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69% CHAT

  • Writer's pictureJulia Woollams

Mum’s the word



In the design industry, do we talk enough about creatives who are also mums? And are they valued as much as they should be?


In our most recent 69% Chat article – Discussing Diversity in Graphic Design – we touched on female equality relating to motherhood. I was interested in expanding this conversation by chatting with mothers in a variety of creative roles to find out their thoughts on how inclusive they feel our industry is in this area.


Of course, women losing their footing on career ladders when becoming mothers is a wider issue in the UK workforce than the creative sector, but how does the world of graphic design compare to others?


I chatted with 12 creatives – I asked whether they had to change the way they worked after having kids, whether they feel the design industry is inclusive for working mums and also the pros and cons of adapted working practices as a result of Covid.


I, like lots of women before me, set up my own consultancy for flexibility when I became a mum – is this the only practical solution for women in the industry who have kids?


Thank you to Heidi Lightfoot, Kate Gallé, June Mineyama-Smithson, Claire Robertshaw, Emily Penny, Jennifer Hayashi, Hayley Kitson, Jill Hogan, Gemma Ince, Cecilie Maurud Barstad, Andrea Boughton, and Lara Juriansz for sharing their experiences and views.


 

Heidi Lightfoot



Heidi set up Together Design with friend, and fellow creative director, Katja Thielen in 2003 following a number of years at leading branding agencies in London. She is a regular design award judge and often mentors emerging design businesses who are starting out in the industry. Together Design work on multi award-winning branding programmes and packaging for cultural, education and retail clients. She has two boys aged 11 and 14. More on Heidi: website


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


Heidi: As an agency founded by two women, we’ve had to think hard about how motherhood fits in with studio life. My business partner and I took it in turns to have kids, so we could keep the agency going. Since my first maternity leave (and our first for the company as a whole) there have been 15 babies, born to Together employees, over the last 15 years. And we’re a small team. We’re incredibly proud of supporting those parents whilst running a successful business.

I chose to change, from working five days a week to working four days a week, when I had my first son. Which pretty much became the blueprint at Together. In our current team of 15 we have seven mums working four days a week, spreading their hours across the week in different ways.

All our team are amazing, but I take my hat off to the working mothers. They’re super focussed, diligent, organised. They keep our company running.

There is a reputation in the design industry that design is born of passion and graft; an art form which can’t be shoehorned into ‘normal’ working hours. Late nights and weekend working are seen as a badge of honour, to push the idea and strive for the best. We’ve always hated that attitude – long before we had kids to get home to. I personally feel very proud when everyone has gone, and the studio is empty, at 6.05pm. In fact, I’m rarely there to witness it myself, given that I leave earlier as part of our flexi hours policy.


In our current team of 15 we have seven mums working four days a week, spreading their hours across the week in different ways.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Heidi: In the past it’s been awful. I’ve seen first-hand how discriminatory our very male-run industry could be. Other agency owners have openly said to me that they wouldn’t hire a woman of child-bearing age. Mums were the hidden ones, often in support roles and not design or client facing. Talk of family matters at work was not encouraged. Mothers were often given the minimum statutory pay during maternity leave. Even one of our own clients expressed horror that I was planning to take nine months off when having my first child; “What are you going to do, wallow in milk?!”

I do see a change now thank goodness.

I’m grateful for every job ad that highlights family friendly policies. The dads in the industry who have been vocal about adjusting their working hours after having kids. I’m grateful for my husband who was the first person at his company to take up the (newly created) shared parental leave when we had our second son. But I shouldn’t have to be grateful. It should be a given that our choices at home don’t have to harm our progress at work.


Other agency owners have openly said to me that they wouldn’t hire a woman of child-bearing age.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


Heidi: I’m sure the adjustments, of home working and flexible hours, have indeed made working in design easier for all parents. If you can do a full day of work around the school day, then that’s great for getting the work done. But does it help with the visibility of mothers in our industry?

I have a niggling concern that, if others in the agency are back in the office, then mothers become less visible and potentially less valued and are not present as role models. And we need more women to be role models, not less.

I hope the general increase in flexible working helps to dispel the perception that a mum working part time is ‘lucky’ to be given that flexibility, and so should keep their head down and not ask for anything else (whatever that may be; promotion, speaking opportunities, to be more client facing). Because if they’re good at their job then, frankly, the company is the lucky one, and should be encouraging and supporting them to achieve their ambitions.


