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Navigators of Change: Learnings from one of the most vocal changemakers in the third sector: “Pregnant Then Screwed”

Navigators of Change: Learnings from one of the most vocal changemakers in the third sector: “Pregnant Then Screwed”
Jamie Till author

Jamie Till, Associate Director at Instinctif Partners, discusses one of the changemaker organisations that has caught her eye: Pregnant Then Screwed. She asks how PTS navigates change and explores the learnings we can take from them to apply to our work.

  • Charity Pregnant Then Screwed was born to challenge the discrimination expectant and new parents face
  • They’ve made a real difference with strong leadership and innovative, cross-platform campaigns that cut through
  • By harnessing an urgent purpose, PTS drives bold change in legislative and cultural landscapes through the power of real human stories

When asked to think about organisations that carry the traits of “changemaker”, the charity Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS) immediately sprang to mind. Over the last few years, they have engaged in consistently eye-catching and tenacious campaigning.

The rights of pregnant women, mothers and parents at work impact us all

Deciding whether to expand your family by having children is a personal choice, and not right for everyone. There’s a clear split in my own friendship groups between those who want to have children (or already do) and those for whom the idea is completely objectionable! There is also a significant group of people who find themselves childless through fertility issues rather than by choice.

Individual preferences and journeys aside, a considerable proportion of women will become pregnant at some point. They are our friends, family members, partners and colleagues – and they may even be us, now or in the future. The rights of pregnant women, mothers and all parents in the workplace is without a doubt a very important issue which, in some ways, touches us all.

For parents, once you have a child, life is never the same again. Having a legal right to parental leave from work, and an understanding of your additional needs from employers is crucial. For colleagues of pregnant women, knowing what new mothers are entitled to and how that affects your team can be a big change, and an important indicator of work culture in your organisation.

Pregnant Then Screwed – a charity born to challenge discrimination

PTS was founded by Joeli Brearley and launched in 2015, after suffering the horrific experience of being sacked from her job by voicemail, just days after letting her employer know she was pregnant with her first child. The organisation was conceived as a forum for mothers to share their stories of discrimination, and grew from its infancy to gain charitable status in 2020.

They have actively campaigned across many areas affecting mothers’ rights. Campaigns have targeted illegal pregnancy discrimination; providing women with crucial information on the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccination during pregnancy; and increasing the number of mothers serving as Members of Parliament.

My other favourite campaigns include:

  • Unhappy Mother’s Day – shocking childcare stats: PTS partnered with Wonderhood Studios to produce a series of provocative Mother’s Day cards to raise awareness of the rising cost of childcare in the UK and the major implications this has on women.
  • Banning partners from attending antenatal care: PTS successfully campaigned for partners to be able to attend appointments. PTS undertook an extensive survey on how the hospital restrictions were impacting pregnant women, highlighting the very real issue the policy was creating and the distress it was causing.

Why are they a changemaker?

A strong leader at its centre

  • PTS’ founder is motivated and driven by her own experiences to improve the situation for other mothers and parents. Last year CEO Joeli Brearley was named in Vogue’s 25 most influential women.

Campaigns with cut-through

  • The charity’s campaigns have clearly permeated the public’s consciousness. In 2021 PTS’s work was mentioned 416 times in national and international media and every 11 days an MP or Minister mention their work in Parliament.

Real impact on pregnant women

  • Last year, PTS provided tailored support to 81,813 women and helped secure £628,000 through legal action against an employer following an experience of pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

What we can learn from their campaigning

Given PTS is a charity, it is of course driven by a central charitable purpose. This isn’t the case for every communications professional of course, but all of my clients are private sector organisations, motivated by their own ambitions and purposes. However, I think there are important learnings to be taken from PTS’s incredible success which can be generally applied to our work as communications professionals:

The power of partnerships

  • PTS has a very small central team, which suggests to me that their budgets may not be big and I suspect they rely on volunteers to some extent. If our clients don’t have big budgets to splash out, how can we get them most bang for their buck? PTS has had great success in leveraging partnerships to amplify its voice, harnessing the resources and popularity of other organisations. Whether that means partnering with Mumsnet or Maltesers, or media outlets like Grazia, PTS has used this technique many times with great success. Our colleagues at Instinctif Partners have particular expertise and experience in advising on influencer marketing and how to “borrow” good feeling from other brands to promote another.

Masters of many media

  • Harnessing the broadest range of platforms to make change is essential and, from an agency perspective, will naturally involve cross-team and cross-practice working. PTS uses media coverage as a very effective platform to influence stakeholders and shape legislation, however they use an impressive range of tactics beyond this too. For example, PTS’s campaign around non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) saw 12 well-known women gagging themselves on social media for 12 hours to protest the misuse of NDAs, which gained widespread traction. The women’s social media accounts were silent for 12 hours from 6am to 6pm and followers were encouraged to take part in the protests by posting a picture of their mouth taped up. PTS also runs training sessions and organises protests across the UK, thereby harnessing the power of personal connection.

Real stories ready to go

  • PTS use compelling personal case studies in powerful ways, to build trust and affinity with their audiences. Creating an ongoing bank of case studies also provides ready-to-go content for press campaigns, emailers and even petitions. Their case studies are even used regularly by MPs in Parliament to better convey their arguments. This all serves as a reminder that powerful, human stories are an essential part of many communications strategies.

New mothers motivated to navigate change

Women in the UK have had some kind of maternity rights for over 100 years, including the first employment maternity leave legislation in 1975. However, the existence and activity of PTS and similar organisations shows that there are still things to be done and further changes to be made. We may have the laws in place to support and protect expectant and new parents, but compliance and enforcement of those rights needs a deeper cultural change throughout society to have its full intended impact.

For us as PR professionals, a key takeaway from PTS is that becoming a changemaker can come from being truly purpose-driven. It shouldn’t take a horrific personal experience like Joeli Brearley’s to spur us to action, but having something to fight for (or against) is one of biggest motivating factors to make a difference.

Here are some thought-provoking questions to leave you with:
  • Which other organisations can you think of that influence policy and stakeholders and effect real change, with small budgets?
  • As an industry, are comms professionals supportive of and inclusive toward working mothers, those going through pregnancy and parents? How could we all do better?
  • Do alternative, or more challenging, routes to parenthood need greater support and awareness, whether that’s navigating baby loss, assisted reproduction or adoption, for example?

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