Why this Advertising Mother of the Year hopes we won’t need to celebrate working mothers in advertising much longer

Jean Batthany is executive creative director at DDB Chicago. Follow Jean on Twitter.

I was honored to be acknowledged as an Advertising Mother of the Year along with 19 other kick-ass women in advertising by Advertising Women of New York (AWNY) and Working Mother Magazine. Why the hell do we need to celebrate working mothers in advertising? Because it’s so damn hard to do both simultaneously.

There’s a reason why just a few years ago only three per cent of creative directors were women. Thanks to initiatives like The 3% Conference and advocates for gender equality like Kat Gordon and Cindy Gallop – who aren’t afraid to ‘speak out’ and ‘say what they think’ – the number has risen to a whopping 11 per cent. Sorry guys, but that is just not good enough or fast enough.

In over 20 years in the business, the majority of creative leaders I’ve worked with and for were men and had stay-at-home wives. Why? Because the hours are long, demanding and erratic, the travel is frequent and often last-minute, and there’s almost no way to handle kids, a home and this crazy gig without one of you holding down the fort (don’t forget the doctor's appointments, homework, school events usually scheduled during the work day, sports, lessons and of course those three-meals-a-day they require). Sure, you can hire help, but when the kids start calling the nanny mama you just want to call it quits and run to the nearest mommy and me sing-along. Don’t even get me started on mom guilt.

Women are entering advertising creative departments at the same rate as men. So where do they go? What can we do as an industry to not only keep them at our agencies, but also promote them? Not just to keep moms, but all women. It goes without saying we need a more humanistic approach to our industry. My favorite quote at the Advertising Working Mothers of the Year luncheon was by Carolyn Everson, vice-president of global marketing solutions at Facebook: “Forget work life balance. It’s just life.”

Advertising agencies can set new standards. We can and must draw parameters around work and life. Give women time to come back to work whole after having children. Provide better maternity as well as paternity leave, and then flex time coming back. Make sure men take their leave, because mothers and fathers need to share the responsibility of raising children and it needs to be politically correct within agency culture to do so.

I love how Sheryl Sandberg upgraded her #LeanIn message to #LeanInTogether. Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign with the UN is another brilliant example of enlisting men as advocates for gender equality. I am so fortunate to have #manbassadors in my life, both at home and at work, and couldn’t be more proud to sit on DDB’s 'Better By Half' council led by Janet Guillet, executive creative director of DDB NY. Together men and women across our network are taking on the gender balance issue head on and addressing how we can make changes in our workplace that will make a real difference.

Clients can do their share as well. So many of the working mothers that were honored this year left agencies to go client side. From the sound of it, it’s a slightly more kind and gentle world. Sure, when you can leave at 5pm knowing your agency will do whatever it takes overnight or through the weekend to get the work done. Clients say jump, and agencies say 'how high?'. Why? Because there’s always another agency or six ready to pitch the business. And let’s not kid ourselves, new business is just not easy to come by. Some agencies go as far as to create contracts that set realistic turnaround times to protect their creative products as well as their people. Cocky? Sure. But certainly admirable.

Our 'always on' industry manifests itself in late night, early morning and weekend emails. I’m so guilty of this. In the attempt to find work/life balance, or better yet flow, I’m often writing and sending emails late in the night, before the crack of dawn or over the weekend when all is quiet. What this tells my team is I work all the time and I expect them to do so, too. I’m probably not going to stop using that time to collect my thoughts and allow myself the flexibility to get the work done on my terms, but I can start to save my emails to draft and send them during work hours. We can lead by example.

So many women feel they have to work harder than men to prove themselves. It’s exhausting. And when you’re a mom everyone wants you: your kids, your life partner, your creative partner, your clients, your agency. So we tend to put ourselves last. Carol Evans, president and founder of Working Mother Media, reminded us how powerful we are. Powerful because we are leading the way or ‘breaking the ice’ for the women and men who come after us. But you can’t feel powerful if you don’t take care of yourself.

We all need time to recharge, to refill our creative tanks. My brother calls it oxygen. You know how flight attendants instruct if you are flying with children to put on your oxygen mask first before your kids? For him it’s golf, and it’s non-negotiable. Many of the working mothers being honored said the men in their lives, both personal and professional, don’t feel guilty about taking that time for themselves. We need to give ourselves permission to do so.

My hope? That in the near future we won’t need to celebrate working mothers in advertising. We’ll be applauding Advertising Working Humans of the Year. In the meantime, we need to be the change agents for those coming after us. We need to consciously work at changing the industry by calling out gender inequalities. We need men to jump on board. It’s not only the decent thing to do – it’s good for business.

Jean Batthany is executive creative director at DDB Chicago. She tweets @jeanbatthany

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