 

Kate Gallé



A branded packaging designer, Kate started out at M&S internal design studio, then cut her teeth in brands at Landor Associates for 6 years. She spent 4 years freelancing for smaller companies before settling at Design Bridge for 8 years. Initially as a DD and then a CD, Kate worked on global packaging for brands like Cadbury, Hellmann’s, Toblerone, Durex and Dettol. Now she works as a freelancer remotely for agencies as well as working directly with her own clients. Kate’s children are 6 and just 5. More on Kate: LinkedIn


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


Kate: Initially, with my first child, my company, where I was a CD, was brilliant. I did a non-working day each week. They allowed me to change my hours for 3 days, starting at 8am so I could leave at 5.20pm. It was all doable and I was just about managing. But when I returned after my second child it began to get harder, it was the same deal with work but juggling 2 children’s needs, wants and sicknesses etc started to make doing a good job harder. Then my childminder moved away suddenly and the kids had to go to a nursery that was brilliant but only open until 5.45pm – no exceptions – and the whole thing began to unravel. I felt like I was failing at work and failing as a mum. Racing for trains or cycling like a nutter through red lights so I could finish that crit, see my designers and still make it to pick the children up on time. Then Covid hit and when the redundancies came and I was actually relieved to hear I was on the list. I actually cried with happiness that the decision I knew I had to take had been taken out of my hands.


Racing for trains or cycling like a nutter through red lights so I could finish that crit, see my designers and still make it to pick the children up on time.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Kate: I don’t think that our industry is very inclusive for anyone who actually wants a life outside of work. And definitely not one that begins at 5pm. The hours and the client expectations of what can/should be achieved in a day are often unrealistic. And increasing all the time. Especially if you actually care and want to do a great job. In my 22 year long full-time agency and freelance career I think I’ve probably done 7.5 hours a day only a handful of times. I’m not blaming the industry/client expectations totally. I am not great at calling it a day. I think it’s the nature of the creative mind to want to see a problem to its solution – to finish a trail of thought – so often we are victims of our own passion. It’s kind of a vocation in some ways – you are married to the job. Projects take over your life and fill your mind night and day. It was all I ever wanted in my 20-30’s but it just doesn’t wash when you have kids. The women I’ve known who’ve managed it had to make sacrifices. See their children less, move to be near family or their partners took on flexible work to allow them to continue.


The idea that a designer could deliver creative whilst not in the studio seemed impossible.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


Kate: Easier definitely. Pre-Covid remote working seemed like something only strategists or client-facing people could do. The idea that a designer could deliver creative whilst not in the studio seemed impossible. How could you creatively direct if you couldn’t grab a pencil and scribble on the work? But Covid forced the issue. We learnt tools for collaboration and had to find new ways to work. I have, since leaving, freelanced remotely for companies in Glasgow, Amsterdam, the midlands and London without crossing my front door step. I can be near, and see more of my kids but am still able to pursue my design career. I’m not sure how long it’s going to last. But it's the Covid silver lining for me at the moment.

 

June Mineyama-Smithson (aka MAMIMU)



June Mineyama-Smithson is a London-based Japanese artist/graphic designer. Lecturer at UAL, D&AD judge and speaker at Design London, Birmingham Design Festival, and Design Manchester. Her bold joyful work has been featured internationally on Creative Boom, Design Milk, SCMP and Cow Parade Niseko. Her interest in combining art and science to find the ‘Optimum Optimism’ lead to a collaboration with neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart, which resulted in the creation of on-screen idents for ITV. June lives happily with her husband and 11-year old son. More on June: website; Instagram; Twitter; LinkedIn


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


June: Before I had my son, I enjoyed freelancing at various branding agencies in London. I tried to do the same after an 8-month maternity leave (because I was itching to get back to work before I forgot all my Adobe CC shortcuts!), but it didn't quite work out. I was shocked that nothing seemed to be designed for working parents — How come the nursery closes at 6 pm when I finish working at 6 pm too?!


Gradually, I started to take on my own clients to have more flexibility. I’ve always been a hands-on creative and had no desire to be in the C-suite, so I didn't mind getting out of the agency structure. I think it's important to know that just because you are a designer, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to have the SD-DD-CD-ECD kind of career path. Now, I'm an artist/graphic designer/lecturer/creative consultant for a start-up, and I'm happy.


I was shocked that nothing seemed to be designed for working parents – How come the nursery closes at 6 pm when I finish working at 6 pm too?!

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


June: It's getting better, but I think working mums tend to lose out in the early years. For example, there's the gender pay gap. My husband was earning more, so I felt that I had to be the primary carer when our son was little. But as our son got older, childcare has become more equally weighted between us (thank you, David!).


Also, there seems to be a general false perception that working mums are preoccupied by children before work, whereas dads are seen as providers who are more mature and experienced by their age.


It's frustrating, but I don't like playing the victim, and I don't believe that complaining about how the industry is not inclusive would drive positive changes. Maybe we should approach it like we treat our children with positive/negative reinforcement - that is, praising good behaviours and ignoring undesirable behaviours - to foster a more inclusive culture in our industry.


