Making the case for flexible working


Anna Whitehouse used to work in Amsterdam which means she comes at working family issues from a different perspective from many in the UK.

“In Amsterdam family comes first,” she says. “It is accepted that people have families and the support is there. In the UK it’s about pretending you don’t have a job when you are at home and pretending you don’t have a family when you are at work. There’s a stark contrast.”

She wonders if she had not lived in the Netherlands whether she would have just accepted the status quo in the UK. However, having done so, she became very frustrated when she had her daughter nearly four years ago. Having worked for a magazine and then become a creative copywriter, she found herself doing a five-day week with a long commute and not seeing much of her daughter. So she set up a blog to express her rage and frustration at the inflexibility of work.

She soon found just venting her anger limiting so she decided to focus on positive ways to change things. She changed the blog’s name to Mother Pukka to suggest a more upbeat tone. The site is a platform for working parents navigating the working world with kids and has recently organised a series of flash mobs around the country to promote flexible working in a fun way and to get the campaign from social media to the streets.

“We have been let down as a generation of women. We have been told to go through education and to progress, but then we hit this block in the road and the doors are shut,” says Anna. “We don’t want to have it all, but we just want something. There are very talented women who a lot of companies are missing because they can’t see past their own noses to offer the kind of flexible working they need. They are pushing people to burnout and the strongest people are ending up the most broken.”

Making the business case

Anna adds that there is a misconception about flexible working that it is about reducing output when she says it is about getting more from people rather than less. She is keen to make the business case for flexible working – the fact, for instance, that employers are missing out on a lot of talent by maintaining rigid working patterns.  To reduce discrimination against women it must be open to all, she states, with people being judged on their productivity rather than presenteeism.

Mother Pukka is also keeping the issue in front of the media through a series of publications, podcasts and events. Anna has created a documentary film comparing the UK and the Netherlands in terms of family support. That will go live in the next few days and will be followed by another on Sweden in the autumn, when Anna comes back from maternity leave.

She is also publishing a practical and humorous modern parenting book in September which will cover issues such as flexible working and miscarriage, of which she has personal experience. And Mother Pukka is starting a series of events in the summer in partnership with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on issues such as how to pitch reduced hours, employment rights, how to launch your own brand on instagram and how to navigate a flexible working request with an expert speaker from Deloitte.

Anna, who lives in East London, now devotes herself full time to Mother Pukka. She says the work is less secure than her previous job, but it means she is more in control of her life and can see more of her daughter.  “It’s a different kind of stress, but I am definitely happier,” she says.

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