I Interviewed Anna (aka Mother Pukka) previously for @MastersofMany. At the time she’d made the brave move of ditching her day job (which she loved) as a senior copywriter at L’Oreal, as they wouldn’t agree to delivering a more flexible work environment. Instead, she chose to make blogging and vlogging, and generally #parentingtheshitoutoflife (as she puts it) her full time existence. At the heart of this is her campaign #flexappeal, where she is putting all of her efforts into creating awareness of the benefits of flexible working, for both individuals and companies alike. As she states, this is a ‘human’ issue - it’s not about mums returning to work, it’s about all of us questioning how work is structured, and putting family priorities at the same level as our work ones.
I can’t applaud Anna enough for everything she is doing in this area. Whether it’s writing about the issue, working with governmental departments to get companies to sign up to flexible working legislation, or flash mobbing in lycra round the country talking about ‘flex baby’, this woman has made it her 30 year mission to change the future of work for her daughter Mae. I caught up with her to find out more…
Tell us about your #flexappeal campaign….
The campaign comes from a personal place. I saw a lot of features and legislation out there about flexible working, but nothing was getting through. I didn't know effectively how to ask for flexible working, or what my rights were, so I decided to start something that might make it more accessible. It's very woman on the street, without a political background, just using the utensils I have. If I don't do it, I just sit and wait for this to be something Mae (my daughter) deals with. In my mind I have 30 years to sort this out for her. I have 57,000 [Anna’s following is now nearer 75k] people following me, and that's quite impactful, that's the power of Instagram.
I’m using a pun 'Flexappeal' and having some fun with it, rather than wordy political messages. I’m no more than a flexible working foghorn, but I'm not going to stop until I make a difference for Mae when she enters the workforce.
Talk me through some of the key things that have happened with the campaign...how did the idea for the flashmobs come about?
Being online has impact, but it's nothing compared to being offline. I wanted to keep the message light. I got t-shirts made for 30 people, and we had 240 people turn up, with their kids, the dads turned up, and it was just a moment to realise that this is a big issue. It's too late for us, there's nothing that can happen in our time working, but we're all set to push the message for our kids.
The aim is to take it round the UK and get people to do the same dance, and look bonkers [since this interview the flashmob has travelled across the country]. It's not necessarily brain surgery, but it's gathering people who are going through the same thing, and getting their attention to listen to the serious stuff.
How did you start working with the House of Commons?
It was Caroline Dinenage (Under Secretary of State for Woman, Equality and Early Years) who got in touch with me. She's pioneered 'Working Forward' which was initially a pledge to encourage companies to end maternity discrimination and encourage flexible working so that women aren't cut out. I sat down with her, and they wanted me to help them to get big companies to sign the pledge. 86% of businesses in the UK genuinely believe that they offer flexible working and do not discriminate at all in maternity issues, or with women who are trying to get pregnant. However 77% of women interviewed experienced significant maternity discrimination or lost their job while on maternity leave. You don't need to be a mathematician to work out that there is a massive disconnect between the two.
My sole focus with #flexappeal has been getting companies to sign that pledge.
What do you think the barriers are as to why more fathers haven't taken up the flexible working opportunities in the UK that exist?
I think it's a pride thing in it's simplest form. There is still a stigma. Dads are changing, but the work force is still behind. It's not great for women, but men are being offered even less. 8 out of 10 women have flexibility looked at in some way at least, but for men it's 2 out of 10.
Is it about more proactive companies, or is it empowering people to ask and push for their flexible working rights? Where does it start?
It starts right at the interview process. I've never asked about maternity policies and the package in an interview, so that's where it starts. Hiding your head and pretending that you never want to be a mother, that you're androgynous, that your ovaries are tucked away, that starts at interview process, so that's where it needs to begin. Otherwise we're just chasing our tails. If you go in and pretend you don't care about flexible working and maternity, it comes as a big surprise when you ask.
