MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 28-Mar-19 13:52:59

Guest Post: “We need a labour market that works for parents.”

Joeli Brearley, Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, talks about how her own experiences led her to set up Pregnant and Screwed Live, a festival about motherhood and work.

Joeli Brearley

Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed

Posted on: Thu 28-Mar-19 13:52:59

(49 comments )

Lead photo

“The Government's own data shows that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs for daring to get pregnant.”

When I was four months pregnant with my first child I was sacked by my employer the day after I informed them I was expecting. My employer was a children’s charity. The experience broke me; my confidence was shattered, my career was on the floor. I had worked so hard to build my reputation and develop my career and it was snatched away from me in an instant, simply because I had dared to use my uterus.

I am not alone. The Government's own data shows that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs for daring to get pregnant, and 77% of working mums encounter discrimination in the workplace. Those figures have almost doubled in the last 10 years. So, the situation is drastically deteriorating.

When mothers dare to complain about how our careers are ruined because we had a baby, the response is usually that it is about choice; we chose to have a baby so we should live with the consequences of those actions. However, choices are not made in a vacuum - they are influenced by environmental, political and cultural factors. I did not choose to live in the country with the most expensive childcare system, and one which forces 870,000 mothers to stay at home when they want to work. I did not choose to live in a country where we are expected to work more hours than the rest of Europe, thereby creating impossible timetables for those of us with caring responsibilities. I did not choose to be beholden to legislation and deeply entrenched gender stereotypes which encourage mothers to be responsible for the lion’s share of caring responsibilities. I did not choose to be rejected from a job simply because I am of childbearing age. Research has shown that a third of employers would avoid hiring me incase I get pregnant on their watch. We seem to conveniently forget that it takes two people to make a baby. Do men not also choose to have children? It is clear they are not passive bystanders in the procreation process. Yet, when men become fathers they get pay rises and promotions whilst mothers are sacked, demoted and sidelined.

Companies are starting to realise that they are missing out on valuable talent by ignoring the 40% of the adult population


Our legislation and company practices have barely changed since the industrial revolution, when men were responsible for bringing home the bacon and women were tied to the kitchen sink. The world is a different place now; many women want to work, and most of us have to work if we want to afford basic things like a mortgage and food. The very many mothers doing it on their own without a dual household income face incomprehensible challenges.

This is a rather bleak portrayal of motherhood and work, but I’m starting to sense some real change on the horizon. Many of us have become increasingly frustrated with the challenges and are pushing for change, while finding innovative ways to overcome the structural barriers we encounter. On the 11th May we will be running our third festival of Motherhood and Work, Pregnant Then Screwed Live, where 300 mothers and over 50 speakers will come together to address confidence issues and give mothers the tools they need to find work that works for them. This growing community of mothers are challenging the status quo and the results go beyond anything we could have imagined:

One mother who attended Pregnant Then Screwed Live said:
"I believed that being made redundant while I was on maternity leave was my fault, that I somehow deserved to be pushed out because I had a baby. I had been feeling confused, stressed and depressed. Being surrounded by other mothers who talked so honestly about their challenges has changed me. I feel strong again. It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t deserve it, and now I feel ready to start my own business and show the world what I am capable of.”

When we are constantly facing professional judgement due to our parental status, it can have a severe impact on our confidence, as well as our career. Many mothers are being ground down by employers who are too short-sighted to see the value in making their workplaces work for mothers.

Campaigns supporting change are being spearheaded by influencers and organisations across the UK, such as Mother Pukka’s Flexappeal and Mumsnet’s campaign to force companies to publish their parental leave policies. Dads are getting involved too, with the Fatherhood Institute showing how three months’ ‘daddy leave’ would benefit the UK economy, help to close the gender pay gap, and have a positive impact on children.

So, the tide is turning. Companies are starting to realise that they are missing out on valuable talent by ignoring 40% of the adult population. Women are coming together to demand change, overcome adversity, and support each other to find new ways to earn a living while being a great parent. We know that we are not less competent or committed when we become mothers; we just need a labour market that works for parents.