I think it's important to know that just because you are a designer, it doesn’t mean you HAVE to have the SD-DD-CD-ECD kind of career path.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


June: I think the post-Covid hybrid working has made life easier for all parents, not just mums. Even if that means stopping working at 3:30 pm for the school run and then getting back to work in the evening, it's more flexible and less stressful. However, I wish schools and society as a whole were more geared towards working parents. In Japan, community centres and after-school childcare are more common. I don't know why these kinds of options are not in place in the UK, despite years of parents struggling through.

 

Claire Robertshaw


Claire is Executive Creative Director at Design Bridge. Having worked in the industry for over 20 years, Claire is responsible for the creative excellence and management of the London Studio, overseeing and leading key relationships with Design Bridge’s broad portfolio of clients. Claire is passionate about nurturing the next generation of creative talent, coaching and mentoring with D&AD’s New Blood Academy, as well as leading Design Bridge’s annual junior competition, The Start. A fierce advocate for creative freedom and empowerment, Claire regularly contributes to industry discussion on this topic, and is a mentor for Kerning the Gap, an organisation dedicated to achieving gender equality in the design industry with a focus on women in leadership roles. More on Claire: Instagram

Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?

Claire: I did change the way I work, but crucially my husband and I BOTH changed the way we worked. We moved out of London to be closer to a supportive family network and more affordable nurseries. He then went freelance which gave us greater flexibility for those days when the plan doesn’t go to plan and to juggle the drop offs, school holidays and sick days. Raising the boys together and sharing the responsibility has been key to me being able to continue to develop in my role. When a mother returns and also picks up all (or the bulk) of the childcare and emotional load, it's incredibly challenging to regain your confidence and thrive in the workplace.

At Design Bridge my return was welcomed, but I had to forge a flexible working pattern where none existed. No senior female creatives had kids so there was no benchmark or guide to follow. My eldest son is now 13, so this was way before the industry was forced to embrace remote working through Covid. Many trials and changes followed before we established a phasing-in period and flexible working pattern that is now company policy.

In terms of my working style, my judgement & prioritisation definitely became sharper and my communication much clearer. That enabled me to make home and work ‘work’ but was also beneficial for the team. It’s not just parents who don’t want to be working late in the studio every night!


Crucially my husband and I BOTH changed the way we worked.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?

Claire: I think it varies wildly depending on the agency. The gender balance within your workplace, in particular within the management team is a key enabler - or blocker - to inclusivity in my opinion. I am part of a full female management team, most of whom are also mums, so the support & empathy is there. So my experience has been good and I am now in a position to help shape that inclusive environment for us all.


The gender balance within your workplace, in particular within the management team is a key enabler - or blocker - to inclusivity in my opinion.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?

Claire: The acceptance & flexibility in terms of hours, location & tech has put a level of control back into the hands of parents which can only be a good thing. Nursery and school drop offs are easier to factor into the working day when you don’t add on the commute - and the cost saving is super helpful too.

It has also highlighted that a better work/life balance is something that everyone wants and as such has reduced the isolating judgement & stigma felt by (usually) Mums leaving a busy studio early or needing to work remotely.

For me hybrid working is the ideal. I do think there is something to be said for the headspace of a commute, the wind up and wind down from work and the focus to be you as a designer, not just as a Mum.


 

Emily Penny



Emily is a brand strategist, writer, and founder of brand voice consultancy Becolourful. She partners with creative agencies and brand owners to boost their capabilities in brand strategy, culture and verbal identity. With a focus on B2B and creative industries, she has worked with Conran Design Group, Johnson Banks, Motto and Vault49. More on Emily: website; Instagram

Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?

Emily: Nothing prepares you for how a baby turns your life upside down, physically, emotionally, and financially. It is impossible to carry on like business as normal because you now have a second job, a more important one. Children take priority; when the nursery calls to say they are sick, you drop everything.


After I had my first baby, my request for reduced hours was turned down and I left a job I loved. In my next job, even on fewer days, I still pretended it was easy peasy. I thought I had to find that strength or I’d be failing myself and my family. Even when I began working for myself, I gave myself little slack. It seemed like everyone else could do it, surely I should be able to too. What I know now is that everyone is masking and rallying to keep up the facade.

The reality is: people don’t cope. The happy pictures on social media don’t tell the whole story. We’re living in this crazy world where we all want to live the luxury la-di-da lifestyle with homes that look like hotels – but unlike Downton Abbey, we’re doing all the below-stairs jobs too. The cooking, the cleaning, oh my word the laundry – it’s never-ending! I was operating at levels of exhaustion that took me years to recover from. I wish someone had told me, earnestly, gravely, firmly, to prioritise my health and mental health; I always put myself at the bottom of the list.


