“If progress towards gender equality at work continues at its historical rate, an 18-year old woman starting work today will not see pay equality in her working lifetime.” It’s a very depressing statement, and one recently made in the latest PWC Women in Work Index 2023. Scrolling through Linkedin on International Women’s Day, there is a visible shift in tone, it seems like many of the amazing women within the industry are becoming disengaged. Not surprising when it feels like a battle we can never win. 

The “motherhood penalty” seems to be a huge driver of this frustration, and recent research from the University of Kent indicated that the gender pay disparity between parents may be even greater than it was in the 1970s. Just last year The Women in Programmatic Network and Propeller Group produced a report exploring some of the challenges that both mothers and fathers are having when trying to balance work and their home lives, and it’s clear that there will never be a solution until we can look at how both parents are equally able to support their children, removing some of the pressure that currently sits on working mothers. 

This is something we have been hugely passionate about, trying to push the conversation around supporting working dads and making it “normal” to want to spend time with your children. Most dads want this, but a shocking number felt they couldn’t do this either because they were the main earner in the house or because there was a stigma in their workplace that made it clear they would be held back.

And the impact of this? Mothers are having to stay at home for longer, putting their careers on hold, because the support simply isn’t there. 42% of working women we surveyed felt that having children had negatively impacted their career trajectory, compared with 25% of men. 

Maternity and paternity leave reform and changes in attitude

Maternity leave in the UK is shocking. The Women in Programmatic Network are currently producing a report on the policies within the industry and there is a huge disparity, that doesn’t even correlate with the size or turnover of the business. We need to do better! In addition to this dads should be encouraged to take leave, reassured that it will not affect their careers. This will require a huge cultural shift but it can and will result in more loyal employees who feel valued and feel that they are getting the right work-life balance. Our report will provide some recommendations around what companies can do to better support working parents on their journey, and also provide insight into realistic maternity/ paternity leave changes that can be made. 

Childcare reform

Families in need of full-time childcare spent nearly £15,000 on nursery fees in 2022 for children under two. One in four women say the cost of childcare is more than 75% of their take-home pay, and one in ten are breaking even or getting in debt just to work. Although there is a current conversation around reform at government level, this needs to change as soon as possible. Whether this is providing subsidised childcare at work, allowing more flexible working so parents don’t have to rely on wrap-around care, or offering to cover childcare costs for company events, they will all make a difference. Even when you do pay this amount, it very quickly becomes a balancing act when they have a slight cough or fever, and many working parents feel like they are paying them NOT to go to the nursery. This is when the juggling gets complicated. 

Back to work

When working parents return to work, they may have had up to a year out of the industry. Things change, and it can be really daunting to walk into an office where you question whether you can remember how to do your job. For me, I was concerned I could even remember how to have a full conversation with an adult, but the reassurance I got from the team at Propeller Group made the process so much easier. I know this isn’t the case for many. This process of re-onboarding returning parents is vital to setting them up for success, will make them feel valued and will ultimately benefit the business in the long term. 

There are some amazing programmes that help businesses struggling to navigate this, and Jessica Rosevear, co-Founder at &Beyond, recently discussed their coaching programmes on The Women in Programmatic Network’s International Women’s Day panel. 

On Reflection

There is so much we can do as an industry, and although things are going in the right direction in the advertising industry, there is still so much more we can do. Not all of these things have to cost a business a huge amount of money, especially at a point when there are additional financial pressures. But imagine not having to constantly recruit and retrain, and creating an environment where your team are more likely to stay for a long period of time. 

We’ve lived it at Propeller with six women going on maternity leave over the last few years, for a team under 50 people, this is a huge deal. Sometimes you have to juggle, with sick kids asleep in the background (as I am doing now), or a little hand popping into the corner of a screen because childcare just hasn’t panned out today. And those are things that team members should never be punished for, we are all just trying our best.