Joeli will be returning to the post to answer your questions tomorrow (29/03/2019) at 4.30pm

By Joeli Brearley

Twitter: @Joeli_Brearley

JazzyBBG Thu 28-Mar-19 21:49:11

Absolutely. Agree with every word and Jolie is fab. I am currently lucky with my employer in that I get flexibility in terms of hours. However unfortunately I have some other issues at work and would like to get a new job, but.... trying to get the same flexibility elsewhere will be impossible. Any time I mention flexible working people lose interest. Why is it so hard?

chazm84 Fri 29-Mar-19 02:09:34

So true. I was maneuvered out of my role with the announcement coming a couple of days after I told work. I also lost confidence and felt so down I was unable to fight it. In hindsight I should have pursued the matter if only to have left from a stronger position.
My husband also worked for an old school manager who had very old fashioned ideas about fatherhood responsibilities. That job and managers attitude pushed our family to the limit. Husband now has a great role at a family friendly company that also strongly promotes and grows women in their industry. Funny how the two go hand-in-hand!

SnuggyBuggy Fri 29-Mar-19 06:51:31

I kind of wish the UK would make up its mind what it actually wants its parents to do in terms of working or having a SAHP.

In some ways it feels like they want both parents to be working but when you look at childcare costs, limited options for when a child is ill and then later on the challenge of finding suitable wrap around care and appropriate school holiday cover you wonder if the UK really wants mums back in work.

3boysandabump Fri 29-Mar-19 07:16:54

My employer sent me a letter telling me how disappointed they were when I told them I was pregnant with my first.

Same company also made me feel I had no choice but to return from maternity leave early.

They also openly admit to treating me differently eg no extra hours etc. because of my pregnancy.

I still work for them. I did leave for a bit but they pay better than other companies so I suppose I let them get away with it because of that.

Mamabearo Fri 29-Mar-19 08:45:04

Brilliant article, I can relate so much. After being screwed over when I returned to new management at my old job, I’ve moved on and have a brilliant job in my dream space. It’s been a year now though and I still find myself thinking about the injustice I went through, and I’m still so disappointed in the way that people dissappeared into the shadows and whispered to me on the side about how wrong it all was. Any tips for stopping my mind drifting back to it all and just moving on completely? X

Kpo58 Fri 29-Mar-19 09:05:43

Until there is affordable childcare available to everyone that's open more than. 8-6, then nothing will ever change.

Mostly it's the woman (who is probably already on a lower wage) need to give up their jobs as there is no real help in childcare costs until the child is 3. Realistically why would an employer keep a job open for that length of time?

Also who would you realistically promote, someone who is unlikely to come back after a second child because they can't afford childcare or someone without that problem?

That's before you get into the issues of you can't get random hours of childcare easily at short notice if you shift work or are on zero hours contracts.

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Xiaoxiong Fri 29-Mar-19 12:42:39

Every time I hear about people, almost always mothers, sucked into multi level marketing I think - how sad it is that there is this huge untapped resource. Women who want to work, who want to work so much that they will put themselves into debt and work hard from home and online to try and make money and start their own business. How is it that the labour market is so dysfunctional that this resource is basically wasted on garbage like Younique and Forever Living.

Lamington85 Fri 29-Mar-19 13:20:17

You say the tide is turning- but not for those women working in low pay roles. House of Fraser has changed its maternity pay policy with the sports direct takeover, and is taking a step backwards! Women are now only entitled to statutory pay from day 1. It makes no sense to return to a job when childcare costs more than your take home pay.

KiteMarked Fri 29-Mar-19 14:11:42

I have been a SAHM for many years, due to the spacing of my children and caring for a disabled child. I fear that I will never get back into work and establish a career. What kind of programmes are out there for women like me? I am intelligent, capable and a quick learner. I feel like my brain is dribbling out of my ears!

Bemsy Fri 29-Mar-19 15:29:51

Pregnant then screwed ran a brilliant campaign last April whereby they encouraged people to write to employers telling them how they had discriminated against them. I did it and not only was it so cathartic to tell my old employer how awful the whole process of my pregnancy, Mat leave and flex working negotiations had been, but he actually wrote back and apologised. I then found out from ex colleagues that he’d been much better to them during their mat leave etc. Thanks to Joeli’s campaign I was able to “let it go” and be happier as a consequence in my new job.

