When Anna Whitehouse – aka blogger and influencer Mother Pukka – returned to work after her first child was born, she was in for a shock.
Speaking on White Wine Question Time, Anna revealed it was while working for L’Oréal that she was “hit with a brick wall of inflexibility” that eventually led her to quit her job.
“I was on the tube and I was 12 minutes late for nursery pick-up,” she said. “I was sat on one of those tiny primary coloured chairs meant for an infant and told off by my daughter's key worker. Then charged a pound a minute after 6pm and it was like this self-flagellation exercise.
“I just thought in that moment: ‘I quit. I can't do it’. It's not me; it's the system. I worked hard to get here, and I cannot build up my girls to do their ABCs, their GCSEs, their A-levels to have the same door slammed in their face. I realised it was just across the board and that was where Flex Appeal started.”
Anna started her #FlexAppeal campaign back in 2016 and has since been campaigning to ensure more flexible working conditions for everyone who wants them. She believes we have a way to go until we reach the work/life balance experienced in some European cities.
“I used to work at Tommy Hilfiger in Amsterdam,” she told podcast host Kate Thornton. “I remember at 5pm, the London and New York offices were phoning in going, ‘We must have this conference call!’ as is the panicked way of big organisations. And my boss just went, 'No. Amsterdam won't do it. We'll be there in the morning.'
“And I was just like, ‘Thank God for that’. He just walked out the door and the next morning we had the conference call and it was fine and he just went, 'It's shoes, it's handbags: it's fine!'
“I remember seeing in that moment a human owning other people's lives because it meant that whether you had children or not, it wasn't to do with that. [...] It was about living outside of work.”
Last year, Anna’s Flex Appeal kicked up a notch with the Flex For All petition, which is demanding that the law be changed so that flexible working options are obligated to be published in all job adverts, as well as allowing all employees the right to ask for flexible working during their employment.
MP Helen Whately, who is championing the flexible working bill that takes these requests into consideration, had the first reading of the bill passed last summer.
Anna believes everyone will benefit from a bill like this being passed – even those fathers who often get dismissed when requesting flexible working hours.
“I heard from a guy a couple of days ago who asked his boss if he could leave to pick up his kid from nursery two days a week – just [permission to] leave on the dot at five,” she said.
“And his boss said, 'Well can't you Missus do that?'. He was like, 'Oh, well my Missus is a brain surgeon.' It was just that wonderful moment of this kind of unconscious kind of bias and these gender stereotypes and construct around us.”
This is Anna’s next aim: to amplify the voice of men in this battle. Talking about her husband and fellow flex champion, Papa Pukka, Anna said: “I feel like my husband, behind the scenes, is sort of desperately trying to be an ally, but he's a bit scared.”
She believes it’s up to us all to push boundaries – just like one very famous actor’s ancestor did way back in 1843.
“It was Sir Ian McKellen's great-great-grandfather who pioneered the two-day weekend, which was something I found quite fascinating,” she told Kate. “He was a knackered factory worker who just went, guys six days a week; this ain't working.
“Weekends didn't exist until one person pushed the boundaries of what our normality is – no one was questioning it. I think we feel like we're cogs in a machine. That owner and pet mentality: that's the battle.”
While some industries naturally lend themselves to remote and flexible working, is this something that can work for every company? Anna believes it is, citing a matron she spoke to at the Birmingham Women’s Hospital who uses ward-led rostering, where her team of nurses sort out their own roster.
“She said it works because then they work as a team,” Anna revealed. “They sit down, they talk as a team and she said the difference is instead of me saying we need someone to cover Sonia's shift, Sonia is messaging me going, ‘I've changed my shift with Tracy or Barry’ or whoever it is.
“She said it's taking work away from me and it's working. There's fewer deaths on wards that work flexibly.”
Hear Anna Whitehouse talk more about flexible working, porn and the joy of community, alongside her radio DJ pal Lilah Parsons on this week’s White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.