What’s your 5 year plan female advertising creatives?
What heights are you planning on climbing too?
And how are you going to get there?
I didn’t know anything about advertising until I went to University. I don’t think I once thought about what went into creating an advert, or how brands made you like them, or even why I knew about brands. Once I was introduced into this shiny creative world that had been cleverly just infiltrating my brain for years, I was obsessed. I can use my creativity in all these fun ways, make money and change the world if I try hard enough? Count me in.
That was 19 year old Louise, I sit here now, at 29, feeling somewhat cheated and I’ve been obsessing about it over the past couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I do get to make crazy creative work, I make decent money, but the magnitude of how this industry doesn’t work with your personal life, especially if that life includes having a family one day, hit harder than I expected.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not new news. I’ve known there’s been issues here for a while, but a few things happened recently that made me want to tantrum in exactly the way a future toddler that will ruin my career might. Firstly at work, we had 360 reviews, a great way of catching up on your professional progress, and it went well. Towards the end my boss, a supportive and very talented creative director posed us (myself and creative copywriter partner) a question “Where do you want to be in the next 5 years? I’ll help you get there.”
I’m the kind of girl who mocked my friends who made 5 year plans. “Chill out, things will happen when they happen!” I would cry. Now I was unprepared, and realised my tactic of hiding important life choices under various rugs was about to backfire. This one question made me ask myself 50 more, and turned into what became a very speedy downward spiral. “I want to be more senior and on my way to being a creative director, easy! But I want to have worked abroad for a stint, but don’t want to leave John behind in the UK, and I’d like to take some time out to travel some more... But that will stop my progression at work, and I want to buy a house, which if I travel I won’t be able to afford, but if I go abroad for work I’d have to pay for a house here and rent for a house there... I want to have kids at some point, and have a puppy... but then I can’t go abroad, and I have to do that before my ovaries dry up, and I don’t really want kids right now...” and so on.
Secondly the Gender pay gap reports were published, and the results made for depressing reading. My companies percentage had grown, the male boss sending the report valiantly tried to make this sound completely a-ok. “We’ve hired more women in lower-mid roles, but still have many women in high positions in this company, look at all their pictures I’ve put on this page” Lovely, let’s have a read through, ah, a great account director, a finance director, a managing director, nice! But hold on a second, not one of these senior women are creative.
What’s going on? Why is this? I’m gonna put my bets on what the good old kicker is. It’s those darn cute babies. You can have them, but you have to come back to work and commit the same amount of time and effort (of course) and the late nights (that’s going to make things tricky…) and the weekends (GAH) while you’ve held back your career progression for a year, so let’s not talk about the pay rise you’re not going to get this year to cover paying someone to look after your baby in all these times you’re working overtime (oh, ffs.)
I’m lucky enough to be able to take part in a mentoring scheme in our industry where they pair up younger creative females with senior creative females to help with whatever you might need. I signed us up for this when we really wanted to move jobs. We actually got a job before we got partnered with a mentor but when we got offered the mentorship we kept it, as i’m not about to pass up a helpful unbiased person to bounce our still numerous issues off of. I love this programme as it shows that the industry could be changing for the better.
With my copywriter away on holiday I met up with our Mentor by myself, ready to quiz her on the impending doom of my downward spiral. The lucky woman. My mentor, I am already aware doesn’t have kids, so I brought up the subject slightly tentatively, because I’m also aware i’m having a tantrum about a hypothetical future situation she doesn’t exactly have personal experience in. I detected a slight squirm at the topic of discussion, but she humoured me. She said the industry was getting better and to not panic just yet, and she also entertained both sides of the argument that our industry's need for over commitment to your working hours is an issue for everyone.
Here’s the many ways I see it; It sometimes doesn’t feel that fair that working parents, get to run off earlier than everyone else. It can be frustrating for the people left behind, but it can’t be helped, good old human evolution made our offspring completely useless. (If you disagree… Look at baby giraffes… their babies are instantly just small reasonably sensible giraffes, David Attenborough told me.) Another annoying fact is that if you haven’t produced an heir, your free time often feels like it is seen as dispensable. In this industry everyone gives up so much of their free time to get the best results, that it has become something expected, no overtime. Kids or no kids we should still be leaving when we need to leave, and not have the decision taken away from us. Next up, is that it has also got to be seriously frustrating for a parent having to go. They have to stop helping on something important to them, that they’ve worked their whole adult life to claim a seat at this table, which they now have to vacate early (and by early, read “on-time” and everyone is mad at them about it.) All this annoyance because they’ve had the audacity to try and create a new generation to advertise too, the robots of the future won’t care about our adverts, the human babies are important to our industry! And, let’s not forget the people who are currently having this issue, by the looks of it… it’s not creatives, the creatives didn’t even make it back to the table.
My spiralling continues, you just can’t win with this game! Did I mention I don’t even want kids yet?
I’ll wrap up my panicking for now. It’s nice to get it down on paper and analyse it. My dark and twisty pessimistic side seems to be winning through, but my optimistic side tells me the industry is changing for the better, and until I know all the variables of my exact situation when I decide to make these big life choices, I won’t ever be able to predict the outcome, or the future. (Where are my superhero powers when I need them?)