Are we there yet? Trish Schmitt on why she quit her full-time creative role

The freelance creative director left her job at TBWA/Chiat/Day to spend more time with her kids after work-life balance issues took their toll.

Every week, we ask industry insiders across all job levels and titles to share personal stories about equality, diversity and inclusion in adland. We know we're not there yet, but we want to document the highs and lows as the industry slowly transforms for the better.

Trish Schmitt
Freelance creative director and former global creative director
TBWA/Chiat/Day

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe there’s still a problem.

I’m going to focus on mothers for this discussion. Because I believe the lack of support we give to mothers in advertising is why we are losing women and have so few in leadership.

Plus this recent quote from Cindy Gallop is spot on: "Mothers are more creative than anyone at finding strategic, ingenious, innovative, disruptive, highly creative ways to persuade humans to do things they had no intention of doing. Our industry is looking for creativity in all the wrong places. Mothers are the best creatives there are."

Every mother I speak with who works in advertising, especially those in the creative departments, struggle with the same question -- how long can I keep up this pace? I recently left my full-time job. I was burnt out, stressed out and just was not doing my best work anymore. I needed to take a break, re-evaluate my career and take a little time to focus on my kids who I felt like I had ignored for the previous two years.

Why does working full-time in advertising have to be all or nothing? Why do we still give a badge of honor to those who work late nights and weekends? We praise them for their dedication.

Meanwhile, if a parent leaves at 6pm to go home to see their kids, they are looked down on and viewed as not as committed to their job. Who will be rewarded with the juicy-award-potential brief? The mother who just came back from maternity leave or the person who has been working around the clock for the last three months? Most likely you "award" the person who has been working around the clock. They go on to win a Gold Lion and they advance in their career.

At the Time's Up Advertising Conference in NY this was the number one question the audience wanted the panel to answer: How will we fix workaholism? Who has ever won a Cannes Lion without working nights and weekends? If we continue to celebrate workaholics, we will never have diversity in advertising.

Do the best ideas always happen at 2 am in the office? Ideas happen everywhere and in my experience, they rarely came to me in the middle of the night in the office. They came to me giving my daughter a bath, going on a hike with my son or talking with my husband over a glass of wine. Perhaps if we are able to take better care of ourselves without feeling the pull of the office our minds would be more creative.

So many of the mothers that I know in advertising, myself included, stepped to the side after we had kids, we go freelance, take a less sexy job or take some time off. This then sets us back in our career, which is what led us to the 3% movement.

When our kids are a bit older we have the opportunity to dig back in to our careers, but by then we are in our 40’s or 50’s and seen as "washed up." The ageism issue sneaks up on us and you find yourself trying to prove yourself all over again.


How about something that proves we’re making progress?

Over the last couple of years we have been doing a lot of talking on how to make agencies more diverse and just now we are seeing some positive actions. Grey announced a four-day work week and have flexible schedules. Leo Burnett just unveiled a beautiful new mothers room. Maternity and paternity policies seem to be getting more generous in some agencies. A mom is going to Cannes with her baby. Clients are demanding more diverse thinking on their brands.

Groups like DMA, Where Are All The Boss Ladies, Ladies Get Paid, 3%, TUA and others are giving women a voice and the power to demand what they deserve.


What else needs to be done to get there?

We are a client service industry, and even though our clients are demanding more diversity they are also demanding more work in less time for less money. Too often client demands and revenue come before the well-being of employees. If leaders of agencies are committed to diversity they also need to commit to changing their work ethic and make their cultures more inclusive and supportive.

It takes money, time and probably some setting of boundaries, for instance, no meetings after 6pm, put support programs and policies in place to support working mothers. How about being able to take a year off after you have your baby and come back to your job? Women (and men) need to be lifted up and supported during the years they are having children and raising the next generation. Because if you do support them they will forever be grateful and give you back so much more.

I also think the mindset among us all needs to change, we have to see that diversity, different opinions and lifestyles make our work better and make for better working environments. I think it might be fair to say that even the best of us have unconscious biases. Let’s try to come to the table with open minds because diverse thinking will only make us stronger.

In the long run, the agencies that modernize their way of working will win with talent and with clients.

Should be simple, right?