An Open Letter to the Future Female Leaders in Advertising

Choose to Challenge

By Juliet Moffat, SVP, Group Account Director at VMLY&R Chicago and mom of 3

“Choose to Challenge” is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, and it proves more meaningful than ever in context of the She-session and eventual She-covery. My unique experience has given me tools to challenge the options of the past, and I hope these lessons learned will help others as we navigate through the current moment.

Life is about choices, as they say. And if this last year has reinforced anything, it’s that these choices are often difficult — and sometimes life-changing. 

Based on a recent report on the economic impact of the COVID crisis, 275,000 women exited the workforce in January 2021 alone. While it’s sad that 71,000 men also exited in that same month, the fact that women were impacted almost four times more than men is alarming. And the statistics are even more dire when looking at the disproportionate impact on BIPOC women, who have borne the largest economic brunt of the pandemic. About 154,000 Black women left the labor force in December, nearly making up the entirety of the U.S. economy’s job losses for that month. There are 429,000 unique stories behind these statistics, but it is widely accepted that those decisions are driven by a number of key factors. 

With such a dramatic discrepancy between the numbers of women and men leaving the workforce, I want to highlight that women often leave the workforce because they feel it’s their only option — or their responsibility to their family. Simply stated, men are much less likely to feel that pressure. 

So, at a time when more and more women are feeling these pressures, I’m sharing my story to provide an alternative to the often assumed “only logical option.”  While my story takes place pre-COVID, I feel it is still relevant. 

As a senior-level woman with three children, one with special needs, I found myself grappling with this classic work versus career decision. I have a working partner and take on the greater proportion of household management and childcare activities. Deadlines versus doctors. Pitches versus projects for school. Career growth versus watching my kids grow. I felt as if I was failing across the board. This certainly does not make me unique, but I chose to challenge the expectations and proactively mapped out and proposed a nontraditional path to find a balance that fit my unique needs.  

I would be lying if I said the whole process was easy. That said, I did find empowerment through a very simple solution: Ask. I challenged the presumed “all or nothing” choices. I mapped out a schedule that was structured yet flexible. And once I was able to show that it could work, I was able to lean in to what I felt was most important at the time. Over the last 10 years at my company, I have worked three days a week, four days a week and full time. 

Luckily for me, I found a company willing to take this chance. I know this isn’t possible for everyone. Not every industry can be as flexible. Not every company will be as receptive. Not everyone has the leverage of seniority. Not everyone has a working partner. And staying in the workforce is not always the right choice. 

My plea is this: If you are a woman who is considering leaving her job during the current crisis, choose to challenge the options of the past.

  1. Know what you want — Create a realistic solution that fits your needs and ensure you can respond to the concerns of the company — don’t open with the problem.
  2. Ask permission  Be bold here. Challenge policy fairly and strategically. Advocate for yourself and find internal champions. 
  3. Rally your troops — Leverage your relationships. Get all parties to see your vision and proactively alleviate concerns they may have.
  4. Be flexible — While the goal is flexibility and predictability, we all know that the only constant is change. Know that flexibility needs to go both ways. 

Have I missed opportunities because of this? Certainly. Been overlooked for raises and promotions? Yes. Are there still those who might think of me a bit differently? Maybe. But one thing is sure. I am still here, contributing to my agency. I am a partner to my clients and a leader to my teams. I am growing as a professional, I am enriched as a mother and partner, and I feel that I am stronger for it. 

As we enter National Women’s Month, I want to push EVERYONE to embrace this year’s theme: Choose to Challenge. ALL companies. ALL workers. ALL clients. Think differently. One of the positives coming out of the COVID crisis is that it forced us to think about working differently and remotely. Now is the time to keep up our new outlooks. Let’s turn the tide on the COVID impact and have it open doors rather than shut them. 

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