Sara Stoneham is one of the few creative women in advertising who actually enjoys her invisibility.
She never wanted a ‘high-powered’ or ‘visible’ job. She wanted to do work that was visible.
“I just wanted to do great creative work and push my way into a male dominated world to do the best I could. I loved doing it so much that the long hours and incessant competition left little time to develop healthy relationships.
I probably chose the wrong men when I was young largely because my work always came first. When I was in my 40’s my partner left me for a much younger woman. I had just had two miscarriages and I realised my only chance to be a mum was adoption. It’s ironic that when I was in my early 30’s I investigated adoption and was told I was too old. Then when I investigated it when I was much older I was accepted because the age limits had dramatically changed.”
At 49 she became a mum.
At 50 she was made redundant.
To add insult to injury the in-coming young CD crowed to the press about how ‘young’ his new creative department would be.
But gag orders, re-invention and re-jigging skills are all part of a long career in advertising. Sara enjoyed contracting in many different places: digital companies, in-house with clients and writing for magazines.
She finally found a permanent role at an agency that appreciates her talent and experience and understands she loves her job. But nowhere near as much as her daughter.
“Adopting is never an ideal scenario for a child but I hope my little girl is growing up in a positive environment. We are a family like any other but we live in a house with an ever-changing family of lodgers who usually become friends.
The good part about being a different type of family to the norm – whatever that is – is that we can do things our way. For instance our golden time is breakfast in Starbucks at six forty-five every day.”
Sara’s in work an hour later with the aim to get home in time to see her child before bed.
Her employers Leo Burnett (PG One) have been the most understanding she has ever worked for. They allowed her two months unpaid leave when her daughter moved to senior school and needed her more for a while.
She’s grateful for the support, the better hours, and the female-friendly workplace. But sometimes it’s hard for her to change.
“My daughter says that sometimes she talks to me and I don’t listen. That’s when I’m still working in my head when she is in the bath or eating supper. I try to stop myself doing that but it’s a long-standing habit to let my mind drift back to whatever creative problem is niggling me today.”
These sort of challenges are made easier when you work with people, as she does, who don’t expect you to take your work home with you. It also helps to have seen women ahead of you face the same things.
There were even fewer female mentors back in the 80’s and 90’s. But Sara remembers one wonderful woman called Cecily Croke who was a CD at Saatchi. She won a gold Cannes in her 60s without even trying and hung it on the front door of her house as a door-knocker.
Sara will be sixty soon and is still working on getting more knockers for her collection. She’s looking forward to full employment till her daughter flies the nest. Then she’s going to pick up her unpublished novels and tinker on them again.
You see, it’s not just at supper or when her daughter’s in the bath, Sara’s brain is always ticking over with creative ideas. She wished she’d known when she was younger just how much time there is to explore them all.
But time is a funny thing – sometimes things come in an order you didn’t quite expect.