How can ad agencies support women returning post-maternity leave?

The advertising industry has been known for being hectic, with irregular work hours and putting pressure on the employees. In the high-pressure environment of the advertising industry, returning to work post-maternity break can be challenging. Leaders in the A&M industry share their experience of returning to work post-maternity break and tidbits about how ad agencies can provide a safe space for women to make a smooth transition.

Shamita Islur
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women returning post-maternity leave

Grapes’ Co-Founder and CEO, Shradha Agarwal was supposed to return to the organisation after her delivery. Generally, organisations give six months of sabbatical for maternity, as per the Maternity Benefit Act 1961.  

But Agarwal was looking forward to getting back to work after three months. Sharing her experience, she says, “I did not come back for a full day. Initially, I started by coming for two hours to the office and as time passed, I eventually kept increasing my hours. Consequently, by the sixth month, I was capable of coming to the office for a full-fledged 9 hours.”

This was possible because of her own agency’s flexibility, which helped her comfortably reside in her new role as a mother, allowing the time to adapt and, at the same time, manage the office work efficiently. 

The advertising industry has been known for being hectic, with irregular work hours and putting pressure on the employees. In the high-pressure environment of the advertising industry, returning to work post-maternity break can be extra challenging. 

A research project conducted in 2018 into the barriers working mothers face in advertising has called out the industry for creating ‘false initiatives’ that create headlines and not change. The research has shown that discrimination, poor management, and a lack of compassion are just a few of the issues raised by mothers in advertising. 

According to a study conducted by the Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership, 50% of women leave their jobs to take care of their children at the age of 30. 48% of the ones that return drop out within four months of rejoining the workforce.

One of the major reasons behind this is touted to be a lack of support at work. 

Hetal Khalsa, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, PivotRoots- A Havas Company believes, “If the work culture isn’t supportive enough, women are pushed to leave their jobs and we lose out on a skilled and talented workforce.”

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Hetal Khalsa

While Khalsa did not face any challenges as a returnee to work, she has seen a lot of peers and acquaintances undergo tremendous pressure to manage both sides of the world.

According to Scroll, in 2015, Aarti Khatri Ningoo, a client servicing executive, was asked to leave her job at an Mumbai based agency. Ningoo was five months pregnant at the time, and she claimed that the company ignored her request for maternity leave since her trimester in October. While the company said Ningoo was let go due to "performance issues" and "internal conflicts," she took the matters to labour court in Mumbai.

While this case happened almost a decade ago, new moms still struggle to find their own space in one of the most stressful industries and are fighting different battles. Therefore, it is important to ease the already-existing pressure on mothers to keep up with their jobs and personal lives. 

Leaders in the A&M industry share their experience returning to work after maternity break and tidbits about how ad agencies can provide a safe space for women to make a smooth transition.

What do mothers want from ad agencies?

Nisha Singhania, CEO & Managing Partner of Infectious Advertising, mentions that becoming a mom is probably the most beautiful but toughest phase for a woman wherein the mental dilemma along with the physical aspect is tough. 

Nisha Singhania

Sharing her experience, Singhania states that mothers are never fully in one place. At work, they constantly worry about their little ones, and at home, they worry about not being able to give their best at work. 

“Work at ad agencies is demanding and often leads to women dropping out during this time. Letting new moms work from home (WFH), flexible hours, allowing them to bring their babies to work certain days, and having crèches are some initiatives that can help. Counselling is also something that can help women deal with the situation.”

- Nisha Singhania

For Monica Pereira, Sr. VP - HR & Admin, BC Web Wise, the maternity leave she was offered was the typical 90 days, which varies across different companies. But, she reveals that she had the privilege to work from home for a longer period of time, and was able to give time for both work and her child.

Monica Pereira

“In my opinion, these initiatives are like a gentle breeze guiding new mothers through the journey of returning to work. They not only support but also empower, making the transition smoother and more fulfilling for everyone involved.”

Pooja Pathak, Founder and Director, Media Mantra & InfluSurf Communications feels that despite the hectic schedule with responsibilities in personal and professional lives, we can make two parallel worlds co-exist by prioritising tasks at the right time. 

“While we can surely prepare ourselves, being a woman, at times, one does feel stretched with the influx of tasks at hand. In such situations, I feel it's important to practice mindfulness, go for talk therapies, reconnect with your tribe, and come back supercharged.”

- Pooja Pathak

Pooja Pathak

Grapes’ Shradha Agarwal divulges that mothers are looking forward to more work from home, flexible schedules, coming to the office for a few hours and taking the remaining work back home. 

