Joeli Brearley is a force to be reckoned with. A very inspirational woman with her brilliant ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ platform, a safe space for mothers to tell their stories of pregnancy or maternity discrimination and to receive the support and protection they need.
I first came across Joeli, when I saw ‘March Of The Mummies’ plastered all over Instagram last year, a successful campaign endorsed in parliament. I was super impressed and hoped Joeli would become one of our Friday Future Females.
Joeli has so much to say that is paramount to changing the womens’ labour market. Discover how Joeli is campaigning to change how women are treated in the workplace when they get pregnant. It’s a brilliant interview and choc full of advice. For Further details take a look at her website Pregnant Then Screwed
FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
JB: I spent most of my life working in the arts, mainly music, and then moved into digital technology. I set up my own business in 2012 called CultureCode which developed innovation processes combining artists with technologists. When I explain to people what I used to do they often look at me like I’ve either lost my mind, just stepped out of the future, or I am actually the reincarnation of Nathan Barley. Essentially I helped organisations understand how they might use technology and work with technologists to find innovative solutions to their problems. Any clearer? No, I didn’t think so.
I was running this business when I discovered I was pregnant. At the time I was managing an innovation project for a children’s charity – it was a project which I had designed and secured all the funding for. I informed them I was pregnant, I had planned everything meticulously to ensure there would be no challenges for them but the next day they sacked me by voicemail. I was 4 months pregnant and effectively unemployed. It was this experience that drove me to set up Pregnant Then Screwed.
FF: What does Future Female mean to you?
JB: It means a labour market that actually works for women because the current one does not.
Our labour market infrastructure was developed when women stayed at home and cared for children while men went out and earned the cash. That simply isn’t the case anymore, the majority of households need two working parents to survive, yet our labour market has not adapted to accommodate this. We need flexible working as standard, better paternity leave for fathers, properly subsidised childcare and unconscious bias training for all employees.
FF: The recent #MeToo hash tag caught the attention of many women who joined the conversation, what is your view and have you been affected by misogynistic behavior during your lifetime and is it something you feel comfortable discussing?
JB: I mean, who hasn’t been affected by sexism? I had two pretty hideous working incidents: one where a high profile and very wealthy client used to try and feel me up under a table during important meetings and another where I had applied for a job I really wanted at a very well known music venue and the guy who would make the decision told me that if I slept with him then I would get the job. I refused and I didn’t get the job. I have no idea why I didn’t kick up a fuss about either of these. I guess it is because we are programmed to just accept it and don’t think anyone will believe us.
The person who sacked me when I was pregnant was a woman. Unfortunately that is not uncommon. Many powerful women inherit the behaviours and attitudes of men as they feel this is what power and leadership is because it is all they have known.
FF: Describe your current work role and your creative process
JB: I run the Motherhood Plan CIC which is the company name for Pregnant Then Screwed. I started the campaign 3 years ago when I was working 4 days a week and I was pregnant with my second child. Initially it was a website, a place for women to tell their stories of pregnancy and maternity discrimination anonymously but as the stories came flooding in I realised we needed to do more to help. I convinced a brilliant employment lawyer to run a free advice line for us pro-bono and then set up a mentor scheme where we pair up women who have been through an employment tribunal with a woman about to go through that process to act as a friend and support. We were getting lots of press and media attention which was wonderful but it all got too much and I realised something had to give. I couldn’t give up the children so I gave up my job and then suddenly I had to make Pregnant Then Screwed work financially. I did a crowd funder to kick things off and raised £16,200 which was incredible. Since then we staged a major demonstration in 6 cities across the UK called March of the Mummies which has 5 demands for legislative change, we have a free flexible working helpline, a forum for working parents to get help and support called ‘Work It Out’, we are holding our first major event on 12th May which is the UK festival of Motherhood and Work and we have campaigned tirelessly, galvanising the support of 102 MPs.
My creative process is not very creative. I don’t believe in perfection. I believe in getting things done, so as soon as I have an idea I tend to make it a reality pretty quickly. If there are problems with it then I adapt as I go.
FF: What do you love about being your own boss, and what are the challenges?
JB: Being your own boss can be great when you have kids – you can drop them of at school every day, be there when they are sick, attend every school play and go for a run at lunch time (or just spend the day in your running gear without leaving the house which is what often happens) but it can also be tough as you can’t leave work at work. I am constantly working, constantly thinking about work and sometimes I worry I am not being present for my children. I also worry about money a lot – it’s hard finding ways to keep a campaign organisation going
FF: There is a shift in how and where women work, was it a natural progression for you to go it alone or did you feel forced into this situation?
JB: Neither – Pregnant Then Screwed and all that it stands for has become my life’s work. I will never ever stop campaigning for the rights of working mums. I am just lucky that (at the moment) I can afford to do that 4 days a week.
FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?
JB: I wish I had understood the inequalities women experience earlier. My radicalisation to feminism was late.
FF: Are there key messages you are passing on to your children when it comes to gender equality, how important do you think it is to change your story around gender?
JB: I have two boys aged 2 and 4 so it’s a really interesting one. If I had girls I would know just what to do but I am learning every day how I ensure my boys believe girls are their equals. It is so important to me that my boys feel able to express their emotions and feel able to participate in activities that are traditionally seen as girlie. I take them to Women’s Equality Party meetings and I make sure my partner and I show them non traditional gender roles – though I have to say I always do the cooking because I am better at it!
FF: What are you reading at the moment?
JB: I’m reading ‘Attack of the 50 foot woman’ by Catherine Mayer. I love her.
FF: How would you describe your style?
JB: Ha! Erm, casual chic.
Casual as in casual. Chic as in I sometimes put eyeliner on.
A massive thanks to Joeli, for taking the time to support our Future Female initiative. I absolutely love her answers and the work that Joeli is doing. Let’s hope that in 50 years time we are not still talking about this stuff! For updates from Pregnant Then Screwed check out the instagram account Pregnant Then Screwed