Why mums mean business

If advertising – and the wider creative industry – wants a more diverse workforce, it needs to provide a better path for mothers to return to work after having children. Ali Hanan explains how her Creative Equals Returnships programme is doing just that

In London, only 12 per cent of creative directors are women. And very few of those are mothers. Right from the outset of their careers, 60 per cent of young female creatives don’t believe they can stay in the industry and have a young family, according to a survey by the Young Creative Council and Creative Equals, a non-profit organisation addressing gender equality within adland’s creative departments. So just when a woman’s career dovetails with motherhood, we lose many of our best creative talents.

Sarah Shepherd who After having child reneturned to work under Creative Equals’ Creative Returnships programme for working mothers
Copywriter Sarah Shepherd photographed at ad agency Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. After having children, Shepherd returned to work under Creative Equals’ Creative Returnships programme

Maternal Wall

If you become a mother, this is what happens next. In a fast-paced media world, even after a year out of the market, media channels change, folios date and when mums want to return to work, they find they’re overlooked for permanent roles because of the ‘Maternal Wall’, an inherent social bias where women are seen as less committed to the workplace because of children. And, even in 2017, many agencies still aren’t open to flexible working models.

This process has a knock-on effect. When mums leave the industry, those all-important role models for young creatives disappear too.

“I had a huge sense of unfulfilled potential…. This returnship has meant that I can flex my creative muscles again…. Most importantly [it has] made me believe in my ideas again.” – ‘Returnee’ Sarah Shepherd

But it’s not just workplace diversity that suffers: the work does too. Without mums in our agencies, we make it harder to produce work that resonates with the primary audience for many clients: mothers. According to a survey by the IPA, an incredible 55 per cent of mums feel marketers don’t get them, one of the highest levels of dissatisfaction in the world. Join the dots between the lack of mums shaping creative work and our consumer audiences and the outcome is this: without having mums represented within our departments, creative work is falling wide of the mark. 

A route back

To create a route back for those who have left, Creative Equals has set up the industry’s first ‘Creative Returnships’ programme. Working with ‘returners’ alongside The Industry Club, Creative Equals provides three ways back, including training with D&AD, a week to a month at the School of Communication Arts, or a paid six-to-ten week ‘Returnship’, where returners gain the chance to refresh their skills and portfolios in an informal environment with live briefs under the guidance of top creative directors.


Creative Equals’ first returner is Sarah Shepherd, a copywriter and mother of three. She is now cracking briefs under the guidance of Dave Buonaguidi, Chief Creative Officer at Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

When mums go, we lose their insights and experience, which is why the industry needs to give mums what they need to stay in the first place

“I returned to work as a part-time copywriter as this was the only way I could fit going back into the industry with family life,” says Shepherd, “but I had a huge sense of unfulfilled potential. Now my children are all at school, this ‘Returnship’ has meant I can at last flex my creative muscles again. The team at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky have eased me in and, most importantly, made me believe in my ideas again.”

A new source of talent

When mums go, we lose their insights and experience, which is why the industry needs to give mums what they need to stay in the first place. We need to create the right maternity frameworks so new parents feel they can stay and thrive in adland. Women make up just 25 per cent of creative departments but now, brands and clients are demanding their agencies diversify. ‘Returnships’ provide a new source of talent, but most importantly, they give the industry a way to better connect with consumers and ultimately, produce engaging and relevant creative.

Ali Hanan is founder of Creative Equals.  Do you know someone who would like to ‘Return’? Contact: hello@creativeequals.org 

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