A woman who was sacked just a day after announcing to her boss that she was pregnant has now mobilised an army of mums to demand equality for working mums, their partners, and their kids.
Pregnant Then Screwed organised the ‘March of the Mummies’ to protest against insufficient rights for working mothers, poor childcare provisions by the government, and a lack of proper funding for parental leave.
The event was a great success and the group has come a long way from humble beginnings seven years ago, when it was started out of a serious injustice.
Founder and CEO Joeli Brearley wanted to take her former employer to a tribunal after being sacked via voicemail the day after announcing her pregnancy, but discovered that she was high-risk and required to be under as little stress as possible.
That meant that she didn’t pursue the expensive and potentially unsuccessful legal route, but it started a fire that isn’t going to go away.
“I was four months pregnant and I informed my employer that I was expecting,” Brearley told Tyla.
“They sacked me by voicemail the day after.
“My employer was a children’s charity, so that was interesting!
“I got a lawyer who wrote them a letter but my employer just threw that letter in the bin, but that cost £300, which was really terrifying.
“The lawyer said to me ‘the next step is to take them to a tribunal’ to which I said ‘OK, how much would that cost me?’
“They said probably about £15,000.
“Then, I went to a routine hospital appointment and found out I was having a high-risk pregnancy.
“I could have gone into labour at any point and they said if I did the baby was going to die.
“I was rushed into surgery to try to sort it out, but they told me it may not work.
“The doctors said ‘whatever you do, reduce the stress in your life’,
“I had to drop the case.”
She continued: “I was furious, it was so crass.
“Any opportunity and access to justice I had was taken away from me because that’s the way the system works.
“That ate away at me.
“Eventually, I set up a blog and started hearing other horrendous stories, and we’ve just gone from there.”
The statistics make for grim reading.
Joeli explained: “50 percent of children in single parent families live in poverty, not because single parent families are layabouts, but because everything is stacked against them when they’re trying to earn a living
“54,000 pregnant women get pushed out of their jobs because they get pregnant, which is one in nine.
“Because of the way our parental leave system works, women tend to take a long period of time out whereas men take up to two weeks.
“That’s not because they don’t want to, it’s because of how the system works.
“One in four dads don’t even take the two weeks because they can’t afford to.
“Women having nine months out of the workplace puts them in the position of primary caregiver, so when it comes to returning to work they weigh up their salary versus the cost of childcare and it doesn’t add up.
“It’s on average £14,000 for a childcare place for a year, and for many people that is a salary.
“Some families say they don’t even break even or it costs them to work.
“That means leaving work or working part time, which means a demotion or a pay cut.
“If they go part time with the job the currently have, they are half as likely to be promoted, which inevitably means that over a woman’s lifetime she is earning a hell of a lot less.
“That’s why you have a gender pay gap.”
So, Joeli and her team at Pregnant Then Screwed are aiming to fix this broken system, campaigning for more investment into childcare, more provisions for flexible working, and better parental leave.
She said: “What we spend on childcare is miniature compared to other countries.
“The only way you fix it is by investing in it.”
A recent study in Canada found that for every dollar invested in childcare, between $1.60 and $2.80 was returned, so it’s a viable economic plan, too.
“It’s not only an investment in the economy, but an investment in our future economy, because kids are our future workforce.
“We need a system that is affordable but also good – you cannot sacrifice quality, because otherwise outcomes for children are really impacted.
“Then, we also want to increase parental leave so that dads have access to six weeks at 90 percent of their salary.
“If you ring-fence it and pay properly, we know that dads will take it in droves.
“Not all companies do that, but they should because that’s a really good investment too.
“There are benefits in paternity leave for mothers’ mental and physical health, she’s less likely to have post-natal depression or anxiety, and couples are more likely to stay together.
“Couples are 40 percent less likely to break up if dad spends time with their child alone in their first year of life.
“There are loads of economically intangible benefits [too] but the government just hasn’t bothered to do the research to show that – actually – there are real benefits to the economy.
“We also want all jobs to be flexible by default, so there is an advertising duty on employers to stipulate the types of flexible working that is available for the job, unless they have a good reason not to.
“That would mean we change the culture in workplaces, if jobs are designed as flexible from the outset.”
The movement started out of Joeli’s injustice has grown significantly, culminating last weekend when 15,000 people marched the streets up and down the UK to demand better provisions for childcare, better working rights for mums, and better parental leave.
Joeli hopes that this is just the start, though.
“We get stronger every year,” she said.
“We have been going seven years and have a big following, and we’ll continue to grow that following.
“Policymakers should really be listening to us, because we are the voice of working mothers and we are the people that they come to when things are a problem.
“The fact that 15,000 people – families with young children who are notoriously difficult to mobilise – got out on the streets, many of whom in the rain, to say that they wanted their voice heard should really be a warning sign to the government that they need to do something urgently.”