According to a recent study from the Advertising Council of Australia, women only make up 27% of agency management roles. So where are the senior women?
Mavens suspects a lack of flexibility for working parents is behind the low numbers of women in senior roles, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We asked Summer all the curly questions about getting back to work, and what agencies can do to help.
Tell us about your business, Summer Breeze Consultancy.
I remember – years ago – when all my children were little, sitting on the couch, alone, crying many times, wishing someone would just come through the door and help in every possible way. Help me settle my babies, sleep, breastfeed, hang the washing out. Wave a wand around the house and help me feel myself again.
Now I give that care to parents who need wholehearted, holistic help. I come through your front door (gumboots and all!) and wade through your mess with you. As a Paediatric and Child & Family Health Nurse and a messy mother of six, I can help with all the practicalities of babies and families. Anything that needs caring for is attended to. I don’t come with a fixed care plan; I listen to a mother’s story and address everything according to her capacity.
Does going back to work have a negative impact on an infant?
No way, José! Working families are more the norm than not. Children are adaptable and flexible. I believe it is the tone of the time you have together that impacts the child. If your time together in the car or at home is peaceful and loving, they will be peaceful and secure within themselves.
Smiling, being attentive, being relaxed and loving are all children need.
Always remind yourself to be the person version of yourself to your children and you will like and be proud of the parent that you are.
What tips do you have for negotiating return-to-work terms?
1. Be upfront and truthful about your family situation. Having a family does not prevent you doing your best at work, but not being honest about your home life means you may not receive the support available to you. When discussing your family priorities, be clear and concise about what you can offer and where you can be flexible.
2. Make a plan with your manager. Give your manager the opportunity to work with you on a return-to-work plan. Discuss the gritty bits of what would happen if you had to stay home with a sick child or leave work quickly.
3. Be true to yourself and your family, and run your own race. It will not be identical to anyone else’s. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your abilities and capabilities with other working parents. We all have our moment to shine, and we all have moments where getting by is all you can do. Everything happens for a season, and if the season of returning to work is tough going, know that things will settle. It will get easier and all will be okay. We all find our own way.
It can be hard to draw a line where work finishes and home life begins. What advice do you have for setting boundaries?
Grab a pen and write WIN on your hand or arm. Now, every time you feel overwhelmed, unsure or stressed with the workload at home, sit yourself down and plant your feet on the ground. Take a deep breath and ask yourself ‘What’s Important Now?’
The answer will come to you and tell you what to do. It might be to put the kettle on, stay sitting a little longer, attend to the kids and then address the washing later. It might be to phone a friend. But it will come to you and when you honour that answer, you are returning to your highest priorities. That will help bring peace of mind; that you are being the best mother or partner you can be. Everything else will fall away and sort itself out. For me, the answer always involves being peaceful and relaxed, because when I am relaxed I give more of myself. I can see how it sets the tone for everyone around me.
If the answer doesn’t come straight away, it means there is far too much mess going on. Give it another deep breath and the answer will find its way through.
Another tip is to become disciplined at not checking your phone when the kids are around. Be present and focused, and you will find tasks don’t take as long because you are not distracted and multi-tasking.
Many women feel they have to work harder than men to get ahead at work, placing extra pressure on ourselves. When we have to juggle that pressure with parenthood, it can become overwhelming. What advice do you give your clients when it comes to managing these pressures?
To manage the pressures, try and manage the tasks. Get creative with them, change the rules, make them your own. The pressures won’t go away, but you can certainly deal with them in whichever way works best for you.
For example, there is so much pressure at the end of the day to see to everyone’s needs. To have a home-cooked meal on the table – children bathed and sitting up at the table, ready for family conversation.
This is hard with a baby that needs feeding, a toddler that won’t stay still or open their mouth, and the dog barking at the door. That’s when WIN comes in again. If your most important goal is to have happy, clean, fed children – feed them in the bath! I did this many times. My two youngest would be spoon fed in the bath while they played. They had my absolute attention and they were so distracted, they opened their mouths like seagulls! The mess was contained and they had full tummies before going to bed.