It's confidence on our side as a group to push for it, and I think it's using the tools that are out there to ramp up our argument. I've posted a lot of things recently on how you can actually ask for it. It's not a revolution, it's about evolution, and pushing someone each day to ask for it.
It's about businesses retaining mums - and we're so good at what we do! If you look at the businesses that mums are setting up each day, they are doing so well. It will help these businesses to retain this dedicated workforce who are currently skittering around setting up other businesses.
It's interesting that you don't think that this will be solved in our career time....do you think that it's the people who are most capable who are changing things from within are choosing to exit, rather than stay and fight?
I think it is in part, but it's part of the message I want to push. Leaving and doing things on your own is much harder. It looks like mecca, but it's not. I earned 10k last year, and I was working constantly. Leaving fits some people, absolutely, but I don't think setting up a start up is the easy option for people with a family. These intelligent, bright women are going to realise that very soon, and it will be pushed back on. There will be natural evolution towards making this work, but I think we as a generation won't see the results.
You mentioned that you and your husband are making a documentary? What are the next steps in the campaign?
For this year of the campaign, we have someone following us for anything we're doing in relation to flexible working. It won't be anything big, it's just a collection of clips from the year.
We're going to continue doing the flash mobs round the UK so it doesn't seem like a London issue and ensure it feels inclusive. We are selling coffee mugs with #flexappeal on them with the proceeds going to funding the flash mobs. The London Flashmob cost £1,500 to put on, and that's my money and as much as I'd love to fund it, I earned £10k last year, so that's not feasible, as it racks up!
The other side of it is obviously the journalistic side, I've written another piece this week for Stylist and I'm going to keep pitching pieces this year to make sure that it gets out to a wider audience than mums and dads, to business sections and beyond.
We've gone from 7 companies to having signed the working forward pledge when we began, to having brought 84 new companies to the table through our channels. John Lewis, BP, BT, Virgin Money, Not on the High Street - they've all signed it through us having pushed the message. The aim is to keep pioneering and championing these messages, and questioning why others haven't take the step.
Are there companies in that list who you would say are real leaders in this area already?
The first one to sign up ironically was Ford. It's not just a little form you fill in, it's quite a serious undertaking for a company to sign up to. The aim is to get 500 companies signed up by the end of 2017. It's something that you can see is changing, it's not overnight, but it's progress.
We also did an event at the Museum of Childhood in February that we’re aiming to do every year for the next 30 years. The events are split in two between employee and employer and it's a big debate about the nitty gritty of flexible working. Changing the issue and the mindset and providing practical change for businesses is important. Having everyone in one room who is feeling frustrated by this issue is key.
You’ve started a company with your partner, in the form of Pukka Content - how did that come aboutand how is it working with your partner?
It was sort of a 'why not' decision. We love each other, you know the bad and the ugly, so there is nothing hidden beneath the surface, and you're working to the same financial goal. I saw a massive gap in the market of all of these mums who are launching businesses, but don't have an understanding of Instagram, or tone of voice, all things that I took for granted. They have the talent, but I'm the foghorn who helps them get the message out.
That's why we did it. It filtered into flexappeal as it was about women starting businesses and not making money from it. We offer strategy days where we give advice on what they should and shouldn't be posting on Instagram. We don't charge if they don't see a difference, as they're small brands, but we haven't had anyone yet not send us an invoice. There's an honesty in our approach, and a trust.
If someone was to come to you now offering a dream role, but with flexible hours - would you go back to the workforce, or now that you've left and you have this 30 year target are you committed to working for yourself?
I don't like working for myself at all, which is why I'm pushing so hard for flexible working. I'd take that job in a heartbeat. But, the whole point of flexibility is that I would still have the time to push what I'm doing. Part of me is now fighting for flexible working, it's a passion of mine that I'm pushing for in my work, and I also have a kid. I worked in Amsterdam for 3 days a week, the company didn't go down, deadlines were met, and I know it can work. If I got that, it gives me 2 days to do these other things that I want to do and the two can work together. I'd be happy, they'd be happy.