Baby On The Brain episode 4

“We need allies in our homes”: Anna Whitehouse aka Mother Pukka on the fight for shared parental leave

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Shared parental leave and the sacrifices women are expected to make in their careers are just two hot topics Anna Whitehouse, Adanna Steinacker and Fliss Thistlethwaite discuss on episode four of Baby On The Brain

Fertility, pregnancy, motherhood: all three of these things bring about a different, unique set of worries. But one thing that remains a constant throughout is the sacrifices women make in the pursuit of starting a family. Whether that’s the physical sacrifices of fertility struggles, the mental sacrifices in pregnancy or the career sacrifices during motherhood  – rarely do women walk away from these situations without their life changing. 

On episode 4 of Baby On The Brain, a new podcast launched by Stylist all about women during pregnancy and motherhood, Anna Whitehouse – aka Mother Pukka – discusses these sacrifices with co-hosts Adanna Steinacker and Stylist’s Fliss Thistlethwaite

Fliss kicks off the conversation explaining her fears around taking time out of her career, and how unjust this feels when compared to the sacrifices her husband isn’t having to make. 

Anna says: “It’s easy to see whose job is deemed more important based on finance, but you’ve got to question why the system is stacked against us? The reason [usually men] are earning more is because of the gender pay gap usually, or equal pay. So really, to have these conversations in your own home [think about] what is important to you. 47% of mothers logged off from their careers in the pandemic compared to fathers, the reason being because they saw their jobs as not as important as their partners.

“We need to be pushing this conversation at home – not just in terms of finance but the future. It’s not just about finance, but the resentment will ruin your relationship and break you up long term. "

Scary statistics show that fewer than a third of eligible men took paternity leave in 2019, and that percentage had already declined for four years in a row. 

“I do think the country isn’t structured in a way that benefits women. We all know that, it’s not new information to us. But the misconception that ‘well, I earn more money so I should go out to work’ that brings on resentment,” Fliss adds. 

Adanna says: “It should go beyond ‘oh, who earns more?’ but the reason why…that’s tricky. In that time [when you’re considering shared parental leave] you’ve just had a baby, you’re at home sacrificing your career, money needs to be brought in.”

The doctor-turned-entrepreneur, who is a mother-of-two with her third baby on the way, asks: how can we make real change in the workforce if everything is stacked against us as women? 

“We look at the uptake of shared parental leave – it’s on 0.2% – and that’s on two sides. It’s set up to fail, it’s not an enticing thing to do, and our partners aren’t pushing for that. Paid shared parental leave is a simple thing to fight for within your company. Secondly, one in ten flexible working requests goes through for men, whereas four in ten go through for women. The assumption, within that, is that yes, there is a period biologically were you’ll need to take on more of the childcare… but ultimately there are other ways of doing this. 

“It’s the unconscious bias at the top as well. I heard from a dad two weeks ago and he said, ‘I put my flexible working request in. I went for it, I want to pick up my kid from nursery.’ And his boss said, ‘Well, can’t your Mrs do that?’ He replied: ‘Well my Mrs is a Brain Surgeon and on Tuesdays and Thursdays she needs to be in surgery, so you pick a lane.’ That’s not fair in terms of, not everyone needs to be a Brain Surgeon to be afforded flexibility on the other side, but it was the fact that sits at the top,” Anna says. 

“I think we can be made to feel like the system’s changed, we know there’s a gender pay gap and we’ll brush over that or, as they did in 2020, just delete it entirely. That was led by the Minister for Women and Equalities. If she doesn’t have our back, then it’s terrifying…

“We need male allies in our homes to be fighting for shared parental leave, to be fighting for equality in our own homes.” 

Nicely put, Mother Pukka. 

Listen to the rest of the conversation on Baby On The Brain episode 4 here on Apple and Spotify.

Been thinking about your fertility? Or perhaps you’re pregnant and worried about what happens next in your career? Stylist’s new franchise, Baby On The Brain, is here to answer all your motherhood questions.

This new digital space will be filled with discussions from different women airing their thoughts on motherhood, or the considerations around motherhood. But you won’t find information about the practicalities of sleep or feeding on Baby on the Brain. And this series is not about birth, either. This space is all about you, as women.

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Felicity Thistlethwaite

Felicity Thistlethwaite is the executive editor digital at Stylist.