FookMeFookYou Fri 29-Mar-19 15:31:58

I am desperate to go back to work but I am unable find a role that pays enough to warrant the cos5 of childcare. We are not eligible for any free hours until youngest is 3 yrs (Jan 2021) and that the only time I can see it being viable for me to rtw. I feel that at 36 I am on the scrapheap!! I've gained 5 qualifications in the last 6 months, I am CIPD qualified and I have a wealth of work experience and knowledge and yet I'm forced to stay at home. My DH is very supportive and has requested flexibility around his time in the office but I have to be honest in that I resent the fact his career is flying and I'm going backwards 😒

Snog Fri 29-Mar-19 16:23:57

We need to reduce our working hours and share out work between more of us so we can all benefit financially and in terms of quality of life and family life.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:29:51

Hi everyone, Joeli here. I will be available to respond to comments and answer any questions you might have until 5.30pm so feel free to ask me anything you like about the article above, or more broadly about the challenges working mums face due to a labour market and legislation that isn't working for parents.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:31:46

Snog

We need to reduce our working hours and share out work between more of us so we can all benefit financially and in terms of quality of life and family life.

Hello snog - I agree! It's a rather radical change but I think the UK should go to a 4 day working week, as standard.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:35:51

FookMeFookYou

I am desperate to go back to work but I am unable find a role that pays enough to warrant the cos5 of childcare. We are not eligible for any free hours until youngest is 3 yrs (Jan 2021) and that the only time I can see it being viable for me to rtw. I feel that at 36 I am on the scrapheap!! I've gained 5 qualifications in the last 6 months, I am CIPD qualified and I have a wealth of work experience and knowledge and yet I'm forced to stay at home. My DH is very supportive and has requested flexibility around his time in the office but I have to be honest in that I resent the fact his career is flying and I'm going backwards 😒

Hi FookMeFookYou - It's hard, isn't it? Childcare costs are ridiculous and prohibitively expensive for many families - this usually means women take the hit and are forced out of their careers. Did you know you will be entitled to tax free childcare if you both work? It is a relatively new Government initiative that hasn't been promoted very well.
For every £8 you contribute towards your childcare costs the Government will contribute £2. Would be worth looking in to.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:37:17

Bemsy

Pregnant then screwed ran a brilliant campaign last April whereby they encouraged people to write to employers telling them how they had discriminated against them. I did it and not only was it so cathartic to tell my old employer how awful the whole process of my pregnancy, Mat leave and flex working negotiations had been, but he actually wrote back and apologised. I then found out from ex colleagues that he’d been much better to them during their mat leave etc. Thanks to Joeli’s campaign I was able to “let it go” and be happier as a consequence in my new job.

Huzzah - really pleased to hear that. We will be running the campaign again in April

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:41:54

KiteMarked

I have been a SAHM for many years, due to the spacing of my children and caring for a disabled child. I fear that I will never get back into work and establish a career. What kind of programmes are out there for women like me? I am intelligent, capable and a quick learner. I feel like my brain is dribbling out of my ears!

Hi Kitemarked - this is so hard. I have had so many conversations with mums in your position and we did our research on the additional barriers mums with disabled children encounter in the workplace. Our research showed that a lack of flexible jobs and a lack of childcare that caters to the needs of disabled children is very problematic. We are working with the CIPD on a programme for returners. The programme isn't finalised yet but we really hope to launch it this year and we hope that the programme will be beneficial to mums like you. It will launch in Yorkshire and Humber first but we hope to spread it across the UK if it is successful. In the meantime if you need support with finding flexible jobs or doing your CV we can help with that

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:46:36

Lamington85

You say the tide is turning- but not for those women working in low pay roles. House of Fraser has changed its maternity pay policy with the sports direct takeover, and is taking a step backwards! Women are now only entitled to statutory pay from day 1. It makes no sense to return to a job when childcare costs more than your take home pay.

I didn't know they had done this. Have you thought about setting up a campaign to ask that they re-install previous staff benefits? There is a great campaigning organisation called 'Organise' that works with employees to help them lobby their employer. You can contact usman here: usman@organise.org.uk he will hep you.

I agree that women in low paid work have it far harder. We do have some bursary tickets for our event, Pregnant Then Screwed Live and I would be happy to offer you one if you think you can get to Manchester on the 11th May? It may help you figure out what to do next.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:51:03

Xiaoxiong

Every time I hear about people, almost always mothers, sucked into multi level marketing I think - how sad it is that there is this huge untapped resource. Women who want to work, who want to work so much that they will put themselves into debt and work hard from home and online to try and make money and start their own business. How is it that the labour market is so dysfunctional that this resource is basically wasted on garbage like Younique and Forever Living.