Much of it comes down to financial pressures: you’re at a stage where you are building a home and a family and it’s expensive. You don’t want to take your foot off the accelerator.

New mums and dads don’t get enough support and understanding; they are trying so hard and they are absolute heroes. As a parent of a small child, you don’t even get to drink a cup of coffee when it’s hot or go to the toilet in peace. These basic experiences were the things I relished when I returned to work.


My kids are now fabulous teenagers and I’m finally feeling a bit more human. All I can say is: there is light at the end of the tunnel, when you get to drink hot coffee. But until then, please listen to my earnest and grave plea: mother yourself as well as your child. They are not the only beings who are precious and fragile.


We’re living in this crazy world where we all want to live the luxury la-di-da lifestyle with homes that look like hotels – but unlike Downton Abbey, we’re doing all the below-stairs jobs too.


Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Emily: It’s so much easier now than it was ten years ago to work remotely or part-time – but flexibility is just one aspect. For an industry flooded with female design graduates, women still aren’t finding their way to senior management positions.


As an independent writer much of my work is done in collaboration with design agencies and whether it’s boutique studios or global agencies, 90% of the time I find myself working with male creative directors and female account managers. Where are the 40+ female designers? Are they passed over for promotion? Or is the shape of these leadership roles simply unattractive to them? I know an awful lot of mothers who have become independent and work for themselves. Perhaps women are prioritising well-being.


Whether it’s boutique studios or global agencies, 90% of the time I find myself working with male creative directors and female account managers.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?

Emily: 2020 was a turning point for my business. As an independent writer based in West Sussex, it was a relief when everyone embraced remote working. About bloody time.

It now seems ridiculous to me that I used to commute to an office. I’m bewildered that I used to wear heels, as if life wasn’t hard enough. One time when I was walking from the nursery drop-off to the train station for my commute, I dropped one of my work shoes from my bag and had to retrace my steps in the drizzle to retrieve it. I was late, stressed, bedraggled; it wasn’t my most favourite day. It epitomises the juggle we go through to keep up appearances.

 

Jennifer Hayashi



Jennifer is an energetic, colourful Scottish Design Director and Illustrator. By day she leads a team of talented designers as Associate Design Director at We Are Social. She is an advocate for mentorship and gender equality, volunteering her time mentoring and speaking at creative events as well as focusing on her side-hustle illustrations. She has lead campaigns for the likes of Netflix, Lidl, YO! Sushi, Amazon, Samsung, Unilever and other global brands. Her personal mission is to bring an energetic approach to any brief and push the boundaries to create campaigns that have impact. She is a new mum, with a 4 and a half month baby (currently on maternity leave but working freelance on her hustle and mentoring/lecturing on the side). More on Jennifer: website; Instagram


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


Jennifer: I'm currently on my maternity leave, so I've not fully dipped into work yet, however I have been freelancing for a few clients. One of which I worked on an exciting project which I started 6 weeks postpartum! My attitude to work is different. Where I thought I was efficient before, I'm 3 times more efficient. The time I have is precious. If I'm going to work on something, I want to make sure I don't waste any time. I have learned to put better boundaries in place, my work and career are important to me but there are times where I need to put my family first. I have a full re-evaluation of my life after having a baby. Things I would do before; staying late, focusing on perfection, cramming in that one last task, needs to stop. Time is so precious. Whatever I do with that time, it has to be worth it as it's taking time away from my baby and my family. I have found that honesty with work really works. I don't feel bad about saying I can't get a new version today because I'm spending the afternoon with my baby. My clients have been supportive and understanding. It's a two way street. I do think I've been incredibly lucky and privileged to have worked in this way. I even took my baby to zoom calls and meetings and everyone has been surprised but also kind and helpful. Just because I have a child strapped to me for their comfort doesn't mean I can't attend a zoom call about feedback. It's been a relief! Babies cry and it's normal!


Where I thought I was efficient before, I’m 3 times more efficient. The time I have is precious. If I’m going to work on something, I want to make sure I don’t waste any time.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Jennifer: No. I think that we need to be more up-front with the ways that working mums can work. The 9 to 5 is archaic, it doesn't work for anyone let alone working mums. Before I had my baby, I knew nothing of the reality that working mothers face. If we created a safe space where different ways of working are made normal (flexible, hybrid, 4 day week etc), it would make it easier for everyone to work. Creativity doesn't just happen 9 to 5. It's about creating an accepting environment so that your team understands and working mums don't have to deal with added stress and the existential dread. There needs to be more support, education and wide-spread acceptance of all kinds of ways of working together. Maternity and paternity policies should be made available in the interview process. It shouldn't have to be a ‘should I - shouldn't I ask to see them?’ situation. All companies should show how they are embracing flexible working for those who need it. We need to end the needless burn-out culture that has bred within the industry. Working constantly against tight deadlines and pitches at the expense of our team's wellbeing is truly idiotic, especially if you are looking after a small child.


