Parenting Loudly: Why we need more working mothers in creative leadership roles

If 53% of all graphic designers are women, but only 11% of those are in leadership roles (with even fewer as agency principals, according to recent figures), what on earth does that mean for the number of mothers in those positions?

While there has been a mild upward trend since those stats made headlines, there is still a mountain to climb. And the shocking news of Roe versus Wade being struck down will only widen inequities in the workplace.

In fact, I know what those tiny percentages look like in reality: No representation of mothers at the top. They are questions that I have asked myself often during my creative career – where are the moms at management or director level? Where are working mothers that the up-and-comers can aspire to and emulate? Where do the creative working mothers go, and can they please come back?

There are some great initiatives looking to address this imbalance – from the Creative Equals programme aimed to help women back into the industry to Kerning the Gap which is fighting for more diversity in creative leadership, and the hugely vocal and effective Pregnant, Then Screwed programme that has been fighting to end the 'motherhood penalty' since 2015, or the indomitable Anna Whitehouse (a.k.a. @mother_pukka) and her #flexappeal campaign.

But as well as supporting these campaigns, there is something more day-to-day that we can all do to chip away at the lack of representation of mothers in creative leadership.

Don't be silent

For many years, there was the attitude in the workplace that overt parental responsibility somehow marks you out as less committed or capable. I doubt the baby boomer mother would have ever mentioned her offspring around the boardroom table. For the small percentage of mothers in leadership, parenting was most likely not to be mentioned in the workplace – something to juggle in silence.

It is this silence I want to address. I have become a committed advocate for parenting loudly instead. Working from home during the pandemic showed that even with a toddler straying into shot, people could be just as productive as ever. It also highlighted how many jobs you can do outside the office, on the move, if needed, thanks to today's power of phones and laptops.

So one positive result of that period was that it encouraged teams to talk openly about flexibility. For me, it also built my confidence and determination to be louder about being a mother.

Don't get me wrong, parenting loudly is not about shouting from the rooftops whenever my daughter is sick or reaches a developmental milestone. But it's about not shying away from mentioning her in positive terms. To show to the outside world of work that you can have both family and be successful. It's about treating all people in your organisation – whether parents or not – like humans, adults that can juggle and balance life in a way that fits their needs.

We need to become inherently more flexible – and being loud about it helps. If you know a team member or even a contractor that has just had a baby and might need time for doctor appointments, privacy for breast pumping, or skip out for a sports day, build that into the everyday.

Don't make them jump through formal hoops to seek HR permission, don't put them off asking, just allow them to communicate their needs as a matter of fact, and give them the flexibility to meet them.

And this, of course, applies to dads, too – being more vocal around how our lives fit with our work helps to illustrate opportunities for everyone.

Weigh up your words

As well as weaving parenting into everyday work, being louder about it also means choosing your words in a more considered way. "Baby brain", for example, is a term I would never use. It's so derogatory and damaging. The tendency to portray mothers as haggard, weary, and barely making it through the day is both insulting and a safe and easy jibe.

I had a baby, not a lobotomy. We must be more conscious about how words and communication trickle down.

In fact, rather than spelling the end of my career, having a child has made me flourish at work. It has been nothing but positive for my progression. Emotionally connecting with my co-workers, understanding their individual needs, and nurturing more junior designers are part of that. But it's also helped me in practical ways, with a huge impact on multi-tasking and time management – and ensuring I stay grounded and focused on what needs attention.

It's business-critical

Beyond personal development, it also makes total sense for our industry to encourage more women towards the top. Women's advancement in the workforce matters, with research showing that companies with more women executives are more likely to outperform those with fewer senior women.

But most importantly, our clients demand it. They might not do so explicitly, but mothers have spending power (they control 85% of household purchases up to $2.4 trillion in the US, according to one survey). But at the same time, many feel pigeon-holed by brands or that marketing to mothers is sexist.

Having mothers in decision-making roles for branding, packaging, marketing, and advertising is absolutely necessary, and it's a travesty that they are hardly visible at that level. We all need to be a little bit louder on the matter.


Get the best of Creative Boom delivered to your inbox weekly