An interview with Mother Pukka AKA Anna Whitehouse

 
 

Anna is a brilliant campaigner and journalist, fighting to close the Gender Pay Gap and support effective flexible working for all of us. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions

 
 
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How did you end up here, campaigning for Flex?

I was originally on a path to being a lawyer, but the optics weren’t right; I couldn’t see many women at the top and it seemed like you needed a special handshake (or not to be a woman) to make it in our justice system. So, I went down a different path of asking questions as a journalist instead of accepting what was presented. I started as a junior reporter on the salubrious Practical Caravan magazine. It took a good decade to get from product reviews of tow bars to questioning the government on its lacklustre approach to closing the Gender Pay Gap and supporting effective flexible working.

How do you make the juggle work? Any tips for making it easier?

I am currently in a world of over-productivity. I’m unable to switch off. BP faced a similar situation when they made one of their trading departments entirely flexible. The issue wasn’t employees doing too little - productivity was up 32% – it was over-productivity and burning out. The conversation needs to move from ‘should be implement flexible working?’ To ‘how do we stop people overworking once the 9-5 is dismantled’. In terms of juggling, I’m still struggling but learning day-by-day how to raise barriers.

You must hear amazing stories about work|life victories – are there any which stand out?

Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust trialled ward-led rostering and the biggest breakthrough was a problem for the matron turning into a solution. Her nurses would text to say, “I’ve switched my shift with X, just letting you know” instead of “can I switch my shift with X?” It struck me as such a simple win for an employer. In a world that is already under resourced, flexible working - specifically empowering your employees to work around each other’s personal needs - offered a cost-effective solution.

What is the advice about flexible working you could share?

I don’t usually give advice because I’m a journalist not a flexible working expert but these are a few things that seem to be working from people I hear from on a daily basis:

  1. Counterbalance employer cynicism with a trial period of flex. Hold the hand of your employer and prove flexible working works by measuring productivity over that period. You can’t argue with facts.
  2. In the face of a blanket ‘no’ don’t immediately quit. Form a flexible working group (ensure it’s for everyone and not solely a women’s network) internally to discuss issues and open the company up to good practice across your industry in a non-confrontational way. The aim is to get them listening. Two employees at HSBC have recently done this and have launched an internal podcast that opens up the discussion further. We are in a period of transition and everyone has the ability to start a conversation around the link between effective flexible working, closing the Gender Pay Gap and recruiting and retaining a truly inclusive and diverse workforce.
  3. Remember Flex has to be a two-way process. Ultimately it has to be about productivity and focusing on the business benefits. It won’t work going in with a list of demands, always have the business at the centre of negotiations. A happier, healthier workforce is a more productive workforce. Flexibility is good for business.
  4. Consider a job share. Get in touch with Further&More for support. Connect with others facing the same barriers to progression and educate yourself on how they navigated the potholes and uneven path.

And for employers…?

My main advice is be transparent. Be transparent from the start. Follow Deloitte’s example and have case studies on your website of different types of flexibility across the company so prospective employees can go into an interview armed with examples of where flexibility is working. Be open to creative flexibility and don’t be afraid of opening the floodgates to anyone - not solely parents - seeking flexibility.

What’s next for Mother Pukka and Flex Appeal?

I want to continue carving my path as a journalist and broadcaster while attempting to change the world for my two girls so they don’t hit the same brick wall I did. The next phase of Flex Appeal is being launched on October 15 and is focused on the human side of business. How to open up employers’ eyes to working in a more human/ humane way. It’s about putting humans above business but for business benefit.

And finally, tell us something we’d be surprised to know about you.

I hum Puff The Magic Dragon to myself in the toilets before tackling any big meetings, round tables or Flex Appeal evidence hearings. It’s the song my Mum used to sing to me as a child and it always calms my nerves and occasionally raises an eyebrow from someone in the cubicle next to me.

Sara Allen