"I want to be a mum like you"

Fun in the Whitsundays.

I did a presentation recently to our agencies in Sydney. A brilliant bunch of creative and media agencies in the most incredible building, in an incredible city, who produce incredible award-winning work like Palau Pledge (it scooped a Cannes Lion Grand Prix in 2018). I am a bit in awe of them. At the end of my presentation about new business and marketing, one of their business directors came up to me and asked me about my career.

I told her how I started in a traditional advertising agency, how I moved client side, then into consultancy and eventually into New Business and Marketing. Oh and that I have three amazing children, one of whom is currently in Australia doing a year of her law degree and I had spent the previous week with her in the Whitsundays – snorkeling, attempting headstands on the beach and generally having an amazing adventure just the two of us.

It was then that she paid me the biggest compliment I can remember. She said: “I want to be a mum like you - kick ass at work but able to be with my kids properly too.”

The thing is, I have always loved my job, been super ambitious and worked my arse off. But I have been equally as determined to enjoy my family. It’s not easy, and I can picture parents everywhere asking themselves how on earth they’re meant to do it? This work/life balance thing is much talked about but the way we actually achieve it is much overlooked.

Until very recently, I worked part-time. Yes, I am the global CMO of the fifth largest communications network in the world with 67 Villages in 100 countries and that requires a huge amount of work and energy. But, in all my roles, I’ve tried to balance the needs of my career with the needs of my family. Easy to say, not necessarily easy to do, I know. You need the place where you work to have built a culture that encourages it, a boss that facilitates it and a team that is empowered to do the same.

Maybe I am lucky in that I have the most amazing boss (who literally wrote the book on leadership) who makes me feel able to excel. He has created a culture that allows work to happen away from the centre, that empowers teams wherever they are in the world to work the best way for them, and that in turn, makes everyone feel confident in their capabilities and secure in their role.

I am better because I say 'no' often. I resist caving into that pressure to do just one more email or meeting before I leave, to somehow prove my commitment and work ethic so as to avoid missing out on that next big project or opportunity.

I simply will not accept the idea that there is ‘not enough time’ to go on adventures with my children - skiing with my 18 year old son, or putting my backpack on and joining my daughters traveling during their gap years (Vietnam and Cambodia if you are interested). I can’t miss those moments because they won’t come again.

What a shame that it suits so many teams or businesses like ours to encourage ‘being there’ no matter the costs. The only way to stamp out presenteeism like that is to actively discourage it, not just ignore it.

So, bosses: make it abundantly clear to your teams that having a life outside work and all that that entails – leaving on time, the option to work flexibly etc. – is truly not a barrier to success indeed it’s actively encouraged. We should be giving our teams the space to balance their lives as they choose - headstands and all!

Tracey Barber is global CMO at Havas Creative

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