How the creative industry can support working mothers by Templo's Anoushka Rodda

Written by
Anoushka Rodda
Illustration by
Daria Wyrzykowska

Every month we'll be inviting creative professionals to share their thoughts on a topic they care about from the world of work. This month, studio TEMPLO's managing director Anoushka Rodda dives into the vital discussion of how the creative industry can support and enable working mothers to thrive in the work place.

Illustration by Daria Wyrzykowska

Let me begin by saying that although this article draws on my personal experience in the design industry, depressingly these are challenges facing women and working mothers in most sectors. In the 18 years I’ve been in the design world things have definitely improved, but there is still far to go. So if you’re thinking twice about hiring a woman who has kids, is about to have kids, might one day have kids please have a read of this…I know we can do better.

Keep things flexible

There are no two ways about it, we are in a deadline driven, service industry. A decent client manager will make sure the deadlines aren’t too crazy and no one is getting burnt out but in truth even the best of the best can’t avoid the late nights that this job inevitably involves.

So that’s great (or at least more manageable) when you’re a twenty something with all the time in the world but what happens when someone in your team has a school run to do? Well they simply have to leave and do what their life demands of them and in order to facilitate this we as an industry need to:

  • Have more open conversations within teams about everyone’s commitments outside of work so that resentments don’t build up between colleagues and no one is perceived as a ‘part-timer’
  • Genuinely embrace the benefits of flexible working that the pandemic has made feasible. This way of working can’t be a ‘flash in the pan’ moment in time, it is the new industry standard and is here to stay
  • Allow creatives (especially women with children) the time and headspace to work fluidly to allow ideas to flow naturally. So often mums in creative roles are forced to generate ideas in an impossibly compressed amount of time somewhere between conventional studio hours and the demands of childcare

We need to remember that women have enough s**t to deal with without adding the crippling guilt you feel getting up from your desk ‘early’ at 4pm to do the school pick up, homework, dinner, bath, night routine only to start work again, exhausted at 8pm.

Productivity over time

There is literally no one more efficient than a working mum. I thought I was organised before I had kids but what I can now achieve in two hours could have easily taken me an entire day when I didn’t have the deadline of a school pick up looming over me.

As an industry we need to move away from the perception that just being in the studio (either physically or remotely) for hours on end somehow justifies our salaries or means we’re working ‘hard’. As long as the work is done well, who cares if it took thirty minutes? This confidence in productivity over time does invariably come with experience but it also needs to be recognised by business leaders. This is not about laziness, it is about efficiency.

Understand the law

In the UK, it's ‘unlawful to discriminate against a job candidate on the basis of sex or pregnancy’, however the amazing charity Pregnant Then Screwed, which is working to end the motherhood penalty pulls out the following worrying stats about the UK workplace in general:

  • 46 percent of employers agree that it's reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process.
  • 54,000 women a year are pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity leave.
  • 77 percent of mums have experienced negative or discriminatory treatment at work.

So the law says one thing and the reality is quite different. A male Creative Director once said to me ‘we’re not going to employ women in their late 20s any more, they cost us too much when they go on maternity leave’. I was so perplexed as he had daughters of his own and just couldn’t seem to connect the dots between his outdated thinking and his personal circumstances; that this sort of toxic thinking could one day impact his own children. It is of course expensive for a company, especially a small business, to pay a maternity leave salary (assuming the company offers more than the statutory government pay, which is reimbursed to the business by the government the following financial year) plus the salary of a maternity cover but surely it is a worthwhile investment if you wish to retain your talent?

If you’re concerned about women not returning after you’ve forked out for their maternity leave you simply need to draw up a contract of commitment, which protects both parties and is standard practice in most industries. So many design agencies don’t do this and that’s where things go wrong.

Get the right team

A lot of design businesses, again especially the small ones, are run by creatives who never intended nor want to get involved in the running of a business. This means the HR challenges that come with that side of owning a design agency are often dealt with in a clumsy, unethical and sometimes illegal way. So I would urge creatives in charge of a design businesses to build their management teams properly and make sure that there is someone at the top to take care of this side of things, even if it’s nothing but completely self-serving to avoid legal battles down the line.

And so, what next?

Yes there are positive steps in the right direction with the introduction of schemes like shared parental leave, but the seismic shift that needs to happen must come from both the government and individual businesses in tandem. Currently the UK spends 0.1% GDP on early childhood education compared to Norway which spends 1%*, we need the UK government to implement policies and allocate adequate funding to enable women to thrive in the workplace no matter what their commitments are at home. Perhaps if the current UK cabinet wasn’t made up of just 21.7% women this would be naturally prioritised, but that’s perhaps a topic for another time…

Meanwhile individual design businesses need to have a change in mindset by embracing flexible working, re-considering what efficiency looks like and moving away from a focus on the short term bottom line to overall business value.

*Stats published in PregnantThenScrewed

Some helpful resources:

The If You Could Jobs Journal is a space where industry leaders have the opportunity to share their unique vision and insight into the creative working world. We're always on the look out for company leaders, founders and hiring managers interested in writing opinion pieces our Journal. 

Want to add to the conversation? Get in touch with our project and community manager at

Featured Companies

Learn more about our featured companies

  1. Kraken Digital Assets Exchange

    London, GB

    Our mission is to accelerate the adoption of cryptocurrency so that you and the rest of the world can achieve financial freedom and inclusion.

  2. T+T Design

    Lewes, GB

    We're T+T. An independent agency specialising in strategic branding and graphic design.

    For over 12 years we've been helping our clients navigate complex challenges, build value beyond profit and change the world for the better.

    From our HQ in Lewes, UK, our reach is international. We partner with global NGOs including; UNESCO, Nobel-Prize winning World Food Programme and WWF and global sporting organisations supporting elite athletes, Olympians and Paralympians.

    Through bold, intelligent and creative delivery, we bring about positive change. We're not motivated by the limelight – we exist to make the difference for those making the difference.

  3. Hex

    London, GB

    Currently Hiring

    Hex is an award winning digital product and growth studio