By Valentina Borbone as published in the IAB Australia Blog
After reading Jane Huxley’spost for the Big Tent, ‘How To: Find Balance’, I felt relieved. I am also a mother of two (who aren’t yet at school), a small business owner and I work full time. Saying that to others is usually met with ‘I don’t know how you do it’ or ‘I guess you don’t sleep’. I do sleep, and I feel I have managed to achieve the ‘balance’ Jane talked about, but I think there are environmental factors that need to be in place for us to ‘have it all’.
Firstly, defining ‘having it all’ was an interesting concept. For the sake of this post, I’m defining it as having a family as well as a professional marketing career.
Having worked agency side since 1994, I’ve seen firsthand how parents were, and are, treated in the workforce. It was wildly unfair to watch senior managers design a no-way-to-return environment for a new mother. It wasn’t only a perception, it was reality. I worked my guts out to climb the corporate ladder, and I was delighted to reach a stage where I was content in my career. At the same time, I reached a point in my life that meant either striving for a family, or making a decision not to have one. I asked myself ‘can you have your cake and eat it too?’
When Mike and I started Zuni, we were very clear about what we did and didn’t want. As we were both parents of young children, a work-life balance was essential. Could we really have a start-up digital consultancy that truly delivered on life balance and flexibility? While we agreed with it in principle, an active mind shift and adjustment of our own expectations had to happen. Admittedly, it wasn’t immediate, but flexibility and commitment are the two key ingredients to making life balance work.
Having been the employee and the employer, I can see the issues from both sides. I’ve heard of so many agencies claiming flexibility and balance as a work perk, but then you find it’s simply not true. The flexibility seems to be one way; the employee is flexible for the business as much as needed. Pitch on deadline? You’re there until after midnight. Physically have too much work to do? You’re working the weekend. Where’s the flexibility if you’re trying to be a parent? On the other side of the coin, if you need the morning off for a school appointment or dentist visit, the fact that you need to make up the time is addressed there and then. Not fair.
Life happens outside of business hours and that’s just the way it is. Marketing companies need a significant shift in thinking and action. There is a need for companies to be more flexible and develop approaches for working mothers (and fathers) that focus on getting the job done. The problem occurs especially when there are more swings than roundabouts and everyone is clock-watching. If businesses want their well-educated, experienced and skilled female employees to return to the workforce after having a child, then part of the solution is offering job share and/or part time roles. These are close to impossible to find in the marketing field, especially an agency role. Part time doesn’t mean two, three or four days a week. It means being flexible for parents to travel, to meet school hours, to be involved in their family’s lives, etc. This isn’t just for women, it’s also for the awesome dads out there who are trying to keep it all together. I’ve seen job share work brilliantly before, with a dynamic duo at Austereo who were my clients for over a year. The success of that job share was 100 percent down to the communication and organisation of those two amazing mothers, who were juggling a hideous amount of work, yet I never once felt like they didn’t have their finger on the pulse. Why are there not more job share roles available in the marketing and/or agency sectors?
At Zuni, we do our best to deliver our life-balance promise. Three of our strategic planners work four days a week, one travels from Wollongong and another from the Central Coast. Only one of our strategic planners doesn’t have children. The quality of work that comes from the part-timers is outstanding, and they manage their flexibility and commitment to the business beautifully; in an unusual case, our amazing team will actually work five days in a week to meet client requirements, and that same flexibility is returned by the same person leaving early one day a week for 3 months so they can attend their daughter’s AFL training sessions. Our team are far more engaged with the business beyond cheese and crackers and an open bar.
So, how do I do it? With an amazing support network. My incredible husband works part time and also manages our children. Yep, he does childcare drop off and pick up, cooks for all of us, cleans up after meals, baths the kids and I walk in ready for bedtime stories, cuddles and kisses. We both have demanding careers and our family comes before anything else, but we work hard to make it work for us. At the end of the day, I had to give up on mother guilt to have the career that I love. And why should I have mother guilt anyway just because my family’s primary carer is their father? It’s only societal pressure, at the end of the day.
Can women have their cake and eat it too? Yes. Yes they can. Like any good cake, the amount of each ingredient is what makes the cake taste great. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, then you need to adjust the flexibility and commitment. It’s still a great cake; it just tastes a little different. As Jane said, “I don’t want it all, I just want enough”. I can only share my own experiences, but I would love to hear from you – how are you managing to make things work?