Adland's woeful treatment of mothers hurts everyone
A view from Gemma Charles

Adland's woeful treatment of mothers hurts everyone

Campaign decided to find out what's really going on when we're told a mother has decided not to return to work after maternity leave.

What’s really going on when we’re told a mother has decided not to return to work after maternity leave? After noticing a number of high-profile executives failing to return to their posts, Campaign decided to find out. 

The result is Nicola Kemp’s excellent feature on how women can make a creative comeback following maternity leave, which is sad and inspiring in equal measure. Sure, there are mothers who find their priorities have changed and prefer to stay at home; but for others, the crippling cost of childcare and lack of flexibility from employers take this choice out of their hands.

Research earlier this year found that 77% of mothers had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave and/or on return to work.

One depressing example in the feature that brings to life these stats came from a woman who felt that the sidelining of mothers at her agency had made her consider quitting her job before she had even tried to start a family.

I personally know two women at top media agencies whose roles disappeared while they were on maternity leave. Non-disclosure agreements prevent me from giving away more but let’s just say there were financially satisfying conclusions for the women, if not the companies.

Nicola, who recently staged her own creative comeback, going on maternity leave as Marketing’s head of features and returning as Campaign’s trends editor, has found stories behind the story while researching the article.

There are the women who were put forward by their agencies but declined to be interviewed, annoyed that their employers’ rhetoric on this issue was a far cry from the reality. 

Interwoven into that is the disconnect between women at the top who report positive experiences while the mid-rankers tough it out, unnoticed by senior female colleagues. This isn’t just about horrible male bosses.

But there were sisterly stories too. Women repeatedly said they were happy to pass on their contact details to mothers Campaign came across who were in need of support.

In recognition of the problem, Creative Equals has launched a "returnship" scheme to help mothers who have taken time out to get back to work. 

But creative comebacks can also mean a whole new direction. Look at Sarah Hesz, the former Mcgarrybowen deputy managing director who co-created the Mush app.

Returnships are a laudable idea but, unless there is real cultural change, women will increasingly decide that going back to work simply isn’t worth it.