibility for childcare drop off and pick up times in addition to our Saatchi Time Out policy ensuring that no meetings happen between 12.30 - 2pm, and parenting moments, like bath time, are protected.

·   The establishment of a childcare fund with £350k investment dedicated to helping relieve childcare pressures particularly during school holidays.

But this is just the start. Turning back the tide on what has gone previously, will take more than a few months of work; it’s a long-term project that will evolve and flex as people’s needs change and the conversation matures. But the good news is, it’s a no brainer that makes as much business sense as it does moral sense. Research by McKinsey shows that company profits and share performance can be close to 50 percent higher when women are well represented at the top.

As we look beyond lockdown, we’re working on ways to celebrate our working parents. By shining a light on them, we’re hoping we can remove some of the taboos around being a working mother and show the next set of parents behind us that you should always walk proudly out of the office to collect your child.

Guest Author

Gemma Phillips, Saatchi & Saatchi

Creative Director

About

Gemma Phillips is a Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi London currently working across BT and Visa EU. She started her career at The Red Brick Road where she created award-winning work for Thinkbox, Heineken and Tesco. She joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 2012 and has worked across brands such as HSBC, Robinsons, EE and Toyota. She is a mum to three-year old twins.