Workplaces are becoming more flexible post-pandemic, but there’s still a long way to go. What should businesses be offering their employees to assist with this flexibility?
We need ‘blended workplaces’ – spaces where families are blended into the workplace so they become a part of the work family. We should be able to take our kids to work with us and have them to feel comfortable there. Childcare centres and family rooms need to be factored into all workplaces. But they also need to be fitted out, just as you would fit out a new, flexible workspace. This includes desks, book shelves, lockers, floor mats and fridges.
As a nurse, I would love it if there was a family room on every ward where the kids come after school and do their homework, where they could get to know my colleagues and see what it is that I do. I believe this would make us feel happier and more relaxed overall.
And childcare centres need to be in reach, on site, accessible. A breastfeeding mother should be able to feed her baby at work, a father should be able to settle his baby if the carer is having trouble. The parents shouldn’t have to wait 8 or 9 hours to see their babies. They should be able to work and see their children, too.
And sleeping rooms! Parents need to nap. It’s dangerous for a sleep-deprived parent to drive, make decisions and handle responsibilities on very little sleep. We need sleeping rooms just as much as we need breastfeeding rooms. The option to nap would make for more energetic, safer (!) and committed working parents.
Imagine if we did all this. If we had blended workspaces with family rooms, onsite childcare, breast feeding and sleeping rooms. Imagine the impact on productivity at work, mental health and general wellbeing.
In the advertising and media industries, there is often a rotating door of clients which makes it easier to justify redundancies. Mavens are aware of multiple cases where women have been unfairly made redundant before or whilst on maternity leave. What steps can employees take if this happens?
Let your voice be heard. Do it as a debt of honour to yourself and all the other women that will come after you. Do it for your mother who never had the same opportunities, for your grandmother who is so proud of all you have achieved, and for your daughter who needs to see you are a warrior that deserves fairness and opportunities. Be bold and brave. Speak to other women working with you about their experiences. But also, talk to the men. Men do not like discrimination either. There are plenty of men who would go in and bat for you. Just use your voice.
Gather information and talk to your supervisors and managers. Talk to unions, talk to legislators, change-makers and business owners. It is up to us to see that unconscious bias is brought to the surface. To present alternatives, negotiate and come up with fair solutions.
Discrimination against working parents is another common problem, with managers setting deadlines that can only be met with overtime (often unpaid). What action would you recommend in situations like this?
Be upfront and honest with expectations placed on you. If you do that at the beginning, then the expectations can change. But in doing this, state what you can achieve and when. Change the deadline to what you think is reasonable, or share the work around. If we can have open and honest conversations in the beginning about deadlines, the overtime should not occur. But we have to be brave enough to communicate what we can do and when.
Parenting is a big responsibility but it can be hard to ask for help. What support options are available for parents?
I could point you in the direction of the multitude of amazing services you can find on government websites and private businesses such as my own, but I would rather tell you about the support you can create for yourself.
Look at the areas of your life that most overwhelm you and start there. Is it the cooking, cleaning or caring of the children? Now consider outsourcing.
For example, ask a grandparent if they can cook you one meal a week. They will probably be happy to know what it is they can do to help! Or look at what groups are in your local community; organisations like the Country Women’s Association and Red Cross are there to help. If you let your school know what support you need, you will usually find they can help out, too. They can bring your child to your car, so you don’t have to bring your newborn out. They also have support groups that can make meals, and other parents who can help out.
There is nothing like the shared experience, too. Ask friends how they have managed, what tips and tricks can they pass on. I remember sharing my feeding-in-the-bath story with a group of mums once, and another mum confessed to ‘drive-thru’ dinners. My first thought was McDonalds, but she meant a mealtime game. She would set up a car track around the house, pop her two toddlers into their push-along cars and ‘drive’ them through the kitchen for a spoonful of dinner with every lap. It took half as much time as eating at the table, with less tears.
Summer Gwynne assists parents in transitioning back to work via phone consultations and home visits in the Brisbane area. To learn more, visit summerbreezeconsultancy.com