With 64 million Millennials expected to become parents in the next decade, and the average age of talent in advertising ranging between 25 and 35, our industry is facing a huge baby boom and is at threat for a brain drain.

Our 2016 Elephant on Madison Ave research of Ad Women revealed that only 39% were mothers. The vast majority had either left the industry once they became moms or chose not to have children. Those who stayed indicated that motherhood had negatively impacted their career. And now Millennial dads are speaking up and saying things are challenging for them too.

We wanted to know what it is really like for parents in advertising, so we partnered with VMLY&R to conduct the Parenting In Adland survey. Additionally, we hosted a series of focus groups for Ad Dads to hear how fatherhood has impacted their careers.

Keep scrolling to read about some of the things we learned.

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It’s Not Just a Mom’s Thing

Nine in ten moms and eight in ten dads agree that “the advertising agency is a challenging place for parents.”

The advertising agency is a challenging place for parents

Moms think...

“I feel like I am five years behind men of my same age. I’m currently pregnant and was placed on a mommy account with no mentor and low visibility in the agency.”

Dads think...

“Leaving the office ‘on time’ to make it home for family dinner and bedtime I believe creates a perception that you are not as hungry or passionate as those who seem to never leave or clock out.”

Dads are Misunderstood

There is a perception among moms that it is much easier for dads to thrive. 93% of moms agree that dads can thrive in advertising, whereas only 76% of dads agree with that sentiment. However moms and dads both agree that moms have it harder.

Can moms thrive in Advertising?

Can dads thrive in Advertising?

Moms think...

“Dads are seen as heroes, moms are seen as putting their job second.”

Dads think...

“It's true that moms CAN thrive (I know many who have), but equally true that for many it's harder to thrive than it is for men.”

A Brain Drain is Looming

The toll from being both a parent and a professional in advertising is making employees rethink their plans. Eight in ten moms and two in three dads have considered leaving. Their top reasons? They want better work/life balance and more flexibility. Unless the industry fixes this, we predict a huge brain drain of vital talent.

Moms who’ve considered leaving Advertising

Dads who’ve considered leaving Advertising

Moms think...

“I left and went client side. It has been a godsend.”

Dads think...

“We have to compete with Google, Apple and Facebook for talent. They’re so aggressive on benefits and they don’t work nearly as hard as we do.”

New Parents Struggle

Maternity Leave: Half of moms took off more than 13 weeks total leave with their youngest child, but most did it on their own dime. Fewer than one in four had their entire leave paid by their agency. It should come as no surprise that two in three moms were not satisfied with the quality of leave from their agency

Paternity Leave: The majority of dads took off less than two weeks with their youngest child, and fewer than one in ten took off nine weeks or more. Two in three men could have taken more than 2 weeks paid leave, but they are choosing not to take it - perhaps due to pressure to be in the office?

Total time dads took leave with youngest child

Moms think...

“The leave is old fashioned, too short, and did not make me feel like an appreciated/valued employee.”

Dads think...

“My wife had a C-section and I had to leave her with the baby alone after a week.”

Parents Want Time Mastery

It’s not about work-life balance… it’s about time mastery. It’s not that parents don’t want to work hard, they just want the support to work in a way that meets their personal and professional goals. Both moms and dads expressed a desire for the opportunity to work from home and most expressed an interest in flexible hours. More than nine in tens moms and dads want the ability to work from home at times and have flexible work hours. For those who did have time mastery, Moms and Dads are equally likely to work from home, with dads being slightly more likely to have flexible hours.

% who can work from home

% with flexible work hours

Moms think...

“ ‘I understand the situation you are in, but this is a business we are trying to run.’ was the response when asking to work from home two days a week because my 6- month-old needed physical therapy.”

Dads think...

“It’s a mixed bag. Policy may be ostensibly supportive but culture isn’t.”

Bosses Got Your Back (CEOs Not So Much)

Moms and dads are equally likely to feel supported by their supervisors, colleagues and clients. However, while dads know that CEOs have their back, moms aren’t feeling the love. Nearly two thirds of dads feel supported by company leadership, yet fewer than half of moms feel that level of support.