Maternity and paternity policies should be made available in the interview process. It shouldn't have to be a ‘should I - shouldn't I ask to see them?’ situation.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


Jennifer: In my experience I would say it's much easier for me to work, especially from home. Prior to Covid I was in the office 5 days a week, as a designer I didn't have the option to work from home. All the equipment was in the office and it was extremely limiting. Being able to work from home and dial into meetings has meant I've been able to work where traditionally I haven't been able to. 6 weeks postpartum I was able to work on some exciting projects, prior to Covid, all of the meetings would have taken place in person which would mean I wouldn't have been able to work. Being able to work from home has radically helped me with my career. I can work at home or in the office which has opened so many doors to clients, projects and also allowed me to take the time to focus on healing and my baby. Having access to clients that I wouldn't have dreamed of talking to has been a big change for me. Collaborative working, even when at home, has made things much easier.


 

Hayley Kitson



Hayley Kitson is a Design Director at Superunion, London with nearly 15 year’s industry experience. During this time she has worked on a wide spectrum of clients across a plethora of industries such as Nespresso, Coca Cola, Vodafone and RBS and was the design lead during a 4 year relationship with Jaguar Land Rover. She heads up the intern programme at Superunion and has more recently worked within their inclusion and diversity committee to champion working parents. Outside of work she is a proud mum to a 5 year old and 4 month old.


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


Hayley: Yes, I went back on a four day week (taking Wednesday’s off) and pre-Covid adjusted my hours to work 8-4. This allowed me to do the nursery pick-up whilst my husband did the morning drop-off. Post-Covid with hybrid working now the norm, I flex my hours to suit. I’m currently on maternity leave with my second child and plan to return to the same working pattern in the autumn.


I’ve come to realise that I need to be that role model for the next generation.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Hayley: Yes and no, though it’s certainly better than it was. Unfortunately, the design industry carries with it a massive cultural expectation of eating, breathing and sleeping design. That you give your all to your projects often working long and late hours. This is just not feasible as a working parent, I have to show up for my kids and as a result often feel like that comes at the sacrifice of my career which I’m no longer able to give 110% to.

Having said that, the culture is starting to shift. Before having children I’d almost made peace with the idea that my career would plateau or, at best, progress much more slowly unless I sacrificed time with my children. There just weren’t enough role models around me to prove otherwise. I’ve come to realise that I need to be that role model for the next generation. Covid opened many peoples eyes to the life of a working mum, they could literally see into your world juggling work calls with the screams of a toddler in the background or trying to simultaneously chat design whilst cooking dinner! It’s raised awareness and generated much more compassion and even respect. I’m also very lucky to have strong supporters in my workplace though I know that isn’t the case everywhere and certainly wasn’t for me in the past.


The gender pay gap doesn’t help. With recent studies averaging full-time nursery fees for under 2 year olds at 15k a year it’s easy to see how some women choose staying at home to look after their children ahead of progressing their careers.


Leaving the studio at 4pm in an industry where it’s the norm to work late into the evening just felt embarrassing, like I wasn’t committed to my job.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


Hayley: Personally, it’s been a total game changer. I’d only been back at work for a year after having my first child before Covid hit and in that year I was totally drowning. The shifted hours I was working were fine on paper but in practice were killing me. I was leaving the house before 6am every morning to make the commute in for 8am at a time when my 1 year old still woke multiple times a night. Then leaving the studio at 4pm in an industry where it’s the norm to work late into the evening just felt embarrassing, like I wasn’t committed to my job. In short, I was miserable and contemplating a future where I’d perhaps have to give up working in London all together.


Post-Covid there are now flexible working practices in place meaning I can get the best of both worlds. I no longer have to hide my face as I leave the studio or feel guilty that I’m not able to get that extra bit of work done before the nursery run. Nor sacrifice precious time with my children. I can create my own balance which has allowed me to finally start enjoying my work again and given me hope and optimism for the future.

 

Jill Hogan



Jill is a senior marketing communications consultant and has spent over two decades working creatively with designers and content partners. Jill has led strategic branding projects, communications programmes, multi-channel campaigns and large-scale events for clients across the arts, education, digital, legal and third sectors. She regularly partners with a number of branding agencies on client brand positioning and voice. Jill is also leading a stakeholder comms and engagement programme for an NHS Trust in support of their plans to build a new state-of-the-art hospital. She has two teenage sons and has been a governor of their primary, and now their secondary schools. More on Jill: website; LinkedIn


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?

