Pushing for change: Behind the scenes at Pregnant Then Screwed

Pushing for change: Behind the scenes at Pregnant Then Screwed

Let’s start with the stark reality.

54,000 women every year in the UK are pushed out of their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

Radioactive's Angharad Planells interviews Lauren Fabianski, head of campaigns and communications at Pregnant Then Screwed about the campaign that has had everybody talking this week.

Fifty-four thousand.

To put that into perspective that’s enough women to fill the O2 arena 2.7 times, or just over 964 buses. It’s more than half the capacity of Wembley Stadium. Every single year.

Add to that the women having to choose to leave the workforce thanks to crippling childcare costs and a childcare sector on its knees, and it’s not looking good this International Women’s Day.

Enter Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) - the charity launched by women’s champion powerhouse and experiencer of pregnancy discrimination Joeli Brearly that’s picked up the fight for all of us. Celebrating its 8th birthday today (Joeli chose International Women’s Day 2015 to start the battle), the charity is drawing attention and pushing for change in all the right places.

March is always a busy month in the PTS house. International Women’s Day (obvs), Mother’s Day, its birthday, the anniversary of Joeli’s book coming out - it’s all happening. And just last week, to coincide with the upcoming Budget, PTS unveiled its latest work with Saatchi and Saatchi with a campaign that had every mother I know wincing at the sound of it.

Lauren Fabianski, head of campaigns and communications.

“We've had a brilliant reaction to this campaign”, Lauren Fabianski, head of campaigns and communications told me when we met. “One of the objectives of the campaign was to reach out to people who hadn't necessarily engaged with us previously, people who'd not heard of our work or weren't aware of the childcare crisis. We are brilliant at engaging with mums.

"We have great two-way conversations with mums. We are constantly representing their interests in meetings with Parliament. However, just talking to mums, and preaching to the converted, is not going to help us achieve our aims when it comes to political change. So we really wanted to connect with more people as to why this is important. I definitely feel like we are doing that with this campaign, with the kinds of publications that covered it, with the kind of feedback that we've got from people. We've had a lot of, ‘oh, I didn't know that’, or ‘I didn't understand that it was this bad’. So it feels like it's working.”

It’s a big challenge.

After all, if the political change was as easy as just getting mums on board we’d have changed the world already. But just how difficult is it to come up with creative ways of hitting people outside what’s seen as your core audience?

“This issue impacts everybody because this is the economy that we're playing with”, says Lauren. “By blocking women out of the workplace and not enabling them to work the hours that they want to work because our childcare system is unaffordable, we're losing out on an estimated £28 billion worth of economic output. And that has a knock-on implication on everybody's life, and not just now. We know that the more money you invest in childcare upfront, the less money you have to invest further down the line in later-life interventions such as social care and things like that. So everybody needs to care about this because it's for the greater good of everybody and creates a fairer society. Who wouldn't want to live in a fairer society?”

She’s right, of course, but a quick look at social media engagement around the topic of childcare costs typically brings out comments of the ‘you shouldn’t have kids if you can’t afford them’ ilk very quickly. 

How can PTS’ work reach people who assume it doesn’t directly affect them?

“In terms of whether we have trouble reaching out to people who aren't mums and connecting with them, I think we are getting better at it. We did our first big survey just for Dads for Father's Day last year and we got quite a high number of respondents and the campaign attracted a lot of coverage. Grandparents are another audience we could maybe do more with. We do get a lot of people who contact us, particularly grandmothers, who talk about how things were when they were raising children and they're sad that things are not easier now. Especially because maybe their own retirement plans are changing because of inaccessible and unaffordable childcare systems.”

And therein lies the trend - grandmothers are getting in touch because they’re seeing their daughters struggle, proving there’s still a lot to be done to readdress the default parent/caring is a woman’s job assumption. So is it difficult to come up with creative campaigns around such an emotive, and widely debated topic?

“I think our superpower as an organisation, particularly in comparison to some other charities, is how reactive we are, how fast we are, and how embedded with our community we are”, Lauren tells me. “We receive thousands of DMs every week from women and we are constantly getting a read on what's happening and we react very fast. We constantly ask ourselves, what will this help us achieve? Will this help change policy? Will this help make things better for mums?”

And if it doesn't?

