EDITORIAL: Industry must now make work choice

In this week's Campaign Essay, Christine Walker acknowledges she makes an unlikely chairperson of a committee investigating how the industry can stop its best talent from straying by offering more opportunities to better balance life and work.

The Walker Media founder has made the kind of sacrifices few other woman would have been prepared to tolerate in her rise to the top of an all-consuming and male-dominated business. And she seems to have been fortunate to have an understanding husband and tolerant children.Not many other women in advertising have been as fortunate. The industry has long forced them to make brutal choices between either letting down their employer or neglecting their families - and to feel guilty when, inevitably, they're unable to satisfy both.

A lot of this is down to an over-supplied, intensely competitive and demanding industry which fears to admit to clients that all its staff aren't at their perpetual beck and call. Indeed, it's unlikely any agencies contesting a significant piece of drinks business protested very loudly recently when the client asked for presentations on Bank Holiday Monday!

Yet, as Walker points out, women have merely been the pioneers in what is now a social issue touching advertising's entire workforce - both female and male. And it's something the industry must either address or watch its talent pool dry up. It's not just a question of money, but more to do with the life choices and the opportunities to taste new experiences now available to young people. They're helped by a new attitude of mind which allows them to flit to a new job as soon as the old one fails to stimulate. At the same time, new fathers want to be with their children as they grow up, not wait until they've retired and the kids have flown the nest.

The industry has never offered jobs for life. But bright young things entering the business usually expected to spend their working lives in it. That's no longer the case as the most talented may not just switch jobs but careers also. The industry will always have workaholics such as Walker, but it will also have to incentivise the growing number of staffers who have a different view about what quality of life means. To borrow and adapt an old ad slogan: It must never forget they have a choice.

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