Jill: I had a different experience with each child (I have two sons, now aged 14 and 17). With my first child I worked in an organisation that I felt supported me during my pregnancy and maternity leave (I took nine months of maternity leave). However when I returned to work following maternity leave, things quickly felt very different. We had relocated our offices a year or two prior, and I had negotiated hybrid working (two days at home, three days in the office) to mitigate the very long commute. Returning from mat leave expecting to continue with hybrid working, I was told my maternity leave cover had been office-based five days a week, and my line manager now wanted me to do the same as it was more ‘effective’.

To cut a long story short, I spoke to Citizens Advice and engaged my then union. I built a case, and my line manager backed down. But I was so angry about the way I’d been treated and the implication that all the time I’d worked in this hybrid way I was somehow less effective than the person who’d been my cover for a few months. I started looking for a new job pretty quickly after that.

With my second child, I worked for a different employer that had a very basic maternity policy and I had to return to work after four months because I couldn’t afford to go unpaid. So whilst I didn’t change work patterns, I did regret missing those precious early months with my second child. I also think the bad experience I had with my first child meant I’d lowered my expectations of what I’d be ‘allowed’ to do after my second.

Then when my children were a few years older, my partner and I split. I was working in London every day and the commute was only manageable because he stayed at home. So that precipitated the biggest career change I’ve ever made. I stayed on at work for a further eighteen months juggling full time work, daily commuting and organising childcare, before jacking in my job and starting my own business so I could be there for my children as much as possible. It was a terrifying prospect, but I felt it was the only choice I could make.


At the time, I was genuinely shocked that the two sectors I’d chosen to work in for their social purpose, weren’t great at supporting their own staff returning to work.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?

Jill: I’m not sure I can really comment on the design industry per se, despite working closely with designers all the time. And I’d like to hope things have got better since my experience. At the time, I was genuinely shocked that the two sectors I’d chosen to work in for their social purpose, weren’t great at supporting their own staff returning to work. Given social purpose is also a strong focus in the design industry the moral of that story might be to never assume it is always made up of the most inclusive employers. It’s hugely ironic when you think about it.

I recognise the steps I took to make things work for my family were drastic. Not everyone is in the position to quit and set up their own business. I had great support from family and friends and had saved hard to tide me over through the initially lean times. My decision was emotional. I couldn’t continue with the guilt of working full time and not being there for my children and the guilt of wanting to put my children first and not giving my all (although I was) to my employer.

To this day, I still reflect on whether setting up on my own was the right choice. As a mother, it definitely was. As a professional, whilst I’m doing well, I can’t help thinking how much more I’d have achieved if I’d stayed client-side.

Parents will always be torn like this in some form and at some stage of their working lives. So making workspaces fully inclusive for any parent, at any stage of their child’s journey is so important.


Making workspaces fully inclusive for any parent, at any stage of their child’s journey is so important.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?

Jill: If hybrid working is here to stay – and I truly hope it is – then an employee’s right to negotiate how they work around their parental responsibilities is a major progressive leap forward.

I’ve been in virtual meetings with sick toddlers causing mayhem in the background. My partner’s been in virtual meetings with mothers breastfeeding. It’s just life, and if those parents can keep working effectively and manage to raise their children brilliantly, then they deserve all the support our industries can give them.

As my version of the adage goes: if you want something done, ask a busy working mum to do it.

 

Gemma Ince



As tutor at the Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts on BCU Graphics, Gemma’s focus is confidence and equality within the university, especially for creatives within such a diverse city. She graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2001 and started her career – and had babies – in New York while at multidisciplinary, award-winning, branding agency SS+K. Also in New York, as a freelance project, she created the logo for the Kind Foods bar. As chance would have it, kindness continues to be a thread which runs through everything. The “children'' are now 19, 17, 13 – thankfully just old enough to look after each other when parents are absent. More on Gemma: Instagram; Twitter; Linkedin


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?

Gemma: More than that… It forced me to change my career. I’m hoping studios are more enlightened these days. In 2005 my Creative Director dropped hints like "the best work happens in the evenings when I’ve gone home". The mostly male, young or child ‘free’ team all stayed until 8 or 9ish. Although I do like to design at night, if I had, I would have only seen my toddler and baby for half an hour a day in the morning. Subsequently, as a freelancer, I did most of my work at night after I’d put my small children to bed. At that point I’d given up trying to find part time work as a Senior Graphic designer. It didn’t exist. Does it now? I was also dealing with intensive issues caring for my parents as their health failed. So I decided not to feel pressured to be the best designer, to live in London, nor to worry about where my work was coming from. In hindsight I think I felt I didn't really fit in with this ‘design industry’ and the way it represented itself. Children are expensive, and so are mortgages (esp now) so the flip side to my less full-on design career is that the dad of my children now had to earn more and we were both forced into our binary roles. I managed to gather freelance projects and a new role as visiting lecturer. This is a great job for flexibility and having the summers off to be with the children. What on earth do other people with 3 children do in the holidays? We know that grandparents are a big hidden unpaid generation of carers, my inlaws were superb. As I was freelance, we were always very tight for money in Sept, Oct after my period of no work. 13 years' on and I have a career as an academic, tutor and lecturer – as well as freelance, now that the children can more or less manage themselves. (P.S. my dear parents both died through Covid times so I now don’t need to care for them either). Yes I feel, at aged 51 this is the first time I can really throw myself into it – so many ideas!


