Women In Media’s Chris Howatson: “Men Need To Be Treated By Employers In The Same Way As Women”

Women In Media’s Chris Howatson: “Men Need To Be Treated By Employers In The Same Way As Women”

During this year’s B&T Women in Media Awards, presented by Are Media, we’re recognising exceptional people who have achieved success in their professional arenas, celebrating their invaluable contribution to their industry through leadership, innovation and courage.

Women in Media Awards 2018 Male Champion of Change winner and CHE Proximity CEO Chris Howatson took the time to chat with B&T about how CHEP is driving gender equality in the industry, and his 2021 goal of equalising parental leave for men and women. He says until employers treat men the same way as women, true equality will be difficult to achieve.

Howatson has arguably paved the way for working mothers with one of the industry’s most flexible maternity leave policies.

On why he believes he won Male Champion of Change in 2018, Howatson said it comes down to the work CHEP did in the space of maternity leave and closing the capability gap that occurs in agencies when women start families.

He said: “One of the things that we identified then, which was very strong in all of the literature, was the capability gap that occurs in agencies when women go and have families. Even if a mum comes back after three months, two days or a year, you’ve still got a capability gap of women leaving the workforce.

“And across the industry, particularly at CHEP, the Account Services teams are very heavily skewed to women, and that is your front of house. If you don’t have good account service people, it doesn’t matter how good the agency is at anything else, you might as well not show up.”

Howatson continued: “Our most important and intelligent leaders were leaving to have families and as we’ve seen for decades, that typically is a marking point for women not to go back into the industry. And we wanted to reverse that.

“One of the very big things we focused on was creating a programme that would encourage mums to come back to work. And in coming back to work, obviously, give them ongoing job satisfaction but also ensure that the intellectual property and cultural advantage felt by the agency. We increased maternity leave to 12 weeks – which isn’t enormous – but the thing that was most significant, we thought about how to emotionally stay connected to mums when they’re away.”

Howatson said traditionally when it comes to maternity leave, there’s very little communication between women and agencies.

“You pretty much get turned off the network,” said Howatson. “You don’t get any training for a year or more. And I find that when I am away from work for extended periods of time I get quite anxious when I come back.

“Even if it’s a holiday and you come back in three weeks and go, ‘Has the world changed this much that I don’t know what I’m doing anymore?’ And that was a really easy example for me to kind of go, ‘Oh, wow. If that’s how I feel after three weeks, when I have all these things that still connect me to the workplace, how does someone feel after being away for 12 months?'”

Howatson said CHEP then redesigned the maternity experience. Mothers weren’t on pause or leaving the agency to have a child, they were still very much part of the team.

“They could access training programs we have every week. They would still receive all-staff emails and for all intents and purposes, they are till very much part of the agency.”

When asked if how CHEP deals with maternity leave is unique for the advertising industry, Howatson said it’s rare across all industries, not just adland.

“People still find it surprising that’s how we approach maternity leave. Certainly, within my friendship group outside of work across different industries, there are not many people that allow their staff to be at home and not working and get paid the full amount of money (which we do at CHEP) because most people still see work as a timecard rather than the outcome.

“Maybe COVID will change that but certainly, up until this time, that has been a pretty enduring belief of the working world.”

Speaking to what the industry is getting right in its approach to fighting gender inequality and where it could improve, Howatson said he believes the industry is quite progressive in terms of gaps around pay and promotion.

“My assumption would be that the advertising industry is a pretty liberal industry, and there’d be very few if any instances around gaps between pay and promotion between gender. I’m also sure most have clued on to doing better when it comes to maternity leave.

“At CHEP we do an audit every three months just to keep a check on how many people have been promoted by gender, what was the pay increase per gender, as well as management representation. I guess that’s the whole point of unconscious bias – sometimes even though you’re hoping to be good, sometimes it happens.”

He said, however, there is a wider societal issue that needs to be addressed, and that is that men need to be treated by their employers in the same way as women.

The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb makes a really good point which is until men get treated in the same ways as women by society, it’ll be hard for women to have the same opportunities.

“What Crabb says is that until men are treated by their employees in the same way more progressive employees have treated women in recent years around the home and child duties, it’d be really hard for women to have the support they need to continue to take on more at work.

“While all the programmes are in place, until men are liberated to help at home more, then women will end up defaulting to those more maternal roles. What that means for us as an industry is we’ve been progressive in the sense of what we’ve done around policies for women in recent years, but we need to do the same for men.”

On why CHEP’s paternity policy isn’t the same as its maternity leave policy, Howatson conceded it all comes down to affordability.,

“In many ways [CHEP’s maternity policy] isn’t as progressive as what’s required to fully drive equality for women. And I think at the moment, the only reason we can’t go there right now is affordability. If we were to adopt that policy and say every dad in the agency got 12 weeks, we just can’t afford that. And so what we’ve got to think of, is how do we reshape our business model so that is affordable.

“My goal is to make that viable for us in the next 12 months. That’s my 2021 goal.”

Don’t be shy, be proud of your achievements and enter B&T’s Women In Media! Submit your entry here.

You can also buy tickets to the event here, which will be held on Wednesday 28 October 2020, at Doltone House (Jones Bay Wharf).

And, if you’d like more information, head to this website.

Other key information 

On-time deadline: Friday 21 August 2020 (5pm AEST)

Late entries deadline: Friday 28 August 2020 (5pm AEST)

Shortlist announced: Wednesday 23 September 2020.

Thank you to all of our incredible sponsors for making the event possible! 


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