For working parents, times have changed for the better

VCCP is on a mission to create a flexible work environment where everyone can show up and be their authentic self


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Claire Young
CEO Girl&Bear

While the advertising industry has made great progress in being adaptable for working parents, there's still a ways to go. Claire Young, CEO of Girl&Bear, speaks on her strategy for creating real change within the business.


Being asked about working as a parent in advertising got me thinking about how significantly the industry (and beyond) has changed for the better for working parents since I became one 18 years ago!

Back then, I used to keep the fact that I had a daughter on the down low. While I didn’t hide her existence, I didn’t openly talk about the challenges and the juggles that becoming a working parent had introduced. Childcare was carefully planned around work and projects, and a key part of that was ensuring I didn’t need to worry about nursery pick-ups - this was (still is in many ways) an industry that is prided on it’s endurance and willingness to pull late ones and all-nighters at the drop of a hat.  

This wasn’t down to the agency I worked at the time (that was the best!) it was more about the behaviors that were embedded into the industry, and many other industries, that were not particularly friendly for a working parent. And I guess as a new parent this was heightened significantly by me being a ‘mum’ who was returning to work with the same level of ambition that I had when I left for maternity. I didn't want to be perceived as anything less than the person I was before becoming a parent… because I wasn’t, in truth I was more.

I remember feeling quite chuffed when my colleagues were surprised when they realised, long after working with them, that I had a baby at home.

Anyway, that was then, and very thankfully over the years since, times have changed a lot for the better…

Fast forward 18 years. I’m now a working parent with three children, and as I’ve progressed in my journey, I like to think that I’ve done my bit to help the industry to be a more parent-friendly place.

I guess I soon realised that things should be different, hiding your kids wasn’t a good nor sustainable solution. So I started on my own journey to change my behavior and mindset and to do whatever I can to support positive change. 

First up was negotiating my own part time hours. That feels like a normal request at Girl&Bear today, and I would hope it’s the same in many other workplaces. But flexible working has not long been a standard request, and it was certainly not a given that it would be granted - the industry was just not used to being flexible. I also started to change my own behavior by ‘leaving loudly’ whilst demonstrating that I could still do my job equally well.

But this isn’t just about me sorting out my own ways of working, I also wanted to make it easier for others to do the same. When I joined VCCP eight years ago, I joined an agency that is incredibly progressive and always looks at how it can evolve to be a better employer. Whilst here, I have been able to make changes within VCCP and Girl&Bear which have created an even more inclusive and inspirational place to work. 

I led an employer brand strategy for VCCP to update its wellbeing and inclusive employee policies, introduce a flexible working policy, update its maternity/paternity leave to include stillbirth and pregnancy loss, alongside a fertility, menopause and perimenopause policy, and time off dependents leave and compassionate leave. There’s more to do, but that feels like progress.

In some ways COVID helped to make this all more ‘normal’ and more visible. We were invited into people’s homes and lives. Everyone was working flexibly and we got to know people’s kids, partners, pets and decor! There’s no hiding having kids in that sort of strange environment (if indeed that was still necessary). I remember early days, our CCO Daz sent an all staff email telling everyone to not to apologize - don’t worry if your kids/partner/parrot interrupts a video call. It was an acknowledgment of the times we were in, but it’s the ‘new normal’ now. I hope, at least, that nobody feels they have to hide being a parent, or any other part of their life.

Today as CEO of Girl&Bear, VCCP’s global content creation studio, I am in the privileged position of being able to continue to affect real change within the business, and in turn I hope within the industry. The Girl&Bear team and I work very hard to ensure that the agency is a place where people, regardless of their life tapestry, can show up to work and be their authentic self. This is so incredibly important to me.