Fighting for females: Prioritising flexibility for working mums

DDB Sydney Managing Director Priya Patel
By DDB Sydney Managing Director Priya Patel | 7 March 2019
Priya Patel

It is a proven fact that parenthood is harder for women. Many of us are still the primary carer – a symptom of both old-fashioned social norms and because the wage gap often relegates our income to ‘secondary’. As such, we are constantly the ones that have to balance the benefits of working with childcare affordability.

Worse than that, for women having children means they are viewed as being ‘less committed to work’, whereas men with children are seen as ‘more responsible and professional’.

This ‘motherhood penalty’ and ‘fatherhood bonus’ is discrimination that I’m sure many women have experienced first-hand, and that was uncovered in research conducted by the University of Massachusetts, by a professor who has studied the parenthood pay gap for the last 15 years.

It’s clearly an unfair bias and so while we recognise that flexible working should be available for anyone who wants to balance their work and home life; we believe it is paramount to keep working mother’s working. Offering flexibility around location and hours is a meaningful start.

It begins with the right attitude and culture from the top down. When CEO Andrew Little offered me my job, he was emphatic “a four-day week, a nine-day fortnight, come in early or late, work from home when you need - whatever you want to do to make it work for you”.

It was a sentence full of encouragement, endorsement and options and one that instilled confidence that I could help run the agency and still see my son at bedtime.

The real victory was the ability to decide my own terms and what I felt comfortable committing to. This is an approach that we have tried to apply across the agency. We encourage people to ask for options and we want them to be unafraid to talk to us about their personal challenges. We then consider every case individually and try and tailor the response to them.

Being open to different options is fairly crucial to that. Early or late finishes, days from home and shorter working weeks are all things we offer. Around 10% of our workforce has taken one of these options and we are prepared for this figure to double, or even triple in line with trends over the next few years.

We also are increasingly reliant on technology to help us balance being nimble and responsive enough to continual client requests; while also enabling people to work anywhere, anytime.

As an agency, there are always meetings, briefings and ‘creative collaborating’ that can only be achieved face to face, but remote access to shared documents and drives plus better workflow and time management tools, makes it easier to be away from the desk. Most importantly, we trust our people to do the right thing by clients and the agency – to be here when they need to and not stuck at their desks when they don’t.

I believe the real ‘unlock’ will come from ensuring women are paid the same as men for doing the same role. Again, research indicates that women’s’ earnings decrease by 4% for each child they have (vs men who see a 6% increase after children). Only by tackling this head on and ensuring equitable pay can we deliver true long-term solutions for women.

This is simply because fair pay enables meaningful conversations around options – maybe Dad stays at home because we both earn the same, maybe we can afford a nanny or some after school care, maybe I can drop down to a four-day week and still make ends meet?

We obviously can’t (and don’t) claim to have a perfect system at DDB. I know there will be more we can do - with a long-term flexibility for everyone being a key goal.

But we have to start somewhere and for now, I am happy to try and champion other working mothers and break the bias. I know I love my nine-day fortnight and I believe that having amazing, empowered working mothers in our workforce makes for a better business, so will keep fighting to make sure it works for them too.

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