You will remember missing the nativity play...

You will remember missing the nativity play…

…but you won’t remember the meeting you missed if for. Holding true to your values is not just for Christmas, it’s for life.

Christmas, the time of year when we celebrate the commercial and creative firepower of festive advertising, much of which is aimed at families. While simultaneously ignoring the pressures facing working parents in our industry.

It’s a time of year where keeping up with the school WhatsApp group feels like a full-time job in itself. Layer on the cold and flu season, long-hours culture, rising workplace stress and client entertaining and you have a recipe for seasonal overwhelm.

The uncomfortable truth is that goodwill to all rarely extends to working parents in the media industry during the festive season.

Take more responsibility

It is 2023, yet senior leaders still write publicly about missing Sports Day (an annual event) for a pitch (a regular event) and it barely causes ripples.

In this ecosystem it’s important to reassert the importance of making time for the moments that matter. Something is fundamentally broken in an industry where feelings not facts continue to dominate the debate on how, when and where we work.

A historic lack of flexibility in our industry is being exacerbated by the feelings of the powerful few, nostalgic for the age of performative leadership, when they could simply ‘walk the floor’ to prove they were in touch with their employees. Genuine empathy is the most under-utilised skill in business.

So at a time in which our leaders appear to be walking away from this once in a generation opportunity to reshape the workplace for the better, the pressure is mounting.

As individuals we need to take more responsibility for the decisions we make. Choice is a privilege.

For those who have any kind of voice in an organisation, now is the time to challenge working cultures that suffocate working parents and stop them from achieving their full potential.

Progress over perfection

“You will remember missing the nativity play, but you won’t remember the meeting you missed it for,” was one of the most important pieces of advice I have ever received.

One that deserves repeating at this joyful, yet stretched and strained time of year. Because if there is one thing 2023 has taught me it is that it is so easy to lose sight of the important in constant pursuit of the seemingly urgent.

It is a challenge that is not just about those of us with caring responsibilities. Childfree people deserve the space to achieve their full potential too.

For an industry that is built on people, the happiness and wellbeing of those people is not a nice-to-have, it is a must-have. As the Alliance of Independent Agencies strapline declared with clarity: ‘Happy agencies are successful agencies’.

Creativity over conflict

The uncomfortable truth is that hybrid working has brought with it new friction points in our working weeks. As the All In Census carried out in March underlined there is a disconnect between many employers and employees.

According to the census, the number of days employees would be happy to spend in the office (1.9) was lower than the average amount of days they were being asked to (2.2). A disconnect which has turned into a chasm in some corners of the industry.

Just as we would berate politicians for being disconnected when they don’t know the price of a pint of milk, industry leaders need to recognise the genuine impact of the rising cost of commuting and the lack of affordability of childcare. This is particularly acute for parents of children with additional needs.

This year I have had far too many conversations with women who have been pushed to the brink. Broken by leaders completely disconnected from the reality of their lives. These impactful leaders have closed the door on decade-long careers, not just because of a lack of flexibility, but a fundamental lack of compassion.

The truth is that we have collectively lost the art of listening. We sit in meetings waiting to speak. We fixate too hard on our own frustrations. This in turn means we lose connection with each other. We lack the grace to understand the lived experiences of other people.

When you consider ONS data showing that hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are up by 112% in the last five years, it is clear that silence is complicity. The ‘go woke and go broke’ narrative is a toxic comfort blanket for leaders who are frightened of change.

We must move beyond fear. We must tackle backlash culture and hate speech collectively as an industry. We must be better allies and push for acceptance without exception.

Let’s gain the grit to open doors within ourselves to have more uncomfortable conversations that challenge the narrow lens of our own experiences and bias.

The privilege of pressure

Change is challenging, yet full of promise. The new year will bring with it the unpredictable energy of new ideas. These new solutions and previously unthinkable opportunities for creators will only achieve their full potential if we open our minds.

The innovative and unexpected ways to retain talent that are so sorely needed are in our grasp. We must make space to listen because these ideas will come from everyone and everywhere.

There are many challenges for women in the creative industry. But if we wait for the perfect time to solve them, that time will never come. As organisations and individuals perfection is a suffocating goal, one that stifles creativity and growth. Always aim for progress above all else.

Pressure is a privilege. Yet we have to ensure that pressure is punctured by the moments that matter most. So block your diary and stop blocking your ears to the needs of your team.

Without listening we will lose the people we need most to create a more resilient, resourceful and respectful approach to leadership.

Nicola Kemp has spent over two decades writing about diversity, equality and inclusion in the media. She is now editorial director of Creativebrief. She writes for The Media Leader each month.

Career Leaders: The Media Leader‘s weekly supplement with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated about media careers, training, development and wellbeing.
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