Clare Willetts from Not only pink and blue speaks to workingmums.co.uk about her work with employers on addressing gender stereotypes and promoting more equal parental leave policies and support.
When she was 13 Clare Willetts petitioned her head teacher to allow girls to wear trousers at school. Fast forward a few years and that desire to overturn gendered limitations has resulted in her setting up Not only pink and blue, an organisation that works with employers and parents to counter gendered stereotypes and give everyone more choice in how they lead their lives.
The idea for Not only pink and blue sprung out of a blog Clare started a few years ago, before the birth of her daughters, now aged six and four. She wanted to promote businesses which offered a more colourful and gender neutral selection of clothes than the stark blue pink divide that is prevalent. Clare is quick to point out that there is nothing wrong with blue and pink as colours. It is the assumptions that underlie them today that matters. Indeed in the past blue, seen as pastel and pretty, was more associated with girls and pink, seen as bold and strong, with boys.
Clare’s background is in advertising where she has seen clients doing work to boost the number of women in industry as well as charities and government clients addressing high male suicide rates. She started doing her own research and was struck by how quickly girls lose confidence and how boys struggle with expressing any strong emotions, other than anger. She looked at the depiction of girls in books and in other media and was saddened by the stereotypes. Her determination to do something about it solidified as a result of having her daughters.
The blog evolved and Clare left her job to set up the business right at the beginning of the first Covid lockdown. It started as a marketplace for children’s books, toys and clothes which aimed to challenge gender stereotypes, promote greater choice and change children’s behaviour.
Since then it has developed considerably. While it still has a directory of businesses that are widening choice for parents as well as other resources, it is now focused more on education about stereotypes. Clare says everyone grows up with these stereotypes and even if you are hyperaware of them you still catch yourself saying things that have gendered assumptions behind them.
Employers are now a big focus for the organisation and Clare has linked education around gender stereotypes with issues around shared parenting, particularly shared parental leave. She has created a parental leave programme which she is about to pilot with a handful of employers and will support new parents. One aim is to promote sharing childcare from birth through informing parents of their rights around Shared Parental Leave. Clare would like to see equal parental leave policies in the future.
Clare has some experience of helping new parents. She set up a buddy system for parents at a previous employer which was well received. The programme she has devised includes talks by experts on issues such as nutrition in pregnancy, preparing for leave, parental resilience, encouraging healthy sleep habits, weaning, coming back to work and confronting gender stereotypes. She says it provides parents with a good base knowledge of the issues which provides a strong foundation for those first challenging months of parenthood.
Clare is also thinking of setting up a community hub for parents, but that is a longer term plan. While there have been a lot of messages around female empowerment and attempts in some media to counter gender stereotypes, she feels that things have in many respects gone backwards, particularly in Covid where mums were taking on the lion’s share of the caring responsibilities.
“Once you start noticing the gendered associations around you you cannot unnotice them,” she says. “Instead of limiting people, we want to open up their options.”
*Clare will be speaking at WiHTL’s International Women’s Day event.<