They are exploring ways to take half a sabbatical and work the other half. When returning to the office, they seek a more baby-friendly environment, such as a creche and a lounge to feed the child. They hope for such necessary solutions that give them the flexibility to be mothers.

Facilities that can help

Hetal Khalsa of PivotRoots, A Havas Company, comments that the agency offers six months of maternity leave and a daycare facility till the child is six years of age. They also offer flexible timings and provide an option of work-from-home pre and post maternity till the time the new mother is settled and feels ready to get back to the organisation’s routine. 

Khalsa continues, “While these are basic requirements, if the mindset of the immediate managers and overall ideology of the organisation do not understand the intensity of the situation, these facilities won’t help.”

As per a survey, organisations must support diverse routes back into the workplace following maternity leave since less than a fifth of women feel confident returning to work after having a baby. More than a third (37%) felt so unsupported and isolated on their return they considered handing in their notice, and nine in 10 (90%) were not offered any formal support through a returner program. 

Shradha Agarwal of Grapes mentions, “The major challenge in ad agencies is with respect to the volume of work and the unplanned expectations of the client. This is major because India is not planned enough to deliver things on time or before and in addition to this, it is also very challenging to say no.”


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Shradha Agarwal 

In order to overcome the challenge, organisations should be capable enough to create processes and should be wise enough to check the client from giving unrealistic workloads. It can go a long way in managing the work efficiently, according to her.

In addition to this, having a strong team that can follow your instructions and understand what kind of work you want to be delivered can be of great help. As a result, after the maternity break, people just need to give direction to the team instead of sitting back and doing the work.

Dealing with mental and physical ailments post-maternity 

Returning to work, post-maternity can have its own set of challenges, especially when one is still recovering from physical and mental health issues. In such cases, agencies should be attentive to their needs. What helps in these situations? 

BC Web Wise’s Monica Pereira reveals that one of the biggest challenges for her was to give productive time to her son when he was growing up since work always took up all her mental space. 

The culture at BC Web Wise helped her strike a balance between being a mother and doing everything else. Chaaya Baradhwaaj, Founder - Managing Director at BC Web Wise would welcome her son to the office during his holidays.

The great support from colleagues and employers made a significant difference during that time. It's about prioritising well-being and recognising that healing takes time. 

“Having open communication channels and understanding from the workplace can help alleviate some of the pressure and provide a supportive environment for the returning parent.”

- Monica Pereira

She also suggests that taking things one step at a time, seeking support when needed, and being gentle with yourself throughout the process can make a world of difference in the journey back to work after maternity leave.

Shradha Agarwal reveals that the first month is the most difficult time post-delivery and the world starts revolving around the child. While the mother has undergone a major process, people are generally bothered about the child. Hence, it is easy to go into depression. At such times, support from family can help overcome the difficulties. When it comes of physical health issues, it varies from case to case. 

But here, returning to the routine ASAP can be very helpful. Taking us back to her transition into work, Agarwal mentions that allowing herself time to settle down comfortably was a major step that helped her achieve mental stability. 

Hetal Khalsa reveals that the overall organisation has to be in sync with such situations, be it motherhood or any unforeseen circumstances faced by a colleague.

She shares that she has seen working mothers struggle with mental and physical health issues. While many keep it to themselves, only a few talk and she believes it is important to communicate.

“Find that safe space, that ally, with whom you can share your day-to-day troubles. As part of PivotRoots’ policy, free mental health counselling is provided to the team members and mothers are highly encouraged to use them.”

Advise for working mothers

Returning to work after maternity leave poses its own challenges for mothers in the A&M industry. From managing irregular work hours to dealing with mental and physical health issues, they have to navigate a complex landscape. However, with initiatives like flexible work hours, remote work options, and supportive company cultures, ad agencies can create a more inclusive environment for working mothers, empowering them to thrive both personally and professionally.

Similarly, it is important for mothers in the industry to take care of their well-being. Women leaders, who have seen it all and done it all, suggest pieces of advice for them.

  • Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge feeling overwhelmed.

  • Seek support from colleagues, friends, and family who understand your challenges.

  • Don't hesitate to ask for flexibility from your employer.

  • Cherish moments with your child both at home and work.

  • Ease back into work gradually rather than jumping in all at once.

  • Remember the importance of financial independence and career goals.

  • Avoid letting guilt hold you back from pursuing your career aspirations.

  • Teach your children that a working mother is a positive and normal role model.


nisha singhania Monica Pereira Shradha Agarwal maternity leave ad agencies maternity leave policies in advertising Hetal Khalsa Pooja Pathak