Meet Inclusion Activist:
By Wura Obisesan on 3 August 2022
Q. Tell us about yourself, in particular what led to your interest in advancing equity and inclusion?
A. My journey with Pregnant Then Screwed started when I was four months pregnant with my first baby. I informed my employer I was pregnant, and the next day they sacked me by voicemail. My employer was a children’s charity. It came as quite a shock and I tried to do something about it as I thought ‘that is illegal’.
My lawyer wrote my employer a letter demanding I’d be compensated, but they just threw it in the bin and the whole process cost me £250. The lawyer then advised me to take them to tribunal, and that it would cost about £9,000. I said I’d think about it.
In the meantime, I went for a routine hospital appointment and discovered that I was having a really high-risk pregnancy and was told to do everything to reduce stress in my life. I was considering taking my employer to tribunal and that is probably the most stressful thing that you can do.
I was left with the very stark choice of protecting my health and that of my unborn child or accessing justice. So, I dropped the case because you only have three months to make a claim with a tribunal.
I suddenly found myself lying on a sofa, watching daytime TV and everything had vanished. I had no job, no income and I was relying on my partner to pay for my food and keep a roof over my head.
This changed everything for me, making me realise all these different inequalities that exist, and because of my privilege I had not previously been aware about them as I’d have been relatively comfortable until then. It was a real frying pan in the face moment when that happened. I realised that because I’m a woman I am going to face all these different inequalities that just hadn’t registered with me before.
Q. What outcomes are you wanting to achieve and why do these need to happen?
A. Our aim is to end what we term the motherhood penalty. These are the systematic disadvantages that mothers face in the workplace compared to their childless counterparts in terms of pay, perceived competence and benefits.
We work on both the symptoms of discrimination, but also work on trying to end discrimination. So we work on short-term goals and long-term goals. With our advice line, we support women who experience intensive discrimination and help them challenge it and even take their employer to tribunal if they need to. We also do lots of campaigning and lobbying to try and change the law so that things will be better for pregnant women and mothers, and to create equal access to the labour market.
Q. How is your work helping to achieve these outcomes above?
A. Last year we supported over 880,000 women through a free advice line. If someone has any problems at work, they can call us and speak to a HR professional to begin with, and then we can refer them to employment lawyers for advice if needed. They will talk someone through what’s happening and tell them whether they have a legal case and provide advice on what to do next.
We also have a mentor programme, as there are a number of women who are taking legal action against an employer, so we pair them up with somebody who can help reduce the stress of that process and tell them what to expect. These people are trained in mental health first aid, and have supported women who’ve experienced discrimination before. We can help with confidence-building and give women the tools they need to find work that works for them.
We are also about to launch a mental health line in partnership with the Mind charity, because we don’t just want to help women with the legal side of things. If someone experiences this sort of discriminatory situation, they’re much more likely to experience depression as a result of that.
We have been campaigning and lobbying for the last seven years on affordable quality childcare, because that’s a big barrier for women who are trying to have children and a career, and we think all jobs should be advertised as flexible by default.
Q. What results has your campaign achieved?
A. We are making a difference. In Parliament we have been mentioned more than 35 times and last year we helped women secure £628,000 in settlement agreements.
We know that our work improves women’s confidence, their knowledge about their legal rights and their wellbeing because polls show that nine out of 10 women who use our services say that’s the impact on them.
We have a huge online following with 30,000 people following us. We have many advocates who talk about us with their friends and family and we use online platforms as a way to help change the narrative around working motherhood and help people to understand the challenges that mothers experience in the workplace compared with other types of employees.
We work with employers to help them make their workplace the best it can be for working parents. That is enormously helpful for organisations because it means that they can retain highly qualified, highly skilled staff.
Q. Who or what inspires you to do what you do and how do you keep focused and energised in challenging times?
A. Our campaign is tough because it’s really hard to change these systems that are so embedded in our culture. You need a lot of energy to keep campaigning and to keep yourself from feeling continuously deflated. The way that we get energy is through the success of our services. We know that we are providing direct support to women on the ground, and we see the results of that every single day.
In terms of inspiration, I mean, there were some brilliant women doing really incredible work that keeps us going. We work very closely with the MP Stella Creasy, a real advocate for the work that we are doing but someone who is also trying to make changes in Parliament.
The feminist author Laura Bates was also an inspiration in setting up Pregnant Then Screwed and Sophie Walker, the founding leader of the Women’s Equality Party, has also been an ally and an inspiration for me.
Q. How can individuals support your work?
A. We are always looking for HR professionals to join our advice line, volunteers do a two hour shift per week to answer calls that come in and give people advice and then if they need the legal team, or if they need mental health services then we will transfer them through to those services.
People can also follow us on social media, and this is where we ask people to take specific action. On 29 October, we will stage a protest across 12 UK cities to demand affordable, good quality childcare. We also want to ring-fence properly paid parental leave for all parents, and all jobs be advertised as flexible by default. We want as many people to come into that protest as possible, we’ve already got 4,000 people registered.
Q. How can employers specifically get involved?
A. Employers can complete a training programme that helps them make the workplace the best it can be for working parents. I also host talks at different forums and people can come and listen to the talks about the key things of investing in the workplace because this is not about tiny tweaks around the edges. This is about radical reform in the way that you work if you want to really make your workplace work.
Q. What next?
A. Removing the gender pay gap so all women can enjoy their chosen career successfully.
Find out more and get involved:
- Visit the Pregnant Then Screwed website
- Read about Pregnant Then Screwed employer training programmes
- Follow Pregnant Then Screwed on Linkedin
- Follow Pregnant Then Screwed on Twitter
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