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The art of balancing parenting and working in the fast-paced agency land
June 21, 2021
As head of product and R&D for performance-io, the first thought that came to mind when being asked to write an article for The Drum, was to write something related to what I do, something related to developing performance products in the digital space… I had a thousand topics that would make a great article. But, then I had a think about where I am right now, job role aside, in the midst of a pandemic (albeit the latter end, hopefully), and having recently returned from 9 months of maternity leave (to have twins). And it came to me that I would actually love to write something related to the balancing act of parenting and working in such a fast-paced agency environment. A balance that I’m actively working on, every. single. day.
I figured that this may be a topic that would resonate with many readers and which is not spoken of enough. Stats show that the number of senior woman in leadership roles in agencies is still low. Mothers in leadership roles are even lower. Why can't working mothers have both? This really does need to change. The reality is that taking time out to have kids sets you back, taking time out in pregnancy, maternity and in many cases a short career break, just means you have to play catch up when you return to work. You are often passed over for the promotions that your colleagues who do not need to take time out are getting.
It takes time physically and mentally to recover after having a child (especially for mothers) and the support available is still lacking. I mean, why can’t you have both, why is this balance still so uneven in 2021? Being in the position that I am now with 3 under 5 (madness, I know), I am unsurprised that so many women end up leaving the agency environment to go client side, stay at home, or a change in career path altogether. And I’m not even talking financially. That’s a whole other topic...
I absolutely love my job; I love this fast-paced environment (that I have been a part of for nearly 15 years). I love working in performance in the healthcare and tech space, I love our company and its people, our clients, and the immense satisfaction of helping people and increasing digital performance for our clients. I thrive on the pressure and am energised by it, but on the flipside, as a mother of 3 kids, it’s a constant balancing act.
Finding that Balance
It’s a fact that this fast-paced, high-pressure environment is not always conducive to optimal work-life balance and most agencies are lagging far behind in providing support for working mothers. The pandemic has most certainly helped here, as it’s proven that it’s very possible to be ultra-productive and still have the flexibility to work from home. We are very fortunate to have an excellent work / life balance here at performance-io, where Love Love is one of our core company values. A huge focus on female empowerment and diversity is also central to how we run an agency. But not all agencies work this way or they say they do, but they don’t really. It’s absolute madness that only NOW, some of the biggest agency groups are starting to properly acknowledge parents’ responsibilities in the workplace and encouraging flexibility. This is a step in the right direction for sure. .
Nailing it down and setting boundaries
Even with flexibility, it’s tough. You have to prioritise, literally everything. You have to start saying no to meetings that are not essential and pushing back as needed. Learning to streamline and be more efficient within your set hours is critical. But it’s possible and I find that I’m even more productive because everything has to be so well planned out, I delegate wisely and set boundaries that I try to stick to. Setting strict deadlines for yourself also helps. Of course, working in an agency environment, stuff will always come up, meaning that you have to work after hours (it’s the nature of the industry), but allowing time in the evening after the kids are all in bed on these ad-hoc occasions means that you can still deal with these unexpected and unplanned eventualities. As long as it doesn’t start to become the norm. It really helps if you have a partner at home, that it’s a 50/50 partnership on housework/childcare if both parents are working. The old school patriarchal society system does not work here.
Staying late doesn’t mean you’re working harder
As a working mother, 5 years in, I still feel that guilt that my colleagues without kids are able to work harder. But that’s silly really. We need to break this stereotype. More often than not, it just means they need to work on their own time management better. It's so important to your family and your mental state to spend time with your kids, especially in those earlier days, and to have that balance and opportunity to switch off. To be home for most bedtimes is so important to me. It affects my well-being and mental health as well as the dynamic in the family. I honestly believe that companies that understand this have more loyal, respectful and hard-working employees in the long run.
In a nutshell, I'm pleased to see that the shift is starting. It's better late than never. Agencies are doing more to ensure that the workplace is flexible to the needs of parents. But it's also up to us working parents to come up with solutions to help shift the mindset, whilst ensuring that no balls are being dropped on either side. This will make it much easier for everyone involved to understand what your working pattern is going to be and where the boundaries are from the start.