Is mom a bad word? Today a look at the rise of the new women’s movement in the advertising, marketing and media space. Specifically making a stand against mom bias in the workplace. Joining me today is Lisen Stromberg, consultant with the 3% conference. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Scott Goodson: Hi everyone, it’s Scott Goodson and this week we examine the rise of the women’s movement in advertising, marketing and the media sector. But since its Mother’s Day here in the United States, we want to look specifically at moms in the workforce. The topic has sparked endless discussion and promises. The fact remains most industries have yet to commit to moms, neither in terms of recruiting them nor creating a work environment where moms can thrive. Today I’m speaking with Lisen Stromberg. Hi, good morning.
Lisen Stromberg: Hey Scott, how are you. Thanks for having me.
Scott: Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Lisen: So I’m a culture innovation consultant. I work with companies and organizations that help attract, promote and advance women. My key client right now is currently the 3% conference. We’re dedicated to creating more creative leadership in advertising. I’m also the author of the forthcoming book Work, Pause, Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career.
Scott: That’s the perfect background for my first question to start the show. Why do so many female college graduates who start off in the advertising, marketing, and media industries end up leaving it when they have children?
Lisen: Well, it’s not just unique to advertising, sadly. If you look at just about every industry across the field- as you know- women have been graduating at greater rates than men for over 20 years in college. We’re increasingly more and more graduating from graduate school on par with men, if not more than men, certainly for medical school. Point being though, at the base we see lots of women- there’s no pipeline issue. But we have a leaky pipeline issue. When we get to the top, you’re seeing very few women at the top with children. And those with children actually tend to have stay-at-home husbands. So something’s happening in that kind of frozen middle. We’re losing women and the question of course becomes why? There’s been a lot of discussion around wage equity, harassment, conscious and unconscious bias, and those things are all real and powerful. But I think at the heart of the conversation that we really need to start having is, what does it mean to be a parent in the workplace and as we know at least for the last two generations, Gen X and Boomers, the pressure has really been on the mothers. We’re seeing more and more fathers, millennial fathers feel that burden and pressure but in the past its really been focused on women. So that big hole that we’re seeing really comes down to what do you do when you become parents? In many cases, mothers leave and don’t feel they have an option.
Scott: We’re really wired to not support moms- that kind of sucks.
Lisen: If you look at us as a country and you compare us against every other industrialized nation, we really have family unfriendly policies. Look, we have no paid maternity leave, no paid sick leave, no mandatory vacation days. The childcare is a joke.
Scott: Its crazy.
Lisen: I know- because you’re from Sweden as I recall. You’ve lived there for many years and from Canada from birth, you know how wonderful it is there. It certainly isn’t wonderful here.
Scott: Well you’re getting into actually, some of the things I want to talk about. So if we just think for a moment about- I go back to my mother, she was a professional in the advertising industry and creative industry back in the 1960s.
Scott: And you know, she became pregnant, and obviously was thrilled. But then anxiety sat in and she thought about what she was going to do when she told her company. And in those days, women had to chose between being professionals or being a happy mother. And many women obviously left to be happy mothers. That was in the early sixties, has anything changed?
Lisen: Well, the great news is what has changed is that women are better educated. Your mom seems like she was quite a trailblazer, but we’re now seeing better educated women. We’re seeing more engaged fathers, so lots of good things have happened on the home front. Really, truly great things have happened. You used to talk about the second shift and all that and I think that frankly where seeing the research shows- and I know a many people that I’ve interviewed for the book- we’re seeing a real loosening around the rigid stereotype roles that we used to have about what was male and female home front behavior. The problem is in the workplace, the leaders and decision makers are often men and many of them have stay at home spouses, not necessarily maybe the spouse wanted to stay home, but because having two career couples working 60+ hours a week is challenging for families. So we’re seeing this real lack of flexibility in the workplace and of course as we’ve talked about, we don’t have national polices that really support us. So…something going to give.
Scott: Obviously we’re talking about the importance of women readers in advertising, marketing and media and other sectors as well. But why are we talking more about caregiving and supporting this when clearly this is the crux of the issue?
Lisen: I have a friend of mine who said it sort of feels like that old game- what was the chairs? You ran around that thing and tried to get the chair.
Scott: Musical chairs.
Lisen: That’s it! She was saying ‘there’s one pink chair and we’re all racing for that one pink chair’. There’s been so few women at the top. If you look at diversity and inclusion, there’s been so few women that it was hard to be an advocate in the room. When you get to three people- 30% then you can start seeing real change, that’s what the research shows us. So I think frankly, there haven’t been enough people advocating for this, that’s one problem in the workplace. Then of course you’ve got gridlock at a national level, the political level that has just completely resisted making change. So you’ve got a political system that’s not changing, and you’ve got a business system, a workplace system that really believes work first matters. And what do you get as a result of that? Male of female your seeing huge disengagement, huge dissatisfaction- that’s not the answer. We need to really rethink who we are. What are values are, and how can we keep and retain employees. We know that that’s what matters in the end.