Hi Xiaoxiong The spike in women setting up their own business has catapulted in the last few years and that is blatantly because of these brilliant women who are being forced out of jobs. They want to work but can't find a job that allows them to be both care giver and breadwinner. It's a tragedy, though from this desperate situation we have seen so many mums create incredible and very successful businesses. Sadly, that isn't everyones experience and ideally mums would set up their business because they want to, not because they are forced to.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:53:41

Kpo58

Until there is affordable childcare available to everyone that's open more than. 8-6, then nothing will ever change.

Mostly it's the woman (who is probably already on a lower wage) need to give up their jobs as there is no real help in childcare costs until the child is 3. Realistically why would an employer keep a job open for that length of time?

Also who would you realistically promote, someone who is unlikely to come back after a second child because they can't afford childcare or someone without that problem?

That's before you get into the issues of you can't get random hours of childcare easily at short notice if you shift work or are on zero hours contracts.

Hi Kpo58 yes, I totally agree with you. We want to see all children have access to 15 hours free childcare from the age of 9 months and then additional hours to be capped at £1 per hour. I also agree that the inflexibility of childcare is a massive problem.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:56:07

Mamabearo

Brilliant article, I can relate so much. After being screwed over when I returned to new management at my old job, I’ve moved on and have a brilliant job in my dream space. It’s been a year now though and I still find myself thinking about the injustice I went through, and I’m still so disappointed in the way that people dissappeared into the shadows and whispered to me on the side about how wrong it all was. Any tips for stopping my mind drifting back to it all and just moving on completely? X

Hi Mamabearo I don't know if you ever get over it. I still think about my experience all the time and it was almost 6 years ago. I guess the thing to do is to channel that negativity into something really positive like campaigning for others so it doesn't happen again, or supporting other women going through pregnancy or maternity discrimination. That is what helped me

SimonJT Fri 29-Mar-19 16:56:51

I took on my sisters son, so I had very short notice, when I approached my employer they made it very clear that I was to have no time off, despite legally being able to have adoption leave. In the three week wait before he arrived they made my life hell so I quit, I didn’t have the energy to fight it.

For me it turned out to be a positive as I now do the same job at another company with flexitime, so I only work four days a week and I can take work home. So on my working days I can walk my son to and from nursery and I typically do an hour of work when he is in bed to make up my shortfall.

I was however very lucky as my savings meant I could get by without working for three months. If I didn’t have that security I wouldn’t have been able to take him on.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 16:58:54

3boysandabump

My employer sent me a letter telling me how disappointed they were when I told them I was pregnant with my first.

Same company also made me feel I had no choice but to return from maternity leave early.

They also openly admit to treating me differently eg no extra hours etc. because of my pregnancy.

I still work for them. I did leave for a bit but they pay better than other companies so I suppose I let them get away with it because of that.

Hi 3boysandabump this is awful. I am so sorry they are treating you like this, It isn't at all fair and frankly, I would say it is verging on illegal. Have you addressed this with them directly? Have you told them how it makes you feel? We do sometimes find that direct conversation like this can make employers think about their behaviour, though I appreciate it is not easy. Make sure you are logging everything and keeping evidence, you never know when you might need it.

JoeliBrearleyGuestPost Fri 29-Mar-19 17:02:31

SimonJT

I took on my sisters son, so I had very short notice, when I approached my employer they made it very clear that I was to have no time off, despite legally being able to have adoption leave. In the three week wait before he arrived they made my life hell so I quit, I didn’t have the energy to fight it.

For me it turned out to be a positive as I now do the same job at another company with flexitime, so I only work four days a week and I can take work home. So on my working days I can walk my son to and from nursery and I typically do an hour of work when he is in bed to make up my shortfall.

I was however very lucky as my savings meant I could get by without working for three months. If I didn’t have that security I wouldn’t have been able to take him on.

Hi SimonJT - well I think you're pretty bloody brilliant and I am so very pleased you found a company that allows you to work and be a human being with personal responsibilities and obligations.

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