Happy International Women's Day

What better time to chat with campaigner and journalist, Anna Whitehouse

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If you’re sending your children back to school today, congratulations! You survived. Being a working parent throughout the pandemic has brought, to use Boris’ favourite word, ‘unprecedented’ challenges of all kinds. But there’s no doubt that trying to educate children while holding down a job or a freelance business has been a total nightmare for most.

Our multi-tasking skills have been pushed to their limits and many working parents have suffered tremendously. Many have been denied furlough, lost freelance work or their livelihoods completely, or have just battled on while leaving themselves physically and mentally exhausted. If this is you, I'm sending you the biggest virtual hug.

As a family, we've struggled to. Our son isn't school age admittedly, but the last few weeks have just really got to us. We miss our families, we miss being able to have our own space, and we’re just really bloody tired.

But throughout it all, there have also been glimmers of light thanks to the women tirelessly raising awareness and campaigning for better reporting and acknowledgment of the gender based discrimination that the pandemic has created. And today's interview guest, Anna Whitehouse (AKA Mother Pukka) and founder of Flex Appeal has been at the forefront of that campaign work.

In 2015, Anna was denied a flexible working request from her full-time job as a senior copywriter in fear that it 'would open the flood gates for others'. She didn't want to choose between her job and seeing her daughter each evening, so she left to go freelance and launch Flex Appeal.

Since its launch in 2015, Anna and her team have been campaigning to encourage the adoption of flexible working across the UK.

One of the major issues Anna has been campaigning for most recently is to bring back Gender Pay Gap reporting by larger companies (something which was scrapped in 2020 by Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)). This was due, in their words, to the ‘unprecedented uncertainty and pressure faced by businesses’. The result, unsurprisingly, has been devastating for thousands of women.

In Anna’s recent column in Grazia, she reported that 80% of managers didn’t take steps during this time to ensure that redundancies didn’t fall disproportionately on women. As such, women were 47% more likely to have lost their jobs or quit in lockdown, compared to men, according to The Institute for Fiscal Studies. The Times also reported this weekend that 140,000 more women than men have been furloughed.

It’s this awful state of affairs that inspired Anna to rally the troops, calling on fellow parents to sign a petition to bring back Gender Pay Gap reporting. The good news? Since we interviewed Anna for this newsletter earlier in February, there's been some amazing progress. She posted the following update on Instagram on February 22nd:

“Information leaked to @telegraph and @guardian suggests the campaign has worked - Gender Pay Gap reporting WILL go ahead in 2021, with enforcement delayed. Your support (all 8,458 of you) rammed the message home. How something so basic as transparency is meant to feel like a step forward is, indeed, depressing. But you have to take what you can right now”.

Then, in even more good news, last week the Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss has called for flexible working practices to be normalised - something that Anna has been fighting for for years.

The government website published a statement to say, “Our commitment to flexible working is based on our desire to open up employment opportunities to people regardless of their sex or location. The shift for many people to work from home during the pandemic has changed mindsets and now is a chance to seize the opportunity of making flexible working the norm, rather than something employees have to specially request. The fact is that for many jobs there are invisible restrictions that hold people back – like the need to live in high-cost accommodation close to the centre of cities or maintain working arrangements that are very hard to combine with family or other responsibilities. We now have the chance to break down these barriers and boost opportunities for everyone.”

What a turn up for the books after quite possibly, the hardest year ever!

So, on International Women’s Day, I’m so grateful for women like Anna who do so much to protect the rights of working parents, women and everyone who just wants to be treated fairly by their employees. Women like Anna are truly what this day is really about.

I hope you enjoy the interview with Anna in which she explains more about her campaign work and how she's personally found this third lockdown.

Enjoy your first day back of freedom fellow freelance parents. Take that nap. You deserve it.


THE INTERVIEW: ANNA WHITEHOUSE, AUTHOR, HEART FM PRESENTER AND FOUNDER OF FLEX APPEAL

Collated by Jessica Morris

CAT: First of all, how has lockdown been for you this time around?

