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Bloom North Panel Event - Challenging the Work A-Gender – from Flexible Working to Family

In July 2021 we hosted a virtual panel event “Challenging the Work A-Gender – from Flexible Working to Family”, which was an insightful exploration into the life of working parents, flexible working and workplace culture, against the backdrop of an unprecedented global pandemic.

The session was hosted by Andrea Thompson, Editor in Chief of Marie Claire, who has spent much of the past year highlighting the significant impact of lockdown on gender equality. Andrea set the stall out with some compelling truths, including the fact that the past year has set back gender equality by over a decade, 2 in 5 working mothers considered taking a step back from work due to juggling home schooling, family life and career, plus the shocking reality that women are more likely to lose their jobs in 17 of the 24 richest countries. But whilst there’s no doubt women have been disproportionately affected, our conversation was through the lens of parents, highlighting the shift in many family dynamics over the past year and the impact on wellbeing and work culture.

The discussion was centred around how we can advocate positive change within our industry to support working parents, particularly as the world starts to normalise again and people return to work. We were honoured to have a stellar panel driving this conversation, including Anna Whitehouse (AKA Mother Pukka), Dan Reed (Founder of Career Dad), Sharon Lloyd Barnes (Commercial Director and Inclusion Lead at the Advertising Association) and Natalie Marshall-Foxwell (Managing Partner PHD North), each of which brought their own unique experiences to the fore.

Anna Whitehouse, flexible working champion and founder of Mother Pukka and Flex Appeal, is on a mission to shake up our ‘archaic’ working systems and promote flexible working for everyone. Anna spoke candidly about how ‘painful’ the stats are surrounding women’s equality, with 47% more mothers than fathers logging off from their careers as a result of Covid. She also highlighted the gender pay gap and the fact there was never a level playing field going into the pandemic, which is why women’s careers have ‘absolutely taken a step back’.

Whilst Dan Reed, founder of Career Dad, also recognised mums have ‘categorically been more impacted’, he raised the question around dads that have been doing it alone and where they fit. He spoke about removing stigmas of societal stereotypes around the roles of mums and dads and called for companies to create ‘gender-neutral’ policies. There was a common theme throughout the conversation around breaking the culture of silence and being brave, with Dan encouraging dads to ‘leave loudly’, making their role as a parent seen and heard. Natalie, Managing Partner at PHD and in the unique position as breadwinner in her family, also encouraged people to be ‘unashamedly visible’ in the workplace as parents, carers etc and how the cultural silence of struggles of doing it all, makes you feel everyone else is getting it right. Sharon Lloyd Barnes, Commercial Director and Inclusion Lead at the Advertising Association, also touched on social stigmas around being a parent at work. She spoke openly about how she still found it a challenge to be her authentic self in the workplace in her 50s and encourages people to bring their whole self to work.

The topic of burnout was also key to the conversation, with Anna calling for us to recognise the difference between working from home and flexible working. People have felt a desperation to be present whilst working from home and are overcompensating under the backdrop of furlough and redundancies. She spoke about how her ‘utopia taps into a world where people ebb and flow between HQ and home, crossing over, using tech to our advantage and working together’.

Overall, our panellists encouraged us to be braver in our conversations both at home and at work and to build on the momentum of the past year. Natalie considers the past 12 months to have been a ‘zeitgeist moment where we can change the system’. The event closed with a very poignant statement from Anna Whitehouse, who was drawing parallels between a battery farm of chickens and an office block, with the closing statement ‘free range chickens make better eggs’, leaving us feeling pensive about the future.

We hope you enjoyed this panel as much as we did and we look forward to welcoming you back to more events soon.

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