Coming back from maternity leave with a promotion

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 11 July 2024
freestocks via unsplash

The advertising industry, despite being women-dominated, is largely missing out on representation of women around childbearing age.

For many women in adland, which typically paints a picture of late nights and a lack of flexibility, it’s common to move client-side around the time of having a baby or find themselves quietly managed out during maternity leave.

But at independent agency CX Lavender the customer experience agency holds a 100% retention record for people coming back from maternity leave for at least three years - and some staff receive a promotion on return.

Claire Austin is the latest employee to be welcomed back with a promotion, after her second maternity leave, from head of copy to creative director. 

“It's a real confidence boost to come back to this bigger role and it’s quite unheard of for people returning from mat leave,” Austin told AdNews.

“Maternity leave makes you feel isolated from the industry, so knowing that someone was valuing my work and having that confidence to back me was priceless.”

Austin cites her long tenure and supportive managers at the agency - where she has spent her entire ad career of 17 years - as one of the driving forces for her smooth transition back to four days a week earlier this month.

“The benefits of having a long tenure is that I've always discussed my career path with my managers so becoming creative director wasn't necessarily a big surprise, it was something that we planned for, set timelines and expectations for along the way,” Austin said.

“So I feel ready for this promotion, I feel supported.”

At CX, maternity leave has always been seen as a pause, rather than a step down or a step back - allowing Austin and those before her to pick up immediately where they left off.

Especially at a time where senior employees are the ones on the chopping block and businesses are increasing mandatory in office days, flexibility is more valued than ever. 

Instead CX Lavender ECD Ryan Stubna believes welcoming people back from mat leave is a benefit to the business.

“People come back from mat leave with that same knowledge from their years of experience but they also spent their entire leave doing what's probably the hardest leadership job on the planet, motherhood,” Stubna said.

“They’re bringing back a wealth of experience around new skills, time management, mental resilience and multitasking all on very little sleep.”

Claire and Ryan

Claire Austin and Ryan Stubna.

Naturally Austin also had late nights thinking about the potential negatives of these increased responsibilities on top of wrangling her two small children.

But the trust and flexibility from the agency has gone a long way into easing those intrusive thoughts.

“Despite the fact that I’ve had less sleep, surprisingly I've come back feeling very energised with a renewed ambition to take on the work with efficiency and create things with meaning,” Austin said.

“Parents are experts at multitasking, that's what we have to do to survive - allowing for flexibility doesn’t mean we're dropping balls, we just juggle them differently. “

Embracing the maternity experience with flexibility is what has allowed the agency to get a 100% retention record for people coming back from mat leave - Stubna and Austin encourage other businesses to do the same.

“Businesses need to remember that someone coming back from maternity leave not only comes back with the knowledge they had when they went on leave, but have a ton of new skills from parenthood to put back into your business,” Stubna said.

Especially in the industry which needs to understand a wide breadth of customers, overall diversity of thinking is essential.

“We're not just creating customer journeys for Sydney-based males under 30,” Austin said.

“Women over 30 have a unique perspective with so much knowledge for clients, an agency can’t miss out on employees who are mothers - losing them all to the client side would be such a negative.

“And if the last few years has taught us anything, working differently doesn't necessarily affect productivity. Flexibility is something that works in favour of companies.”

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