Our Mums Keeping It Real series is all about showing you there is absolutely no one size fits all approach when it comes to parenting or career decisions. The amazing Nicky Bullard is proof of that. Her recent appointment at marketing agency MRM Meteorite makes Nicky the only female advertising chair and chief creative officer in the UK. We talked to the former LIDA executive creative director about her career, and life at home with husband John and sons Joe, 13 and William, nine. Read on for an incredibly frank account of what happens when the worlds of advertising and parenthood meet.
Congratulations on your new role, you've shattered that glass ceiling...
Being a woman and a creative does means it’s incredibly unusual to become chairman and get on to a board. There just aren’t many creative chairmen in the UK. We’re not always seen as the business people, we’re the ones that get invited along to meetings, rather than call the meetings. It’s exciting to be at the forefront of an agency where they’ve put creativity at the heart of the business.
You’ve said before that anyone who has kids and has managed to succeed has your respect. What did you mean?
I’m under no illusion that the only way I’ve managed to get so far is because my husband, John, gave up his job as a service engineer 14 years ago and we jointly made the decision that he would be the one who stayed at home. There is no way my career would have been as successful if it hadn’t been for this. Anyone that can do it without such support is amazing. It’s bloody hard even when you are helped! The juggling thing just makes it crazy hard. As a creative if there is a brief that needs doing at 6pm then you’ve got to do it and worrying about who you are going to get to look after the kids on top of everything else is so stressful. There is a huge extra pressure on women.
Was it a no brainer deciding you would be the one to go back to work?
Not at all but John was not loving his job so it definitely made sense for us to split things this way. That said it was fairly unusual 14 years ago for the woman to be the one going back full-time, especially in Surrey where we live! And it was hard at times; I went back when Joe was only 10 weeks old into stormy times at the agency I worked at.
You do get used to it though. Obviously there are times when they are ill and you want to be there. But then there are other times when they’re being little buggers and you’re glad to go to work to be honest!
So how about those women who have children and don’t have that support?
It shouldn’t be this way but as a creative in advertising it’s kind of accepted that you should be there at a drop of a hat and work into the early hours of the morning if that is what’s needed.
I've always worked full-time and for creative women, part-time or flexible working can be tricky. What we need to do as an industry is help more with childcare. There is such a lack of creative senior women and our attitude to working hours is partly to blame for that.
Do you feel that being a parent has impacted on your career decisions?
It has had an absolutely positive effect on my creative decisions. I look at my kids and how fearless they are about trying new technology and it makes me want to be like that too. Their attitude has really rubbed off on me. And when it’s really rubbish and really stressful at work you remember why you’re doing it. I’ve found it a huge motivator. Plus me being the main earner is great for them to see. I want to be a positive role model for mums and show there is no one approach and each family works differently.
After Joe was born and John was effectively left ‘holding the baby,’ people didn’t know how to react. The health visitor was a bit like "oh my god, how do we deal with this?!" My husband’s parents were really worried about whether our marriage was going to survive. Happy to report all is well!
How have your boys reacted to the choices you’ve made around parenting and work?
It can occasionally be hard. William might say why are you the only mummy who doesn’t pick me up from school but then I say “but you’ve got Daddy at home and that’s brilliant.” It’s good for them to see their mum having a career, especially for when they start working themselves. John is better at everything apart from cooking. We’ve been married 25 years and I’ve touched the washing machine twice in that time I reckon. Obviously there is a sense of sacrifice for the kids but men have that too. I’m proud I’m able to make these conversations a non-gender issue in our household.
What do we need to do to help more women come back to work after kids?
A really simple thing I want to implement is that when women come back they do a week of meeting all the key people in the business. That way they are brought up to speed with everything that has happened since they were off. This often doesn’t happen and then there is that feeling of being on catch up all the time.
I would also like to see more businesses offering a placement for women to come back for six weeks and be part of a business environment again. Digital Mums is such a great way of getting people back into work - now businesses need to do more to make it a softer landing.
You think when you have a child you become someone else but fundamentally you don’t. You’re the same person as before there is just another dimension to you. I think people forget their achievements and how brilliant they are. If you had a no strings attached placement for six weeks it would really help.
Finally you recently judged the IPA and Campaign Women of Tomorrow Awards with the hashtag #ChangeTheStats. What do you think needs to change for women?
It’s no longer a question of men holding us back - it’s about us as women believing in ourselves. It’s about confidence and being able to say "I did that, I had a good meeting with a client.” Blokes would say that and we should too. We need to champion ourselves more. Find a mate at work or someone senior and make a pact to champion each other. We have to stand up for ourselves and do it now. Of course over things like inequality in pay institutional change is required, but there are things we can do for ourselves. Let’s be positive and focus on what we can change - championing ourselves and being confident is a huge part of that.