Half of media agency Carat’s National Executive Leadership team is female, B&T had the pleasure of sitting down with five of these talented women to talk about issues facing the industry as a whole. Here’s part one of our conversation with Catherine Krantz, general manager of Carat Melbourne; Gab Merrick, managing director of Carat Brisbane; Sarah James, chief digital officer; Georgie Nichols, general manager of Carat Sydney and Adriana Colaneri, chief marketing officer of Carat Australia.
What are the biggest challenges you face working in the industry?
I think when you’re a female, you’re the one who has to make the choice whether you have children or not. You then grapple with the issue, you worry about being able to come back and still have the knowledge.
When I went on maternity leave it was such a stress for me because I thought ‘how am I going to get back into this fast moving industry?’ I think a lot of young women that work in our businesses, and there’s a lot of them, they probably think the same way. When I did it nine years ago it wasn’t that bad, whereas now it is such a fast changing landscape- you’re out for a day and things have changed.
I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and I’ve had two children during that time. I think that when you go on maternity leave it’s not just that 12 months, it often puts you behind maybe two years. But we’ve been very lucky at Carat where we have a lot of support, you’re still involved in the business whilst you’ve been on maternity leave. You’re kept in the loop on things, you’ve already had those conversations early on in the piece what role you’ll be returning to. That worked really well with me, but it was incredibly daunting.
Also growing up I didn’t have a lot of female role models who had children. The generation ahead of us opted to have the career rather than the kids. So what’s really important for me and the women at Carat- we’re a lot more supportive of women that want to come back to work. What’s most important is having options; for me it was about keeping one foot in the door even if I was in the office for two days a week that was important.
Something that was really important to me was maintaining my voice in the agency, so whilst absolutely I agree the industry moves so quickly and the tech side of it can get ahead of you. For me it was making sure that the position that I earned pre-children was something that I could maintain when I go back into the agency, whether that’s part time, full time, case by case basis.
It was my decision making, my contribution to the agency, the seniority that I had got to was something which could be carried forward. Because otherwise you do end up in a situation where you’re always behind, I think to a point that’s unavoidable. I’ve seen guys progress past me in the time that I took out that we trained. But in saying that you weigh up what that equals and that equals three gorgeous children. I’m very content that I’ve got the family component that’s matched with an awesome job in an awesome company, that’s a happy outcome for me. But my career was very much an important part of the overall.
You can easily get a job back in media but is it at the same level of influence? That’s what’s critical.
For me as a working mother, trying to get in a leadership position when you’re working in a service industry like ours, and trying to get that balance between raising kids and having time with your family, and making your clients a priority and your staff a priority, it gets tough. So I think finding that balance has been the biggest challenge for me so far.
We are getting much better as an industry at that. A lot of women are working part time, there’s a lot of job sharing, but I think there’s definitely more that we can do and I think it’s been very difficult for anyone who wants to be client facing to work part time.
It’s not that you can have it all because there’s always sacrifices and balances. You’ve got to make your choices. But I think a lot of the women that came before made the point of saying that having a child and a career was not a possibility. Whereas I think the environment that we operate in now and this business in particular makes it a very real tangible option for you.
I mean to move it away from mothers, but we’re also really big on giving flexibility to all of our teams not just the working parents.
We did a lot of research around what was important to us and our staff in terms of work/life balance. I guess going into it we weren’t quite sure what it would be, there were some hypothesis, but I guess the outcome was that it wasn’t necessarily one size fits all. That work balance means something to someone in a certain role is different to somebody else, be it our mums or the dads.
We talk about mums but we’ve got some really active dads in our team as well. So I guess what we wanted to do was introduce flexible work hours policy which allowed people to pick and moderate their day and accommodate what they’re passionate about and what they love outside of work. Whether that’s spending more time with family, sport, hobbies and that kind of thing.
There’s a lot of slashies that need that extra time to accommodate their pet project.
It was really well received, it was positioned as a trial because we didn’t know how it was going to go. But it was deemed a success, in that it was largely undisruptive to the workplace, the benefit that came out of was seen on all levels not just the juniors. I think that it’s those sorts of things that sit not as a paid reward but are definitely seen as a benefit as working in the agency. There was an appreciation of the offer, so in that sense they understood the debit/credit side of it, so wanting to do the right thing by us because we’re doing the right thing by them.
We’ve got a very similar approach to that, in our lovely town we don’t have daylight savings so we work differently. But I think that flexibility encourages diversity in the workplace then encourages diversity in the workplace as well. Because what you do is attract people who have a slightly different mindset to others, because they have the ability to be more flexible. So you’ve got people who love surfing, active parents it just makes for a really great environment.
People are just generally happy, people come to work happy and it makes for a better culture.
It’s about being able to come to work, contribute and actually enjoying your surroundings and the people that you’re with because you know you’re appreciated and given the ability to be flexible.