% of parents who feel supported by company leadership

Moms think...

“My boss is great, but if I need time off it is done quietly out of sight of senior management.”

Dads think...

“Despite transparency around flex hours, I’ve been shamed for utilizing it.”

New Business Pitch Fails

New business pitches drive our growth and are a key part of our business. However, only 1 in 5 moms and 1 in 3 dads believe that their agency does a good job of managing employees’ time/involvement with new business pitches. Agencies have a huge opportunity to support employees by doing a better job managing client demands.

“Our agency does a good job of managing employees’ time/involvement with new business pitches.”

Moms think...

“No respect for people's time, swirling around in inefficiency and valuing how LATE you're at the office, rather than the quality of the work being done.”

Dads think...

“Each new business pitch is a fire drill, as if it’s the first time we have ever pitched anything.”

Creatives Have It Worse

When it comes to time mastery, life gets more challenging for creatives in Adland. Moms in creative roles are less likely to ask for flexible work arrangements, and when they do ask for flexibility, they are more likely to be denied.

Moms in Creative roles are less likely to have flexible work arrangements

Moms think...

“Creatives are required to work at the office. All other departments are allowed to work from home.”

Dads think...

“I want to get in early and leave before 7, but the creative department is structured to start at 10.”


A Final Word

For years, agencies have accepted the brain drain of women leaving the industry once they became mothers and denied the need for better work-life fit across all employees. If this does not change, women AND men will abandon their advertising careers to find safer harbor in industries and companies that will allow then to meet both their personal and professional goals.

The focus of this study was on the specific needs and issues facing parents. Most of us will become caregivers at some point in our lifetime (aging parents, new puppy, health challenges of a friend or sibling). We recognize that all caregivers face similar challenges, and that agencies need to innovate to address this broader set of needs.

As an industry that prides itself on exceptional creativity, it is time to recognize that culture matters too.


White Paper

Get deeper insights, data, and solutions by downloading the full Parenting in Adland report.


Now that we’re are all clear there’s a problem, we wanted to provide you with some solutions for both agency leadership as well as parents within agencies. There are more in our whitepaper, and we’d love to hear your solutions as well.

  • Conduct an audit of assignments, promotions and pay raises for parents vs. non-parents to ensure there isn’t an underlying issue around caregiver bias
  • If you already track turnover reasons, use the data. Conduct an audit of the women who have departed the agency over the last five years to become mothers and find out what percentage of your total turnover of women they represent
  • Substitute “Family leave” for “Maternity leave” and make the pay and time off equal for both moms and dads. Offer paid leave for employees who need to care for aging parents or other family members
  • #ClockOutConcept – a hashtag for brilliance that happens off the clock and outside of the office. This combats the dangerous habit agencies have for valuing availability over creativity
  • Conduct caregiver and motherhood bias training for senior leaders. Help them recognize their own shadow spots around face-time and train them to recognize everyone benefits when employees are given time mastery.
  • Move from “Ready Fire Aim” to a more intentional approach before each pitch in order to ensure you are making the best use of each team members’ time and abilities
  • Assess policies and practices for creative team vs. the rest of the agency. Track how creatives are using parental leave, flex-time, and other policies. Track moms vs. non-moms in the creative department. Are female creative leaders mothers? Are male creative leaders dads? If there is a difference, find out why.
  • Finally, don’t forget to celebrate news of parents who have thrived in the agency. Share their triumphs, challenges and solutions. Including who was there to help and support them to success along the way can help the next generation see what is possible.

Additional Resources

We can all help #changetheratio - one microaction at a time. Download and share this list of 100 things that you, your company and your client can do right NOW.

Here are some microactions to support parenthood in agencies. How many are you doing?

Did you know 3% partner Lisen Stromberg is the author of Work, Pause, Thrive: How to Pause for Parenting without Killing Your Career?

She interviewed 186 women and surveyed nearly 1500 more to learn how highly successful women integrated their work and family. What did she learn? The vast majority were forced to leave jobs they loved because the workplace was unforgiving. Those that didn’t leave had the support of leadership and the success of time mastery.
Read more about her research and findings