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    ‘Greedy’ and ‘shitty’: Adland urged to stop making parental leave redundancies

    Agencies need to stop making redundancies while the people impacted are on parental leave, Creative Natives’ Ryan Kelly tells Mediaweek: “It’s either poor business planning [or] greed … but I think until we call it for what it is, and stop accepting it.”

    Last week, Kelly posted on LinkedIn: “Being made redundant whilst on maternity leave is so f%cking brutal. Companies please stop doing this … it’s complete bullshit and the impact it has on families is way more significant then you realise.”

    His post – which racked up more than 1,600 likes and 173 comments – came soon after someone from OMD posted about experiencing it. She’d been with the agency almost a decade.

    “My inbox this week has never gotten so mad,” Kelly says of the reaction.

    “And I’m talking about people globally, in really high up senior roles, saying ‘good on you for bringing it to attention’, but also, ‘I’ve had to sign NDAs, I’ve had to do this, I’ve had to do this.’ And I mean, it’s been quite an experience this week, like ‘holy shit. What have we actually opened up here?'”

    In response, the industry recruitment firm Kelly runs, Creative Natives, is holding a webinar at lunchtime today called ‘Redundant on Parental Leave: What’s Next?’ Kelly expects more than 1,000 people to tune in, and hopes the result is people talking more about the issue, and committing to take action.

    “Maybe this is a bit ambitious, but is there an opportunity for a pledge where businesses pledge to not doing this. And that doesn’t mean it’s a legally bound, ‘we can’t make redundancies’, but how can you position yourself as an ethical business if you’re doing this stuff?

    “There’s actually great things about the industry but who is actually shining the light? I think there’s a lot of bodies or whatnot that pander to the networks. They’re there to tell the networks what it is, and I fundamentally disagree with it.

    “I know I’m gonna ruffle a lot of feathers with this … whilst I empathise with businesses that have to run in a certain way, I also call bullshit on it, because I run a business that has part time women within the business and that operate at a high level, and they make it work. And I think that we’ve got to stop telling, particularly women, what they can and cannot do.”

    ‘I knew something was up’: How it feels to lose your job when you’re about to return to it

    Mikhaila Warburton, who works with Kelly as a senior consultant, knows what it feels like first hand. Just before Christmas in 2020, her role was made redundant. She was on maternity leave with her first daughter, about to return four days a week in the new year.

    “So when I got a call on Monday night at 5pm to be available for a Tuesday meeting with two new execs I’d not met, I knew something was up,” she says.

    She was given the news over a Zoom meeting. There was not any of the consultation that legally needs to occur before you make a role redundant. She was not told she could take a support person to the meeting. “Very little was said. Not even a ‘thanks for the last 5 years.'”

    The two people impacted by redundancies were in the same boat: new mums, on maternity leave but about to return to the business part-time.

    “The usual HR comments were used, ‘it’s not you it’s the position,’ and I would accept that if it were actually true. But I could read between the lines.

    “Two of the highest billers made redundant. The only thing that linked us was that we were both return-to-work parents seeking part-time hours.”

    Warburton explains that it was difficult to cope with the news, and find a new role. She was looking for a part-time position in January – the quietest recruiting period of the year – at the height of the pandemic.

    “Part time roles we know barely exist still today, let alone in 2020. Job share arrangements are incredibly hard to come by.

    “I was restricted with days that I could work, as that was the care I had pre-planned with a daycare centre that took months on a waitlist to finally get into.”

    ‘Are they trying to screw a five day [week] into three days?’: The difficulty of part-time

    Currently, Creative Natives has a pool of more than 2,000 people in the industry looking for part-time work. Kelly explains that the stress of losing your income – when job security may well have been a key consideration in family planning – and trying to find a part-time job with a baby is unfair.

    “There might be a couple of part time roles, but geez, how competitive are they?” he asks. “And are they really businesses offering part time, or are they trying to screw a five day [week] into three days and expecting it?”

    Creative Natives cuts its recruitment fee in half if an agency hires a returning parent, and increases its guarantee from six months to 12 months. One agency donated the remaining 50% of its fee to a charity helping women experiencing domestic violence, “so there’s good people out there that will do that. But then I don’t want to be feeding shit companies talent for free, that are going to take advantage of them.”

    Mums in Ads launched its Part Time Pitch in September, asking agencies to agree to advertise all roles as part time negotiable. Plenty of agencies have signed on. F*ck the Cupcakes has been at the forefront of the industry’s gender equality conversation, recently holding an event for men to talk about it while making pies

    There’s a long way to go. Women in their mid-30s leaving the industry was one of the key issues uncovered in the Ad Council’s inaugural Create Space census in 2021 – the results of the second are due later this month – with ACA head of engagement Hannah Sturrock telling Mediaweek last year that while “this is always going to be a slow and quite painful process, I think to rewire our industry … at least we’re making some progress in putting this topic on the agenda.”

    ‘A lot of parents get railroaded, loaded with legal jargon’

    Many facing this experience deal with it quietly, feeling shame or worrying that speaking up will burn bridges or impact future career prospects. When Warburton spoke to people she knew, she “noticed that many others were also experiencing shitty return to work experiences like rejected part time hours, returning to different roles that were less appealing, other redundancies, unnecessary performance management as a way of moving people out without redundancy payments.”

    She notes that there’s a big gap in “supporting people whilst they are in the redundancy negotiations. I know a lot of parents get railroaded, loaded with legal jargon … not having access to support, legal advice, knowing your rights, what else you can ask for is a big gap. So I think having a free and accessible resource library for the industry around ‘where to go’ would be helpful whilst in the negotiations.”

    Since 2020, people have started speaking more openly about redundancy, including redundancy while on parental leave.

    “I think in the grieving process of losing a job, your lose part of your identity and with that comes an element of shame and self doubt,” Warburton observes. “People are definitely moving on from shame, and into bravery. And bravery is what’s driving change.”

    Kelly encourages people in the thick of it to talk about it, take some time to come to terms with the redundancy, and create a plan of action. “But that’s all well and good me saying that, because I’ve got a job and I don’t have two hours sleep under my belt and a child crying.”

    Kelly and Warburton hope that today’s webinar is the start of a bigger conversation, and a change in agency behaviour.

    “Employers that are labelling it a redundancy when really it’s not, just as a way to move return to work parents out of the business at their most vulnerable times,” Warburton says. “It’s shitty. It’s got to stop.”

    The post ‘Greedy’ and ‘shitty’: Adland urged to stop making parental leave redundancies appeared first on Mediaweek.

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