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Global media company MediaCom was so bowled over by the talent on display at their first returner initiative last week that they are busy drawing up plans to make sure they can offer several of the participants a route into the business.
Nancy Lengthorn, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Future Talent, says the energy and buzz from the event was greater than from any other event she has been to. “Of all the events I have been to it had the highest energy,” she says.
But she admits that it was also an emotional day for her as a working mum with four children herself. “I spoke to lots of women. Some were asking about apprentice schemes. One lady had grown-up children and was doing digital media courses, calling herself the world’s oldest intern,” she says. “Some had 10 years or more in the industry. From a personal level I found that really upsetting and I told those who were looking at the apprentice scheme ‘I’m not letting you do that’. We will find something bespoke for them.”
The impetus for setting up the event on 18th May was “making sure we have the talent in the building” and boosting MediaCom’s gender diversity, although the firm has slightly more women than men [56% compared to 44%] and 42% of senior managers are female. It is keen not to stand still, though.
MediaCom took part in the recent Hire me my way campaign, advertising that it was open to talk flexible working during the recruitment process. “To really push that message that we welcome people who need flexible working we looked at returning mums. We had thought about advertising returner posts over the years, but we decided to tackle it the other way around and find people with the right mindset first who we could build a job around,” says Nancy.
MediaCom partnered with Successful Mums on the day to ensure they got people who were quite far along the journey back to work. “It was a pilot run to get the extra level of information we needed to provide something more bespoke,” says Nancy.
The company thought they might get one or two women who were ready for a gentle return to work through an offer of work experience. They were surprised, however, by the calibre of the people who applied. “It wasn’t just the experience and skillset, but the determination and grit. It was very overwhelming and impressive,” says Nancy.
Twenty five women took part, with half having a background in media or marketing, and the day was carefully structured. Nancy did an introduction and Successful Mums spoke about transferable skills and the fact that mums have developed new skills rather than lost old skills. The women were then split into groups and asked to work as focus groups on a client brief for children. “We wanted to illustrate to them straight away that they may have forgotten how certain systems work, but their core skills remain the same and that they could also provide extra insight on a live client brief,” says Nancy. “I was worried they might feel intimidated, but the noise was deafening.”
At lunch MediaCom’s chairwoman Karen Blackett spoke about her own experience as a single parent and this was followed by a Q & A with MediaCom employees. “By the end we felt like a family. It was a safe space where the women felt they could chat informally and confide in each other,” says Nancy, adding that there was lots of number swapping at the end and that speakers made a point of sharing photos of their kids and jokes about being a working mum to put participants at their ease. The questions asked were, she adds, perhaps a reflection of the state of the industry. There were many about guilt and about possible resentment over working part time. “They assumed they were a liability,” says Nancy. Several had had negative experiences.
She hopes it was a positive experience for the women. “People did seem to skip out,” she says. That was despite at least three admitting they had been so lacking in confidence that they had been in tears before they got there and one reporting her husband had virtually pushed her onto the train to attend the event.
Nancy, whose passion for running regular events in the future is clear, hopes other media agencies will see the benefits of looking at returners. “It’s a very competitive industry and there is such a wealth of talent around,” she says. “I’m a mum and with every child I have had I know I have become more focused. To ignore this huge group of talent which is twice as focused seems crazy.”