There was a certain irony in seeing the headline that ‘more than a third of teenage girls suffer depression and anxiety’ on the same front page as updated data on the gender pay gap (in short – there still is one; https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/aug/23/gender-pay-gap-average-18-per-cent-less-uk-women).
(I wonder what it must be like to read the continual coverage about the pay gap, the casual sexism of the Olympic commentators, the constant trolling and victim blaming as an 18 year old girl? Pretty bloody depressing, I’d say.)
I read the pay gap coverage with an eye roll. Here we are again. At first I couldn’t even be bothered to comment on it. Creating systemic change in this arena is complex, painfully slow and full of people missing the point entirely.
Rather than add to the complexity, I’m going to focus on one thing I think the advertising industry could change to make a difference in this area – flexible working. The biggest challenge, in my view, is that the advertising industry finds it hard to create an upwards career trajectory for those choosing not to work 38+ hours a week. And, typically it is mothers who are requesting to work in a different way – albeit we are seeing increasing numbers of men adopt this work pattern.
- Flexible working needs to stop being seen as a women’s issue. I argued in The Guardian last Autumn that as soon as flexible working is seen as a people issue and a way of recruiting and retaining the best talent, it will start to get taken more seriously.
- We need to take risks. Of course we don’t know if two people doing a job share is going to work – but we’re never going to know unless we give it a shot. Too often, people take the tried and tested route and miss the chance to discover something amazing.
- We need to make it easier for recruiting managers to take a creative approach. Added to this, sign off systems can make it harder to get approval for a more creative solution. I understand why a manager would choose a full timer over a 4 day a week account exec if those were the only options available to them because of head count restrictions! But what if they were able to choose between a full timer OR a three day account exec and a three day assistant? Companies need to make it possible for the recruiting manager to make these solutions possible.
- We need to stop hiding behind our clients. Our clients work more flexibly than us (largely) and I don’t buy into most of the arguments that clients won’t allow it. I think that’s hiding behind a convenient excuse.
- We need to stand up to our clients. If there are clients out there insisting on full time Account Directors, (and I know there are a handful), we need to stand up to them and explain that flexibility may be required if they want the best person for the job. Use it as a chance to get out of that subservient client / agency relationship whilst you’re at it.
- We need to stop using people working flexibly as a way of saving money. Yes, I know you do it. The Account Director that only wants to work 4 days a week gives you a 20% overhead saving. Just no. That’s setting that AD up for failure and her team up for overload. Invest in getting the right back up resource and you might just see everyone thrive.
With the technology and cross border reality of 21st century work, it is astonishing to me that we are so wedded to 20th century work practices. It’s time that an industry that prides itself on being current, caught up with the times.