With the launch of The #WorkThatWorks Movement this week, it's time to meet our very first #WorkThatWorks Ambassador, none other than the amazing Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka. This woman is the self named 'fog horn of flexible working' and we absolutely adore her for it...
We LOVE you at Digital Mums and have of course been boogying alongside you recently as part of 'Flex appeal'...why is the campaign for better flexible working for parents so close to your heart?
"Love coming back atcha. I think it came from numerous places: most obviously being unable to make my senior copywriter role at the L’Oreal Group work with extortionate daycare fees and inflexible working hours. I was like a raggedy old Labrador at the end of each working day rasping in a heap, wondering how my life choices had come to this. I was poorer and seeing my daughter for 20 minutes a day, all embellished with a pneumatic eye twitch. I’m really determined and I could not make it work so I thought, there have to be others out there. How is this not being talked about? How are women slipping from senior positions and it’s seemingly accepted? How can we smash through glass ceilings if we’re not there? So with all the tools I know best (Lycra and 80s lyrics), I launched ‘Flex appeal’. I’m not good with long political words, so I went with something I’d understand. Let’s talk about flex, baby.
We’re super excited to have you on Team #WorkThatWorks - tell us why you think #WorkThatWorks is so important for mums in particular..
You get it. Your co-founders Kathryn and Nikki aren’t parents but they see flexible working as the ‘people’ issue that it is. This isn’t about ‘mummies wanting to spend more time with their little ones’. This is about women being pushed out of careers they’ve fought hard for because they happened to become a parent. This is ultimately about businesses losing out; losing a pool of extraordinary talent because they fear releasing people from the shackles of 9-5. Digital Mums’ #WorkThatWorks campaign proves that looking towards productivity instead of a bums-on-seats mentality is the way forward. A company doesn’t own an employee – this isn’t an owner and pet dynamic despite how we’re made to feel – it’s a mutual relationship where one party provides something the other doesn’t have. What good relationship is based on being Sellotaped to a manky office chair eight hours a day?
How can it be that so few women STILL seem to have access to flexible working - what needs to change?**
I totally get it. It’s a massive thing for a company to smash down those 9-5 barriers. There’s the looming fear that everyone will slope off to Wetherspoons at 4pm for a beer and burger, perhaps? Or that we’ll all just lurk on Facebook stalking our exes until home time. But the places that get flexible working realise that it’s simply a chance to sort the wheat from the chaff. If someone’s not hitting targets or performing against a clear set of objectives then perhaps it’s time for the heave ho. Flexible working simply stops praising folk for sitting on chairs and applauds them for getting shit done. Companies need to see this as a business issue, not just a HR issue.
So many mums come to Digital Mums as a result of maternity discrimination - tell us a bit about the experiences of some of your community…
When I started Flex appeal, I had no idea what would come out of it (except some stellar dance moves, of course) but the swathes of women penning their own experiences under my posts has been chilling. From women being demoted from their own companies to mothers being told there’s no place for them on return from maternity leave, it was a massive wake-up call about how ingrained this issue is. I wasn’t told by my Dad that I could ‘do anything’ and that I needed to work really hard in my GCSEs only to be cut off from my career at 35. It seems I’m not alone.
Do you feel that now you’ve stopped working for L’Oreal you have #WorkThatWorks?
Not at all. I’m in control so that’s, perhaps, a huge step. But financially it’s a struggle. I didn’t choose to leave employment but when faced with seeing my daughter 20 minutes a day or writing about the next lash boosting mascara (which is amazing) I was forced, in a way, to pick a lane. I have control and that’s worth it’s weight in Diptique candles. But it doesn’t totally work yet.
What’s the most common thing your community contacts you about when talking Flex appeal and #WorkThatWorks?
It’s mainly how to navigate running the daycare gauntlet. So I’d leave work at 5pm and daycare closes at 6pm. If someone gets their briefcase trapped in the Tube door, I’m then late and have to pay £1 a minute (and have a 'chat' about lateness) after six for the privilege. That – every day.
And what advice do you give them?
I don’t give advice. I’m not equipped to do so. I offer support and am simply a flexible working foghorn bellowing out that things need to change. I’m hoping companies will soon be the ones giving support and advice internally.
We’re super excited to announce our collaboration together - share what’s coming up for Mother Pukka and Digital Mums...
Well we’ve just filmed our first Flex Appeal dance vlog with you guys – to the tune of Salt N Pepa’s ‘Let’s talk about sex[flex], baby’. I think that speaks for itself. Then it’s about working closely together ahead of the #WorkThatWorks panel during #WorkThatWorks week. That’s going to be a great place to cement what the issues are and start looking at ways to solve them – or at the very least keep the conversation going. One thing's for sure, we’re both advocates of change.
Lots of our mums tell us they have taken jobs that are lower paid/lower skilled as it’s only way to find something that fits around childcare. What is it with the parenthood penalty?
It happens all the time. When you get an employer essentially saying you’re not worth keeping on – that they won’t fight to allow you to bring up a kid and work for them without having a cardiac arrest – then you’re knocked sideways. I’ve heard of women having worked somewhere for eight years, only to get the boot post splash down. There is a vulnerability – not weakness - when you get back from maternity leave and I believe businesses take advantage of that.
Obviously you’re a super successful blogger but after L’Oreal did you ever think of applying for lower paid jobs as it was a better fit for life at home with Mae?
I still freelance and work for a few copywriting clients so I suppose that’s the equivalent. But yes, I wanted an employer that knew how good I was without basing it on hours-in-office. It ended up that the employer was me.
You’re Prime Minister for the day - what one thing would you change for mums in the workplace?
I’d be a shit Prime Minister. I only set up the Flex appeal because it was my way of communicating this issue. It’s not a clever way, it’s just a way – and that’s been my focus; to start a conversation and to keep it running until other people like you guys fix The Stuff. I can’t see Theresa May shimmying away to the tune of Salt N Pepa, so if she did step aside for the day I’d grab the mic in the House of Commons and tell them all to talk to their mates in higher places. I’d ask them to grab the guys on the boards of Shell, L’Oreal, Coca Cola for a nip of grandpa’s old cough medicine and tell them to stop losing talent. People talent; their talent. I’d tell them to stop losing money."
Join The #WorkThatWorks Movement
To show your support for our #WorkThatWorks movement share an image/photo/video on social media which represents the letters WTW (see what we did there). From graffiti, to sign language, nail art, kids pictures, cupcakes and beyond, let’s fill social media with WTW love. The more of us that do it, the more the world will listen to the fact that WTW is something people are crying out for. So get creative people and post your photos up on social media, making sure to tag us in and use the hashtag #WorkThatWorks - we’ll be sure to share it. You can read more about our movement here.
Last of all, you can sign up to Join the Movement to receive updates on #WorkThatWorks' progress over time.
Cover Image Photo Credit: Bex & Ocean @Rebelandrosephoto