Many people within the agency and marketing sectors are facing a tough time due to the ongoing pandemic. To provide support, the ICA is interviewing a range of people at all levels within the industry who have overcome mental health challenges and built resiliency.
This eight-week series seeks to remove the stigma around mental health where it exists, and to provide help where it’s needed through relatable stories and strategies.
In this interview Jordan Friesen, Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy, talks to Eve Rémillard-Larose, Co-Managing Partner, Sid Lee Toronto. Her story relates to experiences of becoming a parent, and motherhood specifically, in the advertising business and how she developed resiliency strategies to create a very deliberate work/life “unbalance.”
Eve Rémillard-Larose has worked at Sid Lee for 15 years, starting in Montreal. Ten years ago she moved to be part of the team that launched the agency’s Toronto base, and is still there: “After two years of start-up mode I realized I was nowhere near done with this project,” she says.
As a mother of three children, all under four, one newborn, she is keen to provide a point of view on the challenges that come with motherhood. Part of which has involved leaving the agency to care for her children on maternity leave.
She says that this raised questions in her own mind about her professional role: “Going on maternity leave made me truly understand that I am not indispensable. The business continued to move forward successfully, which made me happy, but at the same time this was the biggest lesson in humility that I’ve had in my whole life.”
Rémillard-Larose has taken maternity leave each time a baby was born but on reduced terms under the full 12 months available in Canada. First it was six months, then five months, and now four months on her current maternity leave. She also manages the situation by returning to work part-time initially to reacclimatize. “Some people say ‘you’re so intense, you’re only taking six months’, the subtext being that I must be getting pressure. But there’s no pressure from the organization, I love being a mother and I love managing Sid Lee Toronto, I am at my best when I can do both, which is why the progressive return has been great for me.”
But in terms of leaving work, and coming back, seeing that things keep going, what was that like? Rémillard-Larose shared that it takes humility to leave work, to know that your team will be okay without you and realize that it’s not necessary to be a back-seat driver. “Being a good leader means I have trust in my team and they know my intent. That’s how I know they’ll make great decisions.”
Did she find it difficult to reimagine her role within Sid Lee once she returned? “Work was, is and has always been a big part of my life. But becoming a mother and going on maternity leave put things in perspective. Seeing the business continue to successfully operate without me made me realize that I can delegate more or that sometimes things will have to wait a few weeks to get done. I also believe there is no such thing as a work/life balance. You have to manage your own work/life unbalance, which is in constant flux. There are some weeks where I am more focused on work, some weeks where I am more focused on the family and some weeks where somehow it seems like a nice “balance.” Regardless of where the “balance” stands at any given moment, it is important for me and my husband to be comfortable with it and most often we’re aligned. Fortunately, we share responsibilities and support one another in parenting. Something he says I am really good at is to be completely focused on work and/or family when I need to be. For example, if I’m on vacation, I turn my email and slack applications off, trusting that the team back at the office will manage whatever situation comes their way.”
Given her position of leadership within the industry, does she see a clear difference between the way people view mothers as compared to other parents? “I may have five people during the week saying, ‘you’re still at the office, you missed your kid’s dinner, you are travelling so much, I don’t know how you do it’. I appreciate the concern but at the same time I always wonder if there’s a subtext and I am being judged as a mom because I’m putting work ahead of my kids at that moment. I’ve had many discussions with my male colleagues over the years, who are all fathers, and none of them are getting these questions. I think it is time we recognize that parenthood is not only on women and all parents should be recognized for the two roles they have in their life.”
The pandemic has highlighted the need to recognize each individual’s experiences outside work. As a senior leader with the ability to influence a work environment for many people, how does she advise creating safe work environments that encourage people to be their “whole selves?” She says: “As managers we have to be open to having difficult, sometimes deeply personal, conversations. We have to train our managers on how to have these conversations and make it safe for our employees to open up and share more about their personal lives.”
And, in terms of her own motherhood journey, what has she learned to build and support her own resilience? “I’ve always been fairly confident but I’ve had to go deep in that well at some moments, reminding myself of what I’ve accomplished and that I can do it again. At the same time, it’s important to ask for help. I’m not the best at this but asking at work or in your personal life is really important to manage that unbalance. You can’t do it all by yourself.”
Finally, she says it’s vital that parents make time for themselves. Finding moments to take a walk, read a book or just talk to friends “where I’m not a wife or mother, or leader of an agency, I’m just Eve. If you want to show up as your best self at work, and with your kids, you need that Me time.”
This emphasizes the importance of introducing time and stillness when it comes to building resilience because these moments encourage recharging and renewal. To be resilient you need to make time for these things because otherwise there’s a constant battery drain and being resilient becomes an exercise in frustration.
Rémillard-Larose ends our conversation with a call to action for parents in advertising: “I don’t think we talk enough about the realities of parenthood in today’s business world, we might all be a bit afraid of being judged. Let’s open up a conversation about what it means to be a parent in our industry and what different parents want to see as there’s no one-size solution.”
Jordan Friesen is a registered Occupational Therapist and Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy. He uses his skills as a consultant to assist organizations who want to take progressive action to support the mental health of their workforce as a competitive advantage and business imperative for the future of work.
Sid Lee is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.