The dad of my children now had to earn more and we were both forced into our binary roles.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?

Gemma: No I don’t. See above. When I had my first baby in New York in 2004 I was only allowed 3 months off and only 1 of them paid. I had to suck it up or my career in New York would have ended. There’s a glass ceiling for female designers, as the stats show – see the Birmingham Design annual survey.


Are designers still expected to work more than the 9-5? I wonder too if people have a preconceived idea of what you are and how ‘focused’, ‘committed’ or even ‘good' you are if you say you are a mother. Does this make a working mother hide their parenting responsibilities, as I did in my career initially, while also feeling they don’t quite fit in (I’m a bit eccentric too which doesn’t help). The reality is that we need to allow flexibility for all, men and women. I’ve long believed that all people should be working only 4 days a week. And that this obsession with work, work, work is a product of overconsumption and a hangover from the industrial revolution. Everyone needs balance. People in design all need to avoid burn out. Having said that I am obsessed with work and a workaholic. I love design, doing it, teaching it, talking about it, reading about it, getting angry about it. If I didn’t I probably would have dropped it years ago.


Don’t mistake ‘working from home’ as also being able to look after your small children.


Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?

Gemma: The post Covid flexibility has meant that lots of people can work from home and can open up this conversation and perhaps be more open about their ‘real lives’ beyond work. This is excellent. A lot still needs to be figured out though. For instance, don’t mistake ‘working from home’ as also being able to look after your small children. Also it distorts the home environment having to work in it. You need to be able to control this carefully. I was alerted to this recently when my 13-year-old told me that I am "always on the computer". Post-Covid working practices can also legitimise work to drifting across your whole life if you let it.

 

Cecilie Maurud Barstad



Cecilie lives with her partner (in life and business) Gilles Jourdan and their 5 year old daughter in Highbury, London. Together they started Gilles & Cecilie Studio in 2006 after they met during a fire alarm at Central Saint Martins. Their studio provides illustrations, animation and murals. More on Cecilie: website; book; Instagram


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


Cecilie: I am very happy to have built a flexible work environment over the years together with my partner Gilles. We work together and live together. Our experience in project management for our studio I believe has been a success factor in organising our home too. Yes, we have changed the way we work to be more balanced. Not only after having a child, but this has been something we talked about before, how do we want our studio work to be like, how do we want our life to be like.


In essence, we do our best to work during the week and during school hours. (so not all weekends and for sure not 12 hour days like we used to in our twenties. Anyway, those 12 hours were not all that efficient, luckily with age comes experience and speed in work!.)

We work together so we can shift in doing delivery and pick-up. We plan days where one of us goes away for a day or two to concentrate on something or to just get a long day without any chores.


For the readers who are thinking about planning family life, not everything can be planned. It is good to have a lovely team around you, and your team is yourself, your partner, your family, friends and community. Allowing ourselves to be open to help, guidance and collaboration is an asset creatives have, this comes in useful in family life too. And of course if the workspace is human and inclusive, that is great!


Allowing ourselves to be open to help, guidance and collaboration is an asset creatives have, this comes in useful in family life too.


Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Cecilie: I can not share any personal experiences as our studio is very family friendly. I hear stories from friends here in London that there are many challenges as you can easily feel left out, you can’t join after work activities as easily as before. (This may be more of a problem for the younger parents earlier in their career when building networks has just begun.)


Workplaces that can accommodate flexibility and meet the needs of their employees will have more success.


Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


Cecilie: I think that workplaces that can accommodate flexibility and meet the needs of their employees will have more success. Important meetings don't have to be first thing or last thing in the day to make sure most people attend. It can be a core day that everyone is at work. Everyone should be allowed to come after they have delivered child to school. Happy mothers have an enormous power and mothers are usually aged between 20 and 40, and thus an important part of the workforce. I would say it is easier to plan life and work balance if your workplace is open for flexibility.

 

Andrea Boughton



Andrea is founder of Beehive Green and mum to a 13 and 15-year-old. During her 20+ year design career, she’s helped brands of all kinds communicate – from start-ups to household names, charities and local authorities. In 2014, she set up her small (but nimble) brand and design studio in Hertfordshire to do things on her own terms. More on Andrea: website; LinkedIn; Instagram

Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?