“Then we have to take a step back. I mean, obviously, charities are super-regulated. We've always got to make sure that the work that we're doing is aligned with our charitable objectives. So that's a good way to get rid of some campaigns as well. Because we're such passionate individuals, there are so many things that we care about that we would love to get involved in and then we have to take a step back and say, we're a very small team, we need to prioritise our time. Is this going to help us achieve our objectives?”

That laser focus is something that’s steered the charity well so far. Lauren agrees: “Is this going to change policies? Is this going to make things better for mums in the workplace? If it doesn't hit all of those things, we have to step away, which can be frustrating because we want to help everyone, but we just have to be really focused because we're very aware of how limited our resources are.”

She’s not kidding about limited resources. Currently, the team is around seven people, including founder Joeli, who is as hands-on now as the day she started Pregnant Then Screwed eight years ago.

“When I joined it was three core members of staff and now we're seven”, shares Lauren. “It's still small, but I was blown away when I joined and actually saw behind the curtain the kind of women that were working here and how brilliant they were and resourceful they were and creative they were. Everybody that comes on board is exactly the same. It’s a wonderful place to work.”

Come campaign time those limited resources mean it’s all hands on deck. “It's a lot of permission. You know, everybody in the team is empowered to do their own work without having to jump through 70 sign-off processes. Because a lot of our work is in-house, a lot of our creative, a lot of our assets, all of our copy and things like that, we can just knock things out so fast without having to reach out to people and wait for things to be created and wait for availability. And I think a lot of the way that we land things so well is because our CEO is a writer. She's really good at communication. She's really good at landing messages. That really helps.”

Lauren’s not wrong. Founder Joeli has done an incredible job building a diverse and engaged community online. Lauren and the team know the power this has when it comes to campaigning: “I don't think I've ever worked on any brand that's had the level of organic engagement that we've got”, she told me. We do not spend on social media, with the exception of a partnership we did with Full Fact, the fact-checking organisation, and they provided some media spend, but that's it. It's all organic and I think that's a testament to how we connect with people and how people naturally want to tell their friends about it and champion what we're doing. It resonates.”

A balancing act.

Again, it brings us back to the balancing act of being bold and likeable while not shying away from the hard stuff. How difficult is that to do on social media? 

“I think Joeli has always been brilliant at being able to balance the heavy with the light because obviously, the work that we do is very heavy. We will often have a team meeting at the start of the day and Joeli will come in and be like, I just had a quick look through our social media accounts and it is dark. We need to come up with something funny fast just to break that up. It helps that Joeli's great being daft!”

It’s what’s always resonated with me. The ability to take the work you do seriously without taking yourself seriously isn’t something that’s easy to do. What does Lauren think then, of International Women’s Day in 2023?

“I think it's a brilliant opportunity for fundraising, for organisations that actually do help women, and that could be across a whole spectrum of things. It could be through domestic violence or reproductive health or access to equal opportunities, all of those things. I think it's a great time to fundraise and it can be a great time to platform those organisations. I do also think it's been sabotaged slightly by brands who are slightly disingenuous with their campaigning because we have a little black book of brands that we know do terrible things to their female employees.”

Now that’s a little black book I’d like to get my hands on, I tell her.

“We always see those brands come out on International Women's Day saying how they're a brilliant place to work for women. And I think that was one of the reasons why the Gender pay gap bot that really came out last year is always going to be one of my favourite campaigns that has ever happened because it directly called all of those people out who are completely disingenuous and just trying to jump on the bandwagon without doing anything.”

So for a charity that’s so good at the reactive, what’s next? 

“We’ve got things planned in the pipeline. We’re doing a lot of work on the General Election manifestos before the next one is called. We are also looking at ways to expand our support services and doing a lot of fundraising for that. And we are looking into introducing a Pregnant Then Screwed group membership, and identifying how that might work. However, if we have this conversation again in a month, anything could happen!”

With that I let Lauren get back to her day doing the important work that will help working mums level the playing field, end maternity and pregnancy discrimination, and boost the economy. Not bad for a woman who went back to work after her second maternity leave to work on pubic hair removal cream ads and decided she wanted to do something more meaningful with her time. She, and the whole organisation, are definitely doing that.

If you’d like to support Pregnant Then Screwed, text SCREWED followed by your donation amount to 70450 and follow the work being done on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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