Still struggling to work from home with kids? Don’t give up
With many parents back to juggling work with home schooling, Creativebrief's Nicola Kemp offers some tips on how we can best support each other through the days ahead
For working parents this may feel like Groundhog Day; but the light at the end of the tunnel demands we commit to doing things differently this time.
“You’ll have to give your job up.” A senior female creative is sharing the conclusion from one of the myriad of conversations happening up and down the country as families struggle to negotiate the demands of home-schooling and work. WhatsApp groups ping, not just with the familiar hum of pandemic memes, but with tales of talent in our industry being pushed to their absolute breaking point.
For those lucky enough to be at schools where remote learning was rapidly rolled out, we start our year in the midst of a scramble of negotiations which extend to complex WiFi logistics, Excel spreadsheets and tag-team efforts. For single parents, or setups where one parent is a key worker and their children are at home, an already impossible challenge is even harder.
The truth is we aren’t all in it together; because no two experiences of this pandemic are the same.
But we have been here before and it's on all of us as individuals and organisations to be brutally honest about what didn't work and what we are going to try harder at this time. The fact that we have done this before, doesn’t make the challenge any less. Or the need to create open, industry-wide conversations of how we better support working parents through this pandemic any less urgent.
Collectively, we need to put empathy at the very heart of our industry. With a vaccine in play, it is vital that both companies and the creative industries as a whole double-down to properly support working parents through these dark days. For there is a light at the end of the tunnel; but if we don’t act now, we risk squeezing an entire generation of women out of the workforce before they get the chance to see it.
With this in mind, here are some tips, shared with the implicit understanding that each situation is different, as a starting point for how we better support each other through the days ahead:
1. Avoid toxic positivity
You cannot pour from an empty cup, nor can you diminish the impact of structural inequality and unconscious bias on the lived experience of women across the industry. From addressing the gender pay gap (which explains why many women’s careers are taking the biggest hit in this pandemic), to being intentional about creating the space to articulate the challenges which could easily become career crushers if they remain unsaid. Actively listening to women is at the heart of getting through this.
Every week a new data point shows the ways in which this crisis disproportionately impacts women. Research from the TUC reveals that across the board working mothers need greater support; 90% said their stress levels had increased during this lockdown, 71% who asked for furlough were denied, while almost half (48%) were worried about being treated negatively at work because of childcare. Believe women or risk burning them out.
2.Play the long game
It is no exaggeration to say that how companies treat working parents over the next 12 weeks could very well define how those businesses perform over the next 12 years. Good intentions are not enough.
Likewise, working parents must ensure they don’t judge the rest of their career and/or their abilities as a parent on these first few brutal days of homeschooling. Keep going.
3. More than words
Leaders need to be intentional about putting in boundaries, and empowering staff to put their own in place. Because there is no one-size fits all solution, and no point having policies on shorter meeting times, to ensure key parts of the day are meeting-free, if they don’t translate to a genuine shift in working practices. It’s an approach which not only equates to the corporate gaslighting of all employees, but it builds a false narrative in which honest conversation is stifled.
For a service-based industry, there are always deadlines, but also always last minute emergencies beyond our control. This is why it’s vital to push towards creating an open dialogue. There has never been a greater imperative for clients and agencies to work together and to come out of the other side of this crisis stronger.
4. Be brutal about what didn’t work last time
Working from home with kids again is of course the sequel that no one wanted. It would be pure nonsense for me to claim that simply because we did it before, we can do it better this time around.
Yet, we can take a long hard (okay, a short constantly-interrupted look) at what didn’t work last time and think about what practical steps organisations and individuals could take to help alleviate the stress. From restructuring your working day, to being ruthless in your priorities and focus; nothing should be off the table.
5. Be creative and collaborative in your approach
If in the past the industry has been criticised for rolling out too many initiatives that have little long-term impact beyond a press release, the current crisis has seen progressive brands and agencies roll up their sleeves and put into place support with zero fanfare.
From launching their own lessons (Havas and Mother), to embracing flexibility on a truly individual level (Ogilvy), to meeting free-days and extended lunch breaks (Channel 4), and 10 extra days of paid leave (Zurich), the crisis affords the industry a unique opportunity to collaborate and share ideas and pain points.
The media and creative industries may well be notoriously competitive but the opportunity to collaborate will be vital to avoid a huge drain on talent.
6. There is light at the end of the tunnel
Let’s be honest, resilience reserves are running low. Quite simply, working parents are knackered. So it’s on all of us to hold each other up.
There is no question that lacklustre media coverage of this issue reveals a toxic malaise surrounding the impact of this crisis on working parents - which data point after data point tells us is disproportionately women.
Working mothers, myself included, find themselves raging at the fact that we appear to be collectively sleepwalking into the biggest crisis in gender equality for a generation, while simultaneously trying to remember the difference between a verb and an adjective. Allies – you are politely invited to speak up and show up at every opportunity.
Yet, in the space between printing out worksheets about rock-cycles and penguins, it’s clear to see that across the industry there are leaders and companies pushing to support their parents in new, creative and imaginative ways. Working parents have been set an impossible task and whilst we face a fragile economic and emotional environment, it's vital to create the space to share this challenge.
For 2020 may well have revealed the sentiment of ‘we are all in it together’ as somewhat hollow. Yet, if you are reading this after a hard day of the juggle, please read this sentence into a hug and know tomorrow is a new day and trying your best is good enough.
For an industry that is only as good as its people; now is the time to step up and support them.
Nicola Kemp is editorial director of Creativebrief