From ‘Mad Men’ to equality-driven commercial success


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By Melissa Vodegel Matzen, MD, Twelve Agency

Don Draper: Let me ask you something: what do women want?

Roger Sterling: Who cares?

Popular US series, ‘Mad Men’, from which the above dialogue originated, shone a spotlight on the misogyny once endemic in the world of advertising.

Advertising is my industry too. Fortunately, the times they are a-changing, as Bob Dylan once said. We’re much less likely to see that level of overt Mad Men-style sexism. But we still have a long way to go.

Sadly, many women remain all-too-familiar with a male-centric, macho workplace culture still present today. This has provoked reams of column inches in recent years, spawning a welcome debate in the public sphere about levelling the playing field in terms of workplace culture, and providing flexible working fit for all people.

In many industries, we are seeing a step-change – including in society as much as in adland – where a more flexible workplace is emerging. But in order for workplace equality to thrive, we require a more nuanced approach in tackling workplace equality and culture to ensure this change isn’t merely a castle made of sand.

At Twelve, the creative advertising agency I took over as MD a little over two and half years ago, it’s been my mission to cultivate a flexible and bespoke working environment that truly places women and men on an equal footing, catering for the criss-crossing, divergent needs of everyone as an individual, not a gender.

If you want to go on extended honeymoon? Do it. Got a Christmas Nativity play at 2pm? Please do not miss it. Change your hours to suit when you are at your best, let’s talk about it., We have put in place the tools to enable our people to work to when they are at their best, take the stress out of home life to create the best work for our clients. We also offer equal paternity and maternity rights, and even have a specially-trained mental health first aider always on hand for support if people are having tough times.

While there are some natural restrictions to flexible working resulting from workload, time differences and workflow, we do our very best to ensure that everyone has the option to exercise their required flexibility where possible.

Staff, or people as I prefer to say, are more inclined to produce their best creative work – and work in general — when their hours fit around their lives, rather than the other way around. I truly believe this has contributed to the industry-beating exponential growth Twelve has seen during those years.

So as business leaders, should we be benchmarking not only against financial growth, but also whether our business is a place people enjoy being, and want to be? I think we should — and I keep an eye on how well we’re doing so as to spot areas where we can bolster our workplace proposition.

With this in mind, eighteen per cent of our employees work on flexible hours based around their requirements — ad hoc or contractually-based. In particular, our support system for women returning to work post-pregnancy means that we have kept brilliant women in the industry, who would have otherwise made the tough decision that it is too hard to do both. It’s not. I’m immensely proud that Twelve is a place where people not only want to be, but want to stay and indeed — return. I’m sure there is still more we could do.

And I practice what I preach. I am what was once traditionally known as ‘the male breadwinner’ – my partner is a stay-at-home father, and does an amazing job at raising our two children. It’s important that flexible working is available for everyone, and that I show the business how it can be done successfully, without compromise. Sixteen per cent of those exercising flexible working at Twelve are in senior positions.

Like millions of men and women, I want my children to grow up in a world where this is not just an aspiration, but the norm – where people look back to the past and wonder how it was in any way different. With the UN-backed International Human Rights Day (10 December) just around the corner, I hope more and more business will give a nod to both these issues and the equality debate.

Melissa Vodegel Matzen_02About the author

Melissa has been managing director at creative advertising agency, Twelve, for over two and a half years. Under her tenure, the agency has grown from eight full-time staff to fifty, and now works with the likes of Nestle, Heineken, Cineworld, RBS, Argos, Weetabix and Merlin. A graduate of Brighton University and following a stint as an aspiring photographer, Melissa has previously worked for several agencies in the creative industries, rising to the board of Arnold KLP by the age of 30, and Havas.

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