Scott: Most people don’t change just because it’s right. It obviously has to be some group of people who stand up and articulate and crystalize why new behaviors and new habits are better than old habits because power doesn’t shift automatically. If its sitting with those who support a male dominated industry or an industry where there’s a workplace bias against moms, its not going to happen where people wake up and say ‘Ah- of course. Moms are good to have around the office and that adds a lot of benefits’. So, do you think there has to be more of a push, more of a movement? Maybe the focus has to evolve away from just focusing on women in leadership positions to focusing on, this lets say structural shift that has to happen to really support the caregiver.
Lisen: You’re spot on. Look, for years we’ve been talking about the opt-out mom and talking about this is an individual women’s problem. And I think its really time for us, and actually finally time for us to recognize this as a business problem. And the reason we can finally focus on that is there have been enough women who have stated and who have risen to the top, that real data is now coming through. And that data is showing us again and again that when we have a more diverse leadership team, when we have more women on boards, more women in senior managements, businesses to better. The workplace is more engaged; you see greater customer loyalty, greater employee loyalty. I mean the truth of the matter is, it’s like fairy dust- get more women in there and suddenly business does better. But we haven’t had that data, and finally we’re just beginning to get it. And when you prove it with data, than frankly it’s hard to deny. And you cant’ just do squishy stuff and say well ‘this is a women’s issue’ you start saying, ‘well actually, this is a business issue and we want to be the most competitive business.’ And of course what what’s the way to be most competitive? We look at all this and it’s not about the product anymore, it’s about culture. What does a culture look like, and what does your cultural engagement look like and can you make change that way?
Scott: I think to some extent the word culture is very much like a professional football game. You know ‘take no prisoners, go for the lung, highs and the move, the long throw’. There’s almost a macho-ism in the way we do business, in the way that we achieve our objectives. Is there another way, a more humane way? Are the values the things that have to change? That still ends up achieving objectives, that still end up with high productivity and great success in business- but maybe the different mentality.
Lisen: You know it’s so funny. I think you’re absolutely right and we’re already seeing that. I know that you’ve shared with me some of the great things that you guys have done at StrawberryFrog. We can talk about that, and I’d love to hear what you’re doing. For my book I ended up interviewing the CEO of Eleven an advertising agency here in San Francisco and her actually came to the 3% conference and was really astounded that frankly he kind of had a light bulb, ‘ how have I not thought about this’. So he went back with his leadership team and reevaluated just about everything their agency did. Well, not only did they have a lot of great women getting promoted and seeing women advance as a result of the changes he made in the culture, in their interviewing, and the way they promoted people and the consciousness they put to it. But he said, ‘Lisen, it ended up being where Millennials started staying. We thought this was about retaining women, we discovered it was about retaining Millennials. And that’s the new thing, Millennials are much more likely to say that they are committed to putting family first. There was a study out of Ernst & Young last year that showed that 58% of millennial dads have already changed jobs, passed on promotions or quit the workforce altogether because they want to put family first. So, its not just Millennial moms but Millennial dads that are saying ‘this really matters’. It’s about talent, and you don’t want to lose your talent, that becomes not about doing the right thing, that becomes about business.
Scott: So what do Millennials want?
Lisen: Boy if I had that secret, I’d need my own show. I like to joke, my generation- I’m Gen X- my generation of women who left or kind of had to have these non-linear careers to adopt to the really stringent workplace challenges and dynamics, we’re what I call the canaries in the coal mines. We walked with out feet; we showed that we’re not willing to put up with workplaces that actually don’t support us during our child caring and childbearing years, right? But Millennials, their wanting what we’ve wanted all along which is to say look, I want to be my authentic self and my authentic self means that I need to be able to engage with my family when the time is right. And its not just parents its children, we talk about working daughters and working sons. With all these boomers aging, we have a lot of burden around that. So its not just about caregiving for children, its about bringing your full self to the office, being engaged and caregiving of our own fowls frankly.
Scott: So why do you think this new women’s movement is happening now? Obviously its 50 years old, 5 years ago there started to be a movement, we started seeing leaders emerge. The head of Facebook has written a book about Lean In and we’ve started to see it in a lot of other areas. Why is it happening now, why is it culminating in 2016?
