R/GA announces new hire to underline commitment to returnships

Liz Nottingham, EMEA executive HR director at R/GA, discusses 'returnships', flexibility and removing the stigma of career breaks.

Mulligan: Back2Businesship alumnus who is now R/GA's business development director
Mulligan: Back2Businesship alumnus who is now R/GA's business development director

Delivering transformation at speed requires agencies to recognise that, in order to attract and retain a diverse talent pool, agencies must embrace the fact that employees need to work differently – or not work at all – at different stages in their lives. This shift beyond the linear progression of the traditional career ladder demands a shift in thinking.

In an era in which agencies are constantly talking about disruption and agility, the structure of creative work has remained remarkably static. At R/GA, the agency is championing a new approach powered by the fact that employees are becoming far more mobile than they once were.

Liz Nottingham, E/GA's EMEA executive HR director, explained: "I’m sure, like many employers, we’re seeing a shift in the expectations and requirements of the new population of talent entering the workplace. As a result, we need to be much more flexible around the fact that perhaps our people are not going to stay here, as previous generations may have done, for the next eight, 10 or 15 years."

Working fast and slow

The shift in how a creative career looks like also demands a change in approach to employees who have taken a career break. "As a business, R/GA is fully committed to overturn the stigma surrounding taking a career break," Nottingham added.

This focus has led Nottingham to co-found the Back2Businesship programme in 2014 that aims to help parents who have taken extended time out for childcare to re-enter the industry. This week, Andrea Mulligan, who took part in the initiative, was appointed business development director at R/GA.

Yet, according to Nottingham, the stigma of career breaks continues to be a challenge in the industry at large. She said: "Perhaps the biggest challenge is that while having trained all these women so that they are ready for a return to the workplace, finding employers who are willing to take them still remains a huge missed opportunity for the industry. Which is why I’m so happy to see the commitment made from R/GA in making Andrea’s hire."

The messy middle

While 'returnships' are necessary, many have questioned why so many women are leaving the industry when they have children – notably because it’s so inflexible. However, it is clear that Nottingham doesn’t see returnships as a bandage for the industry’s well-publicised diversity problem. Driving new ways of working and supporting returnships are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

Pointing to its recent staff engagement survey, Nottingham said that R/GA has very high engagement scores around well-being and flexibility in the workplace, with employees feeling that they can achieve the work/life balance that they need to be successful in their careers. "It’s also about leadership from the top, flexible working approaches – and our technological connectivity supports this approach," she added.

Freelancing as a 'plan A'

With the rise of freelancing as the main career path among millennials and Generation Z, this focus on changing approaches to work is more than just window dressing.

Nottingham pointed out: "HR needs to challenge its traditional approaches and self-disrupt. Throw out the normal rule books agencies typically play by and learn much more about client businesses to find new solutions and practices to solve some of the problems that we all keep talking about. I am a strong believer of partnering much closer with recruitment to truly influence the business more than ever."