Left in Lockdown – Parents Under Pressure

Companies are under pressure to find and retain talent yet are not giving parents the support, flexibility and encouragement they need to return to the workplace or avoid stress and burn out if they do so.

 MADFest held a panel to discuss the recent findings on these issues in a report produced by The Women In Programmatic Network and compiled with the help of Propeller. 

Ellie Edwards-Scott, Co-Founder, The Advisory Collective, chaired the discussion and the participants included Louise Watson, Madtech Practice Director at Propeller Group and Parenting Lead at The Women in Programmatic Network, Rob Garber, MD UK at GumGum and Michal Nissenson, Director of Customer Marketing at GeoEdge. 

The discussion kicked off with a focus on flexibility. One of the massive benefits over the last two years has been the acceptance of a more flexible working environment, and this has benefited working parents – in some cases has allowed both parents to take on some of the childcare responsibilities. The report found that 97% of those surveyed feel that working flexibly or core hours is one of the most important factors for a successful work/life balance as a parent.

But with some businesses very publicly enforcing set days in the office, Edward-Scott asked what impact such policies will have on parents and how can companies better mitigate these?

Garber responded “I don’t think anyone should ever be forced into an office, as individuals we find it easy to go back to normal patterns. We unconsciously do on tube journeys every day, it took three months to break that pattern.” His own company does not enforce office attendance.

Nissenson pointed out the benefits of coming into the office: “I love coming to the office and meeting people. I do see the value in coming to the office but the world has changed and you can’t force people.”

Watson said businesses had to tread warily with bringing in new attendance rules so as not to alienate parents who have adapted their routine over the last few years. “Be mindful of the impact it will have on different people in the business and address the issues head on. It is important that there is a level of flexibility if you can’t have those conversations, you will lose amazing talent.”

Can a company be flexible and formal?

Regarding the potential to lose valuable talent Ellie pointed out that 46% of parents had considered leaving the martech industry to get a better work-life balance.

Watson shared her own experience and said: “I think coming back after maternity leave is hugely daunting, and trying to adjust. I think the main thing I found was having an open and honest conversation about what flexibility looked like for me.”

Garber added: “In my team we all need to be treated as individuals and have a true awareness of understanding of people. When we had my daughter Alexa my wife had E.coli and was in hospital for 2 weeks and my old company didn’t care about that.” 

Edwards-Scott raised another surprising statistic. “We saw that respondents had a variety of different approaches to their working arrangements, with only 22% relying on the official company policy and many others relying on a flexible or informal arrangement. What are the benefits and challenges of this type of approach?”

Garber said this was one of the biggest challenges, what is the best thing for employees and for organisation? Businesses that act more on what is perceived as best for the organisation, will start losing staff. 

“For me we like you to come in on Monday to Wednesday but there is no mandatory rule. Culture doesn’t come from HR, people create the culture and the CEO portrays something different.”

Watson added: “There must be a policy line somewhere …. the most important thing is what works for you personally and the business. You need to look at individual situations and what will work for you. Everyone is different, there can be single parents, partners working at home or partners that cannot work from home”

Nissenson stressed: “Formal and flexible is such an oxymoron” and that companies needed the ability to make changes on a fast-paced basis. Garber pointed out that businesses were still learning about flexible approaches and conversations were essential “to help us to learn what will work and what won’t – doing nothing is the biggest problem.”

Michal “It requires constant agility and the ability to make changes on a fast-paced basis. We are out there fighting for the good talent.”

Imposter syndrome and lack of confidence

Imposter syndrome is linked to lack of confidence and feeling you don’t have the capabilities to do the job. It can affect people taking time out of their working career to parent and prevent them from rejoining the workforce. The WIP survey found that women were twice as likely (61%) to be affected by Imposter syndrome, compared with men (30%). 

However, the panel agreed the phrase was not very helpful. Nissenson said: “I don’t like this term, I don’t believe in it. Sometimes people are insecure, it’s all about support and what they need is help. If they don’t receive help, they’d want to leave.”

Watson said it was understandable that when a parent comes back into work in a fast-paced industry they can feel they’ve lost their knowledge. “It makes the case to ensure you have a real onboarding process, and make sure parents are supported and feel part of the team.”

He added:  “All of us as working parents have those days of lack of sleep, or working with a  toddler in the background, you do feel out of sorts quite regularly,but  it is a very different day by day feeling, rather than conscious syndrome.”

Looking to the future

Garber said that leaders can earn so much by taking on difficult conversations: “These conversations mean we are educating ourselves; I want to learn from different people and this inspires me and gets me excited.”

Watson added: “Having this conversation now is brilliant, we’re all bringing up our own children to be future leaders. When they have their families hopefully these conversations won’t need to happen.”

The session ended on an optimistic note. Nissenson pointed out that the martech industry rewards people on performance and not on age or gender and this was a good starting point for change and Edwards-Scott added: “Looking around the room I’m seeing change, companies wanting to embrace change, people present from non-traditional backgrounds and older people. I’m optimistic about the industry walking the walk, not talking the talk.” 

You can download The Women in Programmatic Network and Propeller Group’s new report here