Lisen: That’s a great question. So we are kind of at this tipping point moment and actually many, many years ago in the 1970s there was this movie called “Network” and at the end of the movie a bunch of people are angry at network television and a bunch of people are standing outside screaming across the country, ‘I’m mad as hell, I’m not going to take it anymore’ [laughs] and I think we’re kind of a little bit at that moment where we’ve got all these incredibly educated women and educated men who came up the ladder together, believed that they would be able to completely contribute fully to their professional lives and their family lives, and then they’re saying wait a minute I feel like I was sold to build the goods . Its not as you presented it to me, I can’t as a women rise to the top because I’m facing all kinds of resistance, motherhood bias is a huge issue and they’re saying this is not acceptable. Plus we’re seeing despite for 20 years, women graduating from colleges at higher rates than men and still not making it to the top, something is wrong in the picture here and we need to make change.
Scott: So how do we reduce workplace bias? You mentioned before there has to be a cultural shift, but specifically do you see things that could happen today?
Lisen: If there was one agenda I would die on the sword for, its for a national paid leave policy that both men and women can take advantage of. Studies out of your home country Canada, studies out of Scandinavia- because they’ve have paid leave for a generation now- have all show that when women take extended pay leaves, and I jokingly say extend because for us we don’t have any, they actually stay in the workforce longer and are more deeply engaged in the workforce. And they stay even longer.
Scott: Why is it so difficult to get something like that passed? I mean it seems like it makes total sense.
Lisen: You know, it’s a political will issue. Right now we- I think the statistic I saw recently was only 12% of Americans have access to paid leave through their companies or in their states etcetera. That’s just unconscionable. So what that means is over 25% of American women literally take less than two weeks- that’s unconscionable. So I think it’s a moral will issue, it’s also that we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s bad for business. I would argue that what’s bad for business is to not offer paid leave of course here in Silicone Valley companies are falling over themselves trying to offer paid leave, now we have to make sure people are actually taking it. We are at a tipping point when it comes to paid leave.
Scott: First it’s about getting caregiving status as a positive influence on business and then once you have it, its convincing people to actually take it [laughs]. It’s hilarious.
Lisen: It’s a real issue actually. They don’t take the full leave because they’re afraid that they’re going to lose their jobs, and that’s the other side of that conversation. So the first part of that is, let’s just give them paid leave, the second part of that is and lets actually then remove our unconscious bias around caregiving. The whole notion that women can’t be full contributors when they’re able to, when they’ve settled into their roles as mothers is just ridiculous. Yes we have caregiving and- the next big issue of course would be childcare, how do we solve that? But it’s the unconscious bias we have around caregiving and what that means is a real issue, we need to work on that as well.
Scott: Well the good news is there are a lot of great examples that we can pull from so that you can see how caregiving works and how parenting can actually thrive and also provide super smart professionals who make an impact on business. And you can look at that and admire that rather than feel it has the anxious feeling that a mother felt when she, like my mother felt, when she became pregnant.
Lisen: Yes, although I will say. So Anne Marie Slaughter who we all know as sort of a very strong advocate for caregiving, she spoke a couple years ago at a very intimate group of senior women and corporations across the country and these were sort of the best- the crème de la crème. She asked the room ‘how many of you actually have children?’ and I’d say I think she reported about 75% raised their hands. Then she said. ‘Okay, how many of you actually have stay at home husbands?’ 75% raised their hands. So the point is, we’re not shifting the workplace dynamic; we’re just shifting the genders. That’s not a solution either.
Scott: What we’re talking about is a fundamental change of the system so that there is that type of support so you can be a mother and a professional and feel that you’re adding even greater value.
Lisen: I think that’s right. And I think you at StrawberryFrog, you know, I can’t wait to see all the great work that you’re sharing because I think you’re modeling how it can be done. And that’s so important to have models, and I think frankly men stepping up saying ‘look what I’ve done, I’ve got this really engaged workforce and men and women can be who they need to be. And if you need to go to your kid’s dentist appointment at two in the afternoon, you’ll figure it out with the Internet and technology and everything else. There’s no excuse to say that you have to be ‘butt-in-chair’ all day long.
Scott: No one lives that world anyway anymore so, and-especially when you’re trading in ideas, right? I mean it’s extremely difficult to, in my opinion, substantiate the idea that you’re actually productive every moment of the day. Most people are obviously on social media or doing 100 other things. But anyway, I just wanted to thank you so much for your time and your insights, they’re super interesting and hopefully motivating for a lot of people listening here today. I know that when your book comes out I would love to have you back.
Lisen: I would love to be back. That’s great.
Scott: So thank you so much, very interesting and have a great day.
Lisen: Thanks, you too Scott.
Scott: Take care.