Tackling pregnancy discrimination at work
Big Interview

Tackling pregnancy discrimination at work

Joeli brearley.png

Joeli Brearley, CEO of 'Pregnant then Screwed' joins emPOWERED magazine to discuss pregnancy discrimination in the workplace

In 2015, Joeli Brearley, CEO of Pregnant then Screwed started a blog to offer women a platform to tell their stories anonymously about pregnancy discrimination