Andrea: Before I had my eldest, I was commuting from Hertfordshire to a London creative agency, which involved being out from 7am to 7pm. Working there, I’d seen the stress and continual juggle other parents experienced from trying to balance working in an agency with bringing up their children – and they lived far nearer to work than I did. As a result, I made the decision not to return after maternity leave. Even if I’d wanted to, the childcare costs didn’t make it viable.

I ended up taking a five-year career break while my two children were small. I’m ever grateful I got to spend an amazing few years with them before they started school.

Inevitably, there came a time when I was eager to pick up where I left off. But finding the right role wasn’t straightforward. I wanted something that gave me flexibility (honestly, how many school assemblies do kids have) and let me do the quality creative work I loved! That flex and a lack of part-time roles ruled out most agencies.


As I’d already dipped my toe in the water freelancing on the side of my day job, I made up my mind to just go for it and work for myself. So I dusted off my Mac and set up my own home studio! What a ride it’s been… nine years later, I’m still doing my own thing.

There is a real lack of working mums in senior roles. We need to see more women walking the walk to inspire others.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?

Andrea: The design industry isn’t inclusive for working mums – yet. In my experience, it’s always been a very young industry. And a male-dominated one, especially at higher levels. There is a real lack of working mums in senior roles. We need to see more women walking the walk to inspire others.

I know so many working mums – including several who were made redundant during maternity leave – who could have been in senior roles by now but are instead self-employed. They’re all experienced designers who have trodden a very similar path to me. The longer this continues to happen, the longer it will be before we see more female talent coming through at a senior level.


What needs to happen is more flexibility, more support with childcare, more part-time work options and continued commitment to hybrid working.


Had hybrid working been an option back when I was looking to return post-children, I would probably never have started up my own studio.

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?

Andrea: Thanks to Covid, people have been forced into hybrid working. No more excuses – employers now know it can work. Covid has opened our eyes to what’s possible. It’s absolutely made working in the world of design easier for parents, so long as these working practices continue.

Had hybrid working been an option back when I was looking to return post-children, I would probably never have started up my own studio. Although it’s been a great decision for me, it’s not for everyone. For young people starting out in design, practical agency experience is invaluable.

Ultimately, we need flexibility and equity, for working mums and everyone else.

 

Lara Juriansz



Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Singapore, Lara is currently the design director at Johnson Banks. With a focus on design for positive change in the education, charity, arts and culture sectors, her work for clients such as Duolingo, THIS Isn't Meat, Royal Academy of Music and the Sydney Festival has been recognised for several awards. She has also helped award others as a judge for D&AD Professional, New Blood and The One Club for Creativity.


Q1: Did you have to change the way you work after having kids?


Lara: Definitely. Schedules and flexibility around those schedules are much more important than they used to be. It's something I never considered before, I was always available to work and willing to do so regardless of how long it would take. Now, it's not just my time, it's my children's time, my partner's, my mum, dad and our childcare providers working together to ensure the kids are up, fed, dropped off, collected, fed again, washed, bathed and put back to bed.


I have to be far more conscious of how much I can take on at work, not promising too much and most importantly getting home in time so I can see my kids at least once that day before they're asleep.


In design education, you are surrounded by women but as you grow older, more senior, there is a drop-off in terms of representation higher up.

Q2: Do you think the design industry is inclusive for working mums?


Lara: Starting out in design education, you are surrounded by women but as you grow older, more senior, there is a drop-off in terms of representation higher up. I can see how this happens, the option to go freelance in our industry is so available and that starting your own studio becomes far more appealing once you have had children.


That being said, I have never worked for or with a female creative director nor have I ever been hired by a woman, certainly never a working mum(!) so I would like to see the return to work being more incentivised.


I have never worked for or with a female creative director nor have I ever been hired by a woman, certainly never a working mum(!)

Q3: Have adapted working practices as a result of Covid made working in the world of design harder or easier for mums?


Lara: I have two very small children, 1 and 3 so Covid was a huge help in adjusting back to work in a flexible way, without having to go back to the office but still being able to work at capacity. The time also helped establish the notion that working from home can be equally productive. When at work, I don't feel like I'm the only one choosing to leave early or arrive later or not come in as my colleagues have also embraced the flexible hours and it feels like it has helped in that respect.

 

Thanks again to Heidi, Kate, June, Claire, Emily, Jennifer, Hayley, Jill, Gemma, Cecilie, Andrea, and Lara for sharing their thoughts. And a happy Mother’s Day to all the mums reading.


Photos courtesy of the contributors – photo of June Mineyama-Smithson by Elaine Potter.

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