Women being lost to the industry: what should agencies do?

PR has traditionally been a female-dominated industry, but it is at increasing risk of losing a substantial chunk of its senior level female workforce.

Free fruit and gym membership won't help you retain new or expectant mothers, argues Forato
Free fruit and gym membership won't help you retain new or expectant mothers, argues Forato
At the heart of this problem is the failure of many agencies to put workplace wellbeing strategies in place that adequately support expectant and returning mothers.

Research has shown that more than a third of women working in the PR and media sector would consider leaving their job if they don’t feel well looked after by their employer.  

In the past, being a ‘destination workplace’ in the PR industry was all about the clients you worked with, but in recent years priorities have shifted.

It’s long been accepted that PR can be a stressful career, especially with pressurised clients and a 24 hour news cycle to keep up with, but women now have higher expectations of their employer in terms of supporting their wellbeing at work.

Agencies need to recognise this and take action to avoid losing talented staff, especially new mothers returning to work after maternity leave.

So what can agencies do to retain senior level female employees and retain valuable talent amongst this demographic?

At a recent event, hosted in partnership with the IPA and PRCA, panellists identified the following:

Flexible working

Unpredictable working hours are typical of agency life, and this can present huge problems for working mums.

Offering flexible working arrangements is vitally important in supporting women trying to balance work and family life. It’s particularly valuable for those with more than one child to help juggle childcare arrangements and other commitments. 

Whilst flexible working arrangements are perceived to be difficult, the pushback often being that ‘the client won’t like it’, on the whole clients usually understand and recognise that during busy periods measures must be taken to maintain a work-life balance.  

Many clients are adopting such practices themselves, and as long as they understand who their point person is and when they’re available, the relationship won’t suffer.

Getting the benefits balance right

Agencies should provide employee benefits that meet the needs of the female workforce if they are serious about retaining senior level female employees.

Research shows that 62 per cent of mums take employee benefits into consideration when planning their finances.

Agencies that provide maternity pay schemes and childcare vouchers should therefore make this clear as a point of differentiation.

Other longer-term benefits such as income protection, which provides a replacement income if you're unable to work for more than 6 months due to illness or injury, and sick pay insurance are increasingly regarded as must-haves for those with dependants.

In addition to making these benefits available, HR and line managers must clearly communicate what is on offer if the agency as a whole is to reap the benefits.

It seems difficult to comprehend that the PR industry isn’t doing more to prevent senior level female employees from walking out over poor wellbeing at work.

Agencies need to recognise that benefits like subsidised gym membership and free fruit may appear attractive to younger staff but are less appealing to expectant or new mothers who are looking for financial reassurance and a better work life balance. 

Marco Forato is the chief marketing officer at Unum

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