Rachida Murray On Motherhood & Mad Men In Advertising Technology

Rachida Murray On Motherhood & Mad Men In Advertising Technology

For Rachida Murray, chief digital officer of Spark Foundry, the more things change, often, the more they stay the same.

Born and raised in Paris, Murray started her career in the French capital working in digital marketing before moving to London in 2010. Describing her previous employers as being “on the nice side of town,” in both France and the UK, these firms were very focused on the male/female divide.

However, moving to Australia in 2012, she noticed that the conversations around diversity were very different.

“Yes, it is still male and female but I think we’ve evolved as a society to better understand where all of our gaps are. In advertising, we have a lots of gaps in ethnicity, female representation in the C-Suite, in age representation. It is an industry that skews quite young,” she told WLT.

Picture an advertising boss. You’re probably thinking of a Don Draper character well dressed, charming and rarely seen without a martini or mistress. Or, you’re thinking of a Charles Saatchi figure. But, advertising is almost as techy as any industry nowadays — a change ushered in by the big social platforms and the advent of the internet.

It is in this brave new world of tech-forward advertising that Murray found her niche and has gone on to excel.

“I still find it quite hard to explain to my parents what I do. I think Mad Men is probably the way that they see it. There are so many things within advertising from the people who make the ads, the people who do the production, the people who conceptualise, to the people who are in media buying and basically look at spreadsheets! It is so data-heavy,” she explained.

It’s here where advertising leaves behind its reputation for smoke-filled rooms and recreational drug-fuelled brainstorm sessions.

“You have coding skills in agencies nowadays but it’s probably not the first place you would think to go if you were just graduating as a programmer or developer. We have a lot of work to do in order to showcase all of the skills that are required to produce an advertising campaign.”

But, unlike the traditional tech industry, the world of advertising — particularly the media-buying side where Murray does her work — is comprised mainly of young women. According to data from the Media Federation of Australia, 11 per cent of its members are new graduates, 62 per cent are female and the average media industry worker is just 32 years old.

However, while nearly two-thirds of all staff in the sector are women, just 46 per cent of management roles are held by women. That is better than the average for all Australian industries, but there is clearly a problem for women looking to progress in the sector.

‘It’s undeniable that the traditional gender roles and women doing more when looking after families is a huge portion as to why that gap exists,” said Murray.

“Now, obviously there are other reasons why women decide to quit the workforce. But, let’s be honest, this is a really big one. If I were to pass on any wisdom shared with me, it would be that you have to know your goals, you’ve got to know your team, and you’ve got to know your field strategy.”

Murray explained that she and her husband hadn’t discussed the plans for when they became parents but, that a US-based mentor of hers explained that whoever has health insurance has to work. The other parent has to stay at home. It’s from this nucleus of an idea that the Murray family devised an idea of career breaks and swapping parental load.

“For a couple of years, I wanted to be career-first. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do any looking after the kids like picking up daycare calls when they’re sick. It just means that I’m the second person that they call if they can’t get hold of him,” she said.

“So, instead of a traditional role where I would do 80 per cent of the caregiving, I did maybe 40 per cent. And every year, we have this conversation again based on mine and his goals on what we want to achieve at work. We are a team and we review that field strategy on a regular basis.”

Being a modern, working mother in Murray’s eyes relies heavily on a frank prioritisation of tasks. The idea of prioritising work or family “is not a helpful frame of reference” because mothers will prioritise their children.

“It’s about breaking it down to the actual items that you’ve got on that week. If you’ve got a really big pitch at work, that’s a ball that you’re not going to drop and if ‘Wear funny socks to school day’ gets forgotten about, that is fine. You can drop that ball, it’s plastic — it’s going to bounce,” she said.

“But then, sometimes you have a plastic ball at work — maybe you need to ask a client for an extended deadline so you can go to your kids’ swimming carnival because it would mean the world to them. It’s about breaking things down item-by-item rather than into the big buckets of work and family because that just doesn’t help.”

But without female leadership within firms, more understanding and accommodating attitudes towards work and family can get lost. Murray counts herself as being “really lucky” at Spark, thanks to its 60 per cent female leadership and Imogen Hewitt, the agency’s CEO.

“She has normalised us having a meeting in the car outside of ballet. On a Wednesday afternoon, I can work from my daughter’s gymnastics class,” explained Murray.

“When we talk about flexibility or creating boundaries so that you can have time with the kids, what we often don’t talk about, but is an absolute reality, is that the mothers I have worked with give that back double. They have been entrusted with flexibility and they work twice as hard to counterbalance that. You have never seen anyone work as efficiently as a woman who has to get to daycare or school pick-up.”

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