Skilled women will abandon media unless we flex up

Skilled women will abandon media unless we flex up

By providing more flexible-working solutions, the media and advertising sector could avoid an otherwise inevitable rush of skilled women leaving our industry forever.


The UK can ill afford another shock. But it is facing one. On top of a cost-of-living crisis, double-digit inflation, the spectre of winter power cuts, and frightening energy prices, it is headed towards a productivity shock.

Along with many other working mothers, I have a gnawing concern: what will be the impact of inflation on my childcare costs?

Sad to say, this looming crisis is not surprising. Too many times, I have met the barriers and blockers in the media workplace that inhibit mothers such as me from progressing their careers. It’s a topic that is important, urgent and yet ignored.

Working mothers — without new support — will have to exit the workforce, and their energy, creativity and hard work will be lost to businesses across the country.

The UK has a critical need for more cost-effective child-care solutions to be made available if we are to prevent swathes of talented women being driven to abandon their careers.

Women bear the brunt of sky-high childcare costs

The enlightened are few. Sony Music has pledged to offer an annual grant of £15,000 to support childcare costs. Bravo! Vital and meaningful support and action for women who wish to keep working when they become a parent.

It is said that the Government is also considering radical reform, including a French-style childminder agency system and reducing regulatory burdens imposed on childminders.

Yet, despite some enlightened employers recognising they have to invest in benefits to retain this talent and protect their top and bottom line, not enough is being done within the media sector.

In my experience, there are very few senior women in media working flexible hours, as they are often compelled to leave to avoid unyielding working schedules and the high cost of childcare.

The industries with the greatest flexibility are female dominated — nursing, teachers, social care. Why is this? Why are they more flexible? The answer is necessity.

In the UK, we enjoy the shameful achievement of forcing upon parents the second-most expensive childcare in the world. A full-time nursery place for an under-two in London is now around £19,000 a year, according to a survey conducted by the charity Coram Family and Childcare. Coram estimates costs increased 60% in cash terms between 2010 and 2021.  And this all looks likely to get worse over the next year.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused more problems. Nearly 75% of mothers in the UK had to cut their working hours in lockdown due to insufficient childcare options. And the lack of accessible, affordable, well-funded childcare (not to mention the impact of Covid-19) has led to many women having to quit their jobs. The cost-of-living crisis will exacerbate the situation.

Now is the time for businesses to take positive action.

Not everyone is so lucky

By providing more flexible-working solutions and improving their offering to parents, the media and advertising sector could avoid an otherwise inevitable rush of skilled women leaving our industry forever. Significant and valuable improvements can be made easily, effectively and efficiently.

I had a lucky break. After the birth of my second child, I was seriously re-considering my future. A rigid work schedule and high child-care costs were making my position within a busy media business untenable. Rather than exit the industry, however, I took a new role in a more flexible, empathetic environment. I was lucky to secure a senior role in a media agency where I have the flexibility and trust to fulfil my critical roles as mother and team member.

This agency’s co-founders trust their team to do the job they are tasked with. Roles are customised to suit an individual’s circumstances. I work hours that enable me to fulfil the requirements of a senior, demanding role and the flexibility to be there with my children when I am most needed. And the rather cheeky deal where we all get Friday afternoon off enables a great start to the weekend.

Other female colleagues have worked from as far afield as Barbados and Berlin and, after two years’ service, an extra one month’s unpaid sabbatical is offered on top of annual holiday entitlement. This increases to one month’s paid sabbatical after five years’ service.

We can be creative for clients; why can’t be as creative for our people?

Kat Smith is head of client services at indie UK media agency The Village Communications

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