Closing the care gap: Why advertising needs to embrace working carers

15% of the UK workforce are working carers: Lucy Downing calls for greater flexibility and support

Lucy Downing

Client Services Director Nest Commerce


The advertising industry thrives on creativity, but a hidden talent drain threatens its future diversity – the growing number of people, disproportionately women, unable to juggle additional caring responsibilities with work. 

Overall 15% of the UK workforce are working carers. These are people who care for a family member or a friend with health needs requiring additional support to live their day-to-day lives. 

Carers save the UK economy £132 billion a year, but who cares about the carers? Inflexible hours and a demanding culture make it near impossible for them to thrive in our industry. An ageing population and the crisis in social care funding suggests many more will be impacted in the coming years.

As a senior woman in the advertising industry, I've personally experienced the challenges of being a primary carer for my mother-in-law after she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019, while I was on maternity leave after having my second child.

With the backdrop of the pandemic my husband and I sold our house and moved our family of four in with my mother-in-law to support her needs. This initially consisted of making meals and helping her in and out of bed at the start and end of the day. But as her needs escalated so too did the requirement for physical and emotional support, eventually leading to a battle for funding to have people come into our house daily to help us. 

Every day in the UK 600 people resign because they feel like they are unable to do their work and support the needs of the person they care for.

Lucy Downing, Client Services Director, Nest Commerce

Juggling all these responsibilities on top of work commitments can of course be demanding. I once was in the unfortunate position of having to cancel a meeting last minute to call an ambulance to get her admitted to hospital. It's little wonder that every day in the UK 600 people resign because they feel like they are unable to do their work and support the needs of the person they care for. 

There is no doubt this is happening in the advertising and marketing industry. The time has come to recognise that with the right support, carers can support the needs of their loved one whilst continuing to bring value to the work they love. We need to create environments in which they can thrive.

While I was fortunate to have supportive employers and the seniority to manage my own situation, many others face significant hurdles. Particularly those earlier in their careers or working in less accommodating environments. 

As I started to talk openly about my situation I learned there were many people in my network who had also experienced this. All too often I heard horror stories of how they had felt unsupported and eventually either found new jobs or left the industry entirely. 

Unfortunately, women disproportionately shoulder the burden of unpaid care, as evidenced by ONS data, it raises the question: could the persistent gender pay gap in advertising and marketing be partly attributed to this hidden factor? 

Many, like me, are part of the "sandwich generation” facing the challenge of supporting both ageing parents and young children. They are facing the brunt of inadequate government support for care services.

If we lose them we are losing so much as an industry. Working carers juggle demanding schedules and emotional burdens while also contributing their talent and expertise. These individuals are usually empathetic, brilliant problem solvers, and incredibly hard-working – all qualities essential for both caregiving and success in the advertising industry. 

However, the industry's hallmark long hours and demanding culture - despite some recent improvements in flexibility - make it incredibly difficult for working carers to truly thrive. This needs to change.

Instead of paying lip service, advertising firms need to take concrete steps to support this valuable and hardworking segment of their workforce. Otherwise, they risk losing them altogether. Some of the areas that employers should focus on include:

Developing and communicating a clear carers’ policy

This is not just a box-ticking exercise; it's a crucial step towards building a supportive and inclusive environment. One of my proudest achievements was creating one with a former employer, using my experiences to inform this. A well-defined carer policy should outline:

  • Flexible working options: This could involve offering remote work opportunities, compressed workweeks, and flexible start and finish times. These options allow carers to manage their schedules around their caring responsibilities, reducing stress and improving work-life balance.
  • Leave policies: Carers need to take leave at short notice from time to time due to unexpected situations. A supportive leave policy should offer both paid and unpaid leave options, ensuring that employees feel comfortable taking the time they need without financial hardship.
  • Access to resources: Providing information and resources on local support services, childcare options, and financial assistance can be invaluable for working carers. This demonstrates the company's commitment to their well-being and empowers them to manage their responsibilities effectively.

Empowering managers

More than ever, good management is crucial. In these challenging times, many employees juggle work with additional responsibilities. Managers must be equipped to understand their team's needs and create a culture of empathy and inclusivity. This means regular check-ins, discussing flexible work arrangements, and supporting effective workload management. 

By becoming champions of flexibility, managers can empower working carers and realise their full potential, leading to high-performing and happy teams.

Honest dialogue with clients

Our industry naturally revolves around client needs, but sometimes we lose sight of the human element. Agencies often shout about their culture, teamwork, and flexibility, to help win clients and attract staff. I'm fortunate to work at Nest Commerce, where these values are truly lived and supported. We have open and honest client relationships and an organised setup with a team that can step in if emergencies arise.

But more broadly speaking I'm personally tired of the industry's empty platitudes. Values like "we're human, we're honest" ring hollow when actions don't align with words. It's time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. By embracing genuine support for working carers, we can build understanding, ensure adequate support, and prevent unnecessary stress and burnout. This not only benefits employees but also strengthens client relationships through trust and transparency.

By being transparent and proactive, agencies can build stronger relationships with clients and demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

These are just some of the measures that can help retain the increasing number of working carers, particularly women, who provide so much extra unpaid work and have so much to offer. We all need to care about keeping them in the industry.

Guest Author

Lucy Downing

Client Services Director Nest Commerce


Lucy Downing has 20 years experience in marketing and digital. She is now Client Services Director at fast growing full funnel performance agency Nest Commerce. Nest Commerce powers marketing for online retailers such as ME+EM, Reiss, Hims, and Crew Clothing. She has been the client, but for the majority of her career she’s worked in Client Services working for brands including Tesco, The Body Shop, Phones4u, Mothercare, Early Learning Centre. She has juggled a successful career with being a full time carer for her mother-in-law for 2 years. She is a passionate advocate for more flexibility in the industry and supporting working mothers and those with additional responsibilities. In a previous role at digital marketing agency Somo she developed their first Carers’ policy.