A seat at the table series: Maternity Leave and it’s Impacts

On March 29, 2023 a seat at the table series, maternity leave

IAB Australia has partnered with The Women in Programmatic Network (TWIPN) to launch the Seat at the Table Series.  The series will dive into the personal experiences of those from the local advertising community, and give these role models a seat at the table to share their story. Each month we'll feature a different topic and guest speaker. This month we are featuring Amelia Ward, Senior Director, Buyer Development AUNZ at Index Exchange, who will be opening up to us about Motherhood and the impacts that has on your career. 

Q. To get started, we’d love for the readers to get to know a bit about you. You spent a majority of your career in agencies and then made the move to ad tech. What inspired the change?

I started my career as a media assistant in 2000, and during that time fell in love with the dynamic world of digital, data and tech. I’ve held a number of different roles over the years, most recently Head of Digital at PHD, but it was the opportunity to work alongside product, engineering and technology specialists that made me switch careers. I always want to learn (and especially from super smart people) so after 21 years on the agency side it was time for me to be challenged. Anyone who knows me, knows I am proud of being a nerd, but this is the first time in my career that I am the least ‘nerdy’ person in the room! I love it. Working for Index Exchange to provide programmatic solutions to buyers and agencies allows me to learn everyday, while getting the chance to spread my problem-solving wings.

Q. Did you notice any differences as a woman in these sides of the industry?

Realistically I think it’s less about which side of the industry I worked on, but more about the massive changes that have occurred over recent times. Across both agencies and tech, we have some incredible women in our industry who have paved the way for future generations. Women who have made noise, fought for flexible working and fair treatment. Also, it’s really interesting to note what the pandemic did to standardise flexible working arrangements for everyone. When I had babies, I was one of only 2 women who worked part time in my agency. These days everybody benefits from working from home, or working reduced hours - the days of feeling guilty for leaving before 6pm with all your co-workers still stuck at their desks is a thing of the past. We do still have a long way to go to ensure true representation of women in tech and in leadership roles, but knowing that companies have active DE&I goals and a spotlight on equality is really important. Equally as important, the fact that flexible working is now considered a baseline offering and allows for shared parental responsibility and a better work/life balance for everyone.

Q. You’ve had three beautiful children, and you have taken maternity leave three times. Before you took your maternity leave, did you have any concerns regarding how the leave and motherhood would affect your career?

I’m going to be brutally honest here and say, no. I really didn’t think that much about what having babies would do to my career. I was always destined to be a Mum, and I knew that was what I wanted to do, alongside my career. Luckily being in digital meant that my specialist skills were in high demand throughout my kids’ early childhood and I could work part time and keep my skills up to date throughout. I had a fantastic partnership with PHD throughout this time and ensured I was flexible in accepting the tasks and roles offered to me. It meant I could retain continuity of service (which ensured long service leave) and keep my finger on the digital pulse at the same time.

Did I want the high pressure of a ‘big’ role when my kids were little? Absolutely not. I wanted flexibility and I wanted to prioritise my kids, but I really didn’t consider how this might affect my career progression. And now that I’ve shifted my career across into ad tech, maybe I’m a few years further behind in that ‘standard career ladder’, but I’m okay with that. I’m really enamoured with the Pattie Sellers quote a few people have referenced in recent times, “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” I love a good playground session!

Q. Did any of those concerns come to fruition? And how did you handle them?

The only thing I really didn’t think about properly, and I wish I had paid more attention to, is my Superannuation. The time I took off on maternity leave and then working part time has put me much further back than my husband. I now need to focus on my financial security - something I should have done more when I was younger. This is something I would stress to any woman reading this - be conscious of Super contributions - potentially do voluntary contributions if you can. Start thinking about this earlier than you might have thought you needed to - and this isn’t advice given just for mothers, but any women.

Q. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I think being more vocal about my strengths, capabilities and knowledge, beyond my core circle. As a young mum, I kept my head down a bit as I was more focused on my kids than my career, but not many people knew that before I went on maternity leave I was already in a Head of Media role. When I came back I wanted flexibility and I wanted to prioritise my kids, I forgot to remind the decision makers about my knowledge and experience (and they forgot to ask?)


If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to learn to “manage-up”. Raising your profile across your company is great, but the 90% of people who know you and know your strengths and capabilities aren’t always the ones making decisions about your future. Make sure the right people are aware. Be honest about your goals - and make sure you have these conversations with the right people.

Q. What do you think companies could do to support working parents?

I believe there are two key offerings from companies that actually benefit working parents; the first is flexibility. Most people with families live a little further away from the office (suburbia) to have space for their children, this means that they usually have to commute a bit longer, after drop-offs and pick-ups of kids to school/care. The only way to manage this for families, couples, single parents is to truly support flexible working arrangements. Late starts, working from home, flexible working hours - these are all extraordinarily valuable for working parents.

The second thing is job security and career progression. Supporting your most reliable and loyal employees, the ones who potentially have more to lose, is key here. Ensure they have jobs waiting after parental leave, ensure they have access to the same career opportunities even if they do work part time. Allow for part time to both mothers and fathers without it affecting their growth and progression.

Q. Who inspires you in our industry? And why? 

Honestly, the people who inspire me the most in our industry are all the women I’ve worked with and created real connections with. You know who you are. From my perspective they are the ones who have empowered me to make hard decisions, the ones who have helped me understand my superpowers and my shortcomings. The women who have helped me grow.

I support you back just as fiercely and intently. If I can inspire someone the way my surrounding women inspire me, I feel very lucky indeed.

Q. To close, we’d love it if you could share some earned wisdom with our readers.  What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share today?

Can I be cheeky and do two?

1. Be authentic. Be the best version of yourself without compromising on who you are. I got this advice from someone I really admire, someone who is authentically himself all the time, and I live by it.

2. Be your own loudest cheerleader. It can be really difficult to look at yourself objectively - so let the people around you help you to understand and identify your strengths and skills. Once you know what they are, be proud of them and wear them with pride. Cheerlead for yourself on the inside, then promote yourself on the outside. You are the only one who can do that job justice.