Want to win the talent wars? Get ready for the baby boom

Most agencies offer less than 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, few offer paid paternity leave and none offer paid child care, writes the chief operating officer at The 3% Movement.

Look around you. Have you noticed? Babies and pregnant women seem to be everywhere. And for good reason, Millennials have overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest generation. Within the next decade, 64 million of them will become parents. We’re on the cusp of a nationwide baby boom. But in advertising, the stork’s already arrived.

Our industry skews younger than just about any other. According to the US Department of Labor, the average age for advertising is 38. For the majority of other industries, it’s around 42, which means, like most things, we’re ahead of the curve. But the sad truth is we are not prepared and we’ve already seen what that does to the pipeline of women into leadership.

When we at The 3% Movement conducted our "What Women Want" survey last year, we were surprised to learn that only 39 percent of the over 300 respondents were mothers. A statistical anomaly? Apparently not. Our recent "Elephant on Mad. Ave." survey (with double the number of respondents) had the exact same results: Only 39 percent were mothers. By comparison, nearly 80 percent of college-educated women in this country are mothers. What’s this mean? Women leave our industry in droves once they become mothers. We want more women in leadership, but they simply aren’t there. Yep, Houston, we have a problem.

Of those few women left in advertising who are mothers, nearly 50 percent reported that it negatively affected their career. Additionally, 45 percent reported they weren’t considered for certain assignments and 33 percent said they were excluded from specific meetings and events because they were mothers. Sadly, 28 percent took shorter maternity leaves than they were entitled because they thought it would hurt them professionally. 

We are in the midst of a benchmarking study around family-friendly policies across our industry and were dismayed to learn that most agencies offer less than twelve weeks of paid maternity leave, few offer paid paternity leave, and none offer paid child care. Flexible work solutions exist, but only on a case-by-case basis. Anecdotally, we are hearing from young women that they are fleeing the industry before they have children to the more family friendly environment of the brand side or starting their own agencies as Cindy Gallop recommended they do at our recent conference. Young men? A recent study by EY indicated that over 70 percent of new fathers changed jobs to find better work/life balance. This isn’t just a women’s issue.

When it comes to innovating work/life integration solutions agency heads cry, "The client! The client!" Our answer? "The talent! The talent!" This brain drain means our industry is losing out on the diversity that leads to creativity that results in true long-term profitability. Smart agencies are looking ahead of the curve and planning accordingly.

In my book, "Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career," I profile Traci Armstrong, senior vice president of global talent acquisition at GTB, who launched a "returnship" program for mid-career professionals who paused to care for family. The 10-week program offers training and support to women who are ready to recommit to their careers. Since inception, 100 percent of the women have been hired by GTB and, according to Armstrong, they are quickly filling the pipeline to leadership.

Other agencies are rethinking their parental leave policies to make them more competitive in our industry and beyond. 72andSunny has expanded its leave to six months for both women and men. It is one of 20 agencies that have taken the Pledge Parental Leave, an initiative lead by UsTwo, which asks agencies to commit to three months of paid leave, three months of uninterrupted medical coverage, six months job security and an openly available policy for others to emulate.

These are just a few of the examples from forward-thinking agencies that understand we need to support the next generation of mothers and fathers to thrive at work and at home. There are solutions out there to help ensure you aren’t on the losing end of the talent wars.

—Lisen Stromberg is author of  "Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood without Killing Your Career" and chief operating officer at The 3% Movement.

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