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“CV Gaps Are Creativity’s Gifts”: Why the Ad Industry Needs to Embrace Returners



Ali Hanan of Creative Equals reflects on lessons from the recent #CreativeComeback scheme with Diageo and the UK government

“CV Gaps Are Creativity’s Gifts”: Why the Ad Industry Needs to Embrace Returners
With Mother’s Day just around the corner, perhaps there’s a better way to show appreciation for mums than a six quid bottle of prosecco and a box of Terry’s All Gold? The ‘motherhood penalty’ is a well-documented, systemic problem that sees women who take time out to have children hugely disadvantaged when they attempt to return to work. It’s an issue that global drinks company Diageo has been eager to combat, as they demonstrated recently when they sponsored the #CreativeComeback programme, working alongside Creative Equals and the UK Government Equalities Office. “When just 12% of creative directors are women it’s not enough to talk about our ambitions for change, we need concerted action to turn the dial,” says Diageo CMO Syl Saller. “Balanced creative teams produce better work, balanced leadership makes better decisions and gender balanced workplaces benefit everyone.”

It’s not just about motherhood. The #CreativeComeback scheme was open to creatives who have been off for an extended career break for any reason who wanted to come back to their careers. Cleverly described as a ‘Returnship Programme’, it took the form of an eight-day training course for women in London and Manchester, with opportunities for flexible work with Creative Equals’ agency partners. The aim was to make sure the returners are armed with the tools, knowledge and confidence to secure full-time or freelance employment in today's market, in a role that works for them.  

The course focused on fostering a growth mindset, creative courage and resilience, bringing the returners up to date with trends from the D&AD Awards and what's new in digital and technology, opportunities to work on briefs from Diageo brands Guinness and Baileys, experience selling ideas to a real CMO, and finally a chance to meet with various creative employers in a speed dating-style setting. 

As well as the Equalities Office and Diageo, the programme was supported by D&AD, The Dots and Facebook.

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Creative Equals CEO Ali Hanan to reflect on the programme and the change that it’s trying to bring about. 

LBB> What was the initial thought or conversation that sparked the returners programme?

Ali> Only 12-14% of the industry's creative directors are women. Motherhood and other caring responsibilities come at a critical juncture just as women are stepping up to leadership roles. We know we lose some of our industry's best talent right here. While motherhood is a key factor, women also leave for other reasons - mental health (burn out), looking after elderly relatives, cancer and more. Yes, men do too, however, we gained funding for the programme from the Government Equalities Office, as our sector has an enormous gender pay gap. Creative departments are one of the key drivers of the pay gap - and this 'returners' fund from the Government was one of the ways they were looking to address it. Clients like Diageo are demanding change.

LBB> What do you feel are the most compelling reasons that make programmes like this necessary?

Ali> Diversity of thought, people and skills drives the best creative work, and increases innovation revenue for every organisation with a beating creative heart. Right now, as a creative sector, we are a long way from a diverse workforce in terms of gender (and all the intersections within gender, particularly in terms of race, disability and age), particularly at a leadership level. The fact at the moment the majority of all ads are made from a single, one-sided point of view, and from a group-think bias. To remain a progressive, forward-facing sector, we have to truly understand the blockers and barriers for creating a diverse workforce - and move them. Fast.  

LBB> Where did it go from there? What were the key moments along the way?

Ali> Initially, when we put out our call for talent, it was silent. What we know is many of these women have dropped off the usual networks. They're not reading LBBOnline or on LinkedIn. They've lost their networks. So it was finally through word of mouth and the whole industry talking to their ex-colleagues, friends, playground Mums, influencers we gained a deluge of applicants. 206 in fact for London and Manchester. 

LBB> How did you get the word out there to make sure that people knew about this opportunity?

Ali> Hah - we worked with an amazing PR company, Visible PR and are endless indebted to all the organisations who shared our message - the IPA, ISBA, BIMA, D&AD, the IAB, SheSays, Bloom, WACL and DAWN. Networking the networks was where we found our outreach and as word spiralled, so did the numbers of applicants.  

LBB> How did the ad industry engage with it?

Ali> We had an overwhelming response - way bigger than we ever anticipated. On our proposal to the Government Equalities Office was for 15 companies. We had 36 sign up in London and four in Manchester. We were overwhelmed with the levels of engagement and the appetite from everyone for change. As we always say, people know the 'why'. This gives them the 'how'. We believe inclusion only comes with actions.   

LBB> What do you hope the ad industry will do on this issue? 

Ali> Hire our returners! With D&AD and Facebook, we have upskilled them with all the latest in trends, work, and tech. Now, they're work ready. We need employers to truly embrace flexible working and understand creativity isn't defined by the office. In fact we know just 15% of creatives get their best ideas in the office. 

Our returners SLAYED the brief. It's about the work, the work, the work. This is what Alison Falconer, Guinness's global head of consumer marketing said: “It was a flood of creativity, and our brands were lucky to have it unleashed on our issues. We saw ideas on both Baileys and Guinness that lifted and delighted us. We got unexpected ideas, powerfully and simply expressed, with personality and flair.”

LBB> And what can the industry do to accommodate people returning to work without a need for this sort of initiative?

Ali> The number one thing businesses need to do is embrace flexible working. And, stop the mantra, 'you're only as good as your last piece of work'. People have cancer. They have children. Life happens to all of us. Those close to us die. We need to grieve. We need to recover from birth or stop for a while when we've hit the wall. CV gaps are creativity's gifts. We need to change our attitude to the time people have off. 

As one of our returners said: “What a brilliant, intense, inspiring, ground-breaking privilege and an honour to be part of the Creative Equals course and to be with all the amazing women who were involved, who literally ooze talent from their eyeballs. I've got back my creative hunger and my spark. Now I just want to go and creatively blow stuff up.” 

Agatha O'Neill's story

“I had a baby while I was setting up a production company when I was quite young. It has been hard to get started, but gradually I have climbed up and up and I am extremely passionate about equal opportunities, closing the gender pay gap and creating a system of support for women with families - so that we can all enjoy the time we have together. I knew that Creative Equals would help answer some questions I had about the above, and would give me the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of change. I was not disappointed!

“It was truly amazing to have the opportunity to meet such outstanding women and men come together to positively support us - the people I met have truly changed me and that little shift I needed to encourage me to 'go for it' became seismic after that first week. I genuinely feel I have the confidence now, and that whatever amazing opportunities come to me will not be missed, but instead will be wholly appreciated and gained, all this thanks to the incredible Creative Equals team, and the new friendships I made while on the programme. Utterly life-changing. 

“I hope everything I experienced at Creative Equals becomes my work reality! It was fun, inspiring, challenging for all the right reasons and I want to do it all over again! It has given me the clarity and confidence to know what I want, to not hesitate, to go and get it with all the energy in the world, and to enjoy it all like madness while it happens!”
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LBB Editorial, Thu, 28 Mar 2019 14:36:25 GMT