The word "part-timer" has traditionally been used in a negative way to call out someone for not being fully committed to their job. Speaking as a dedicated part-time worker (and one of the UK’s top 50 power part-timers), I’d argue it is time to move on from that perception and appreciate that the support of part-time and flexible working in this industry is not only important, but the way forward.
The ad industry is desperately trying to become more diverse and a big part of getting there is exploring non-traditional working paradigms. Flexible working will not only help close the female leadership gap, it will allow agencies to retain more millennial talent – a generation not shy about demanding more job flexibility – and ready agencies for the future, where portfolio careers will be the norm.
"For this generation, working part time can be harder than working full time because the systems in place aren’t designed for it"
For me, as for many women, becoming a mother equates to stepping into the most important role in your life. It deserves and demands time and energy, just like your career. If you feel you are having to choose between professional success and a proper commitment to your family, for many mothers there really is no choice. Establishing a different working paradigm when I returned to work after having my first child was a personal affirmation of my commitment to my role as a mother, as well as a way for me to achieve better work life balance.
Obviously, part-time working is not just the preserve of mothers. There are increasingly more fathers seeking out better work life balance. Nor does flexible working exist solely to serve childcare needs. People opt for part-time work to allow them to fulfill other career pursuits, creative outlets, and even run their own businesses. These commitments and interests outside of work enrich what they bring to their careers and often it makes for more engaged and fulfilled employees.
Flexible working will be normalised if the argument is not always skewed towards women and motherhood. If flexible working is seen as something many different types of people need for many different reasons, then setting up a system to support it will get priority.
I’ve been lucky to work at big agencies, managing complex, global pieces of business part time, but I’ve been the exception to the rule. I’ve been successful because I’ve kept a sharp focus on the impact I make in the hours I work. When there is real clarity on the outcome you’re working to, it stops you falling into the trap of using time to affirm your contribution to an agency. Agencies can help pave the way for more flexible working patterns by having a strong understanding of job design and getting better at measuring employee performance by impact vs hours. If you look at other industries like sales, there is much more flexibility in terms of when and where people put the time in because their targets are so clear.
For this generation, working part time can be harder than working full time because the systems in place aren’t designed for it. Everything in an agency is geared for employees who work five days a week. Part-timers have to conform to the system and help their companies create new solutions to make it work, such as designing ways to invoice childcare costs if a part-time working mother needs to work on her day off.
Additionally, flexible workers are often overlooked when it comes to promotions and pay increases. There needs to be recognition of excellence in part-time roles. Timewise’s Power Part Time list is a great example of a system that recognises employees committed to reaching the top of their careers in a non-traditional way. Mentorship for flexible workers is also vital – advice from seasoned part-time professionals on ways to take your career and company forward can have a major impact.
Only by introducing these and other initiatives as part of a new industry framework designed to serve the needs of this growing breed of worker will we attract and retain the best and brightest of the next generation.
Christina Lemieux is the planning director at Leo Burnett