When I started my blog, Mother Pukka, I’d only been in London for a few months and got stuck on a Tube. Someone got their briefcase jammed in the doors and it put our Tube back by five minutes, which meant I was late for daycare by three minutes and I got charged £1 per minute. As I was sat on one of those primary-coloured tiny chairs, getting told off, I think something broke in me. I thought, “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong and I don’t think I’m alone here. We shouldn’t just be accepting this complete burnout.”
I have vulnerabilities. I make mistakes, but I’m determined and that might be an attribute that gets lost sometimes along the way. I’m not a warrior woman – I'm more like the dung beetle, pushing that shit up a hill. I don’t know anyone who trots through life, singing The Hills Are Alive, with a perfect latte in one hand and a pristine child in the other. It doesn’t work like that.
A couple of years ago, I launched a Flex Appeal campaign, a project to raise awareness of the benefits flexible working can bring to businesses. Hearing from people is the fuel to my fire – I’m really inspired by the women who contact me every day, sharing their stories with me, but the pressure comes from myself, because my deadline is my daughters. I want to help everybody, but ultimately I want to help those little girls looking at me every day. I feel very uncomfortable, building them up with GCSEs, A-levels, a degree or whatever they choose to do, knowing that the same discrimination roadblock lies ahead.
The Mother Pukka community is just brilliant and Instagram has played its part in opening up an amazing support network for parents. Sure, it’s got a lot of negative things to it, as do all social-media channels, but the good outweighs the bad. I’ve met people on the street, we talk through their flexible-working plan and that’s what gets me excited. It’s connection. I get really fired up when a woman contacts me to tell me, because of Flex Appeal, she’s put in a flexible working request and it’s gone through. That keeps me going. I came into this space to connect with other people who were going through what I was going through and, in turn, it’s led to me campaigning for that. It was never a plan – it just sort of fell into my lap, driven by a lot of frustration.
We need individuals to be seen as individuals, so there isn't a blanket approach to how we work – the whole ‘because if we give you flexible working, then we’d have to give Barry in accounts flexible working'
We need to get away from the dialogue that flexible working is just “Mummy wants to see more of her Weetabix-smattered child”, because that's what it’s seen as – a maternal weakness. When, actually, what we want is a mechanic that works for everybody – for mental-health reasons, for carer reasons, for someone who has a very needy dog. I’m not to judge what’s important to the next person, but I’m fighting for mothers because we’re the hardest hit at the moment. Fifty-four thousand women get made redundant every year on maternity leave.
We need individuals to be seen as individuals, so there isn't a blanket approach to how we work – the whole “because if we give you flexible working, then we’d have to give Barry in accounts flexible working”. No, it’s like salaries – look at specific needs, communicate those specific needs to other members of the company, so there’s a transparency. And erase the idea that this is a mummy issue – it’s a people issue.
It should never get to the point where you are breaking down in front of your boss, saying, “I can't do this. Help.” There has to be a moment before that where you regroup, then take in a knockout PowerPoint presentation on how to work flexibly and what it's going to deliver for the business. And suggest a trial. That’s the biggest thing right now – not pushing companies to do it forever, but suggesting a three-month trial, and in my experience, in that set-up, it always works. And you have moved something forward for all the other women in that company. That is a huge glimmer of light you have opened. And even if they say no and even if they push back, you still have tried – you've still got the dialogue going.