ANNA: It’s tougher this time round because I, like the majority of parents in the same situation, am mentally exhausted. I did the maths and as working parents, we’re expected to do an average eight-hour day, six hours of home-schooling and 12 hours of parenting. That’s 26 hours in a 24-hour day. And I’m fortunate enough to have a partner to share the responsibilities with. We still try our best to stick to a routine and our eldest attends compulsory online registrations which gives her a structure to get started. We try to have at least a basic plan of what we want the kids to do each day and use a timetable as a tool to help. We structure in breaks for everybody too and allow the routine to be flexible so it doesn't feel restrictive. 

CAT: Your most recent campaign seeks to bridge the gender gap regarding impacts of the pandemic, what are the key changes you are fighting for? 

ANNA: Gender pay gap reporting was scrapped in 2020, and there is talk of it being scrapped in 2021. I’m standing with Grazia, who helped change the law around reporting in 2015, and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), calling on the Government to maintain the requirement for larger employers to report on their gender pay gap in 2021 and to urgently introduce legislation requiring employers to report on ethnicity and disability pay gaps. Tracking what happens to women’s pay is vital to building a fairer future and holding employers to account. You can sign the petition here (a Government update on this is expected soon).

CAT: Do you think there are some misconceptions around parents rights regarding furlough and other work-related issues - particularly the difference between the rights of mums and dads?

ANNA: I’ve been campaigning since the start of this lockdown for the rights of parents, not just mothers, when it comes to furlough. Without men sharing furlough, without men supporting their partners to hold onto jobs they’ve fought tooth and nail for, and without society recognising this as an economic issue, we’re going to end up in a Margaret Attwood novel. Flexible furlough is an option so the conversation around parental leave needs to be had. Both mothers and fathers need to check their employment contracts for possible dependant’s leave, and support each other.  

CAT: From the feedback you receive from parents, what impression do you get of the current situation for parents in general? 

ANNA: Going back to my earlier point about working parents being expected to do an average eight-hour day, six hours of home-schooling and 12 hours of parenting, so 26 hours in a 24-hour day – the feedback I’m receiving is that parents are completely exhausted and feel like they’re failing, whereas in actual fact – it’s just an impossible ask.

CAT: Do you have any advice for freelance parents struggling to work at the moment, who are unsure of their rights?

ANNA: If you’re self-employed/freelance but your income from work is reduced or non-existent due to Covid, the government’s Self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) should be able to help. There are quite a few T&C’s, but the Working Families website has laid them out really clearly here.

CAT: Do you know of any businesses who are setting great examples of how to treat their employees who are parents? 

ANNA: Sky and Zurich Insurance are doing a great job here – recognising the human element of the workplace and offering flexible working options for their staff. Ultimately, it’s good for business, and we’re working hard to ensure this is common practice outside the parameters of the pandemic.

CAT: Could you share with us a couple of your hopes or goals for 2021? 

ANNA: The important thing to remember is that right now, we’re not working flexibly – we’re working at home in the context of a global pandemic. We need to erase the fact of flexible working only being available after 26 weeks in a role - we need to create a lasting shift where flexible working isn’t a bonus or something you’re expected to earn – it is simply the norm


News and articles

Covid-19: Regular tests a 'game-changer' for schools, says science adviser

The reopening of schools has been a long time coming. Here the BBC explains how the use of lateral flow tests, masks and sufficient ventilation will ensure schools are a safe environment for teachers and children.

I'm a busy working mother of two and these are the sanity-saving hacks that have got us through lockdown

Our sanity has truly been tested this year, with things continuing to change all the time. This has allowed for constant disruption to our routines as well as our children's. Glamour speaks to Pamela, mother of two, to find out her tips on how she has managed to cope through this whirlwind of a year. 

Two-thirds of self-employed lose out financially to Covid

The Telegraph reports that 50%  of parents who have been working from home during the pandemic have seen a decline in their income due. With school’s due to reopen, is there now light at the end of the tunnel?

The freelancers’ guide to pensions

Creative Boom share their best tips and advice on how to set up a pension when working for yourself and give an insight on what you are entitled to.

The Mums Aren't Alright! Check In On Your Friends; They Are Not Okay

In this article written for Grazia, Joeli Brearley, shares how the pandemic has affected a number of different women at different stages of motherhood. The lack of understanding and support from their places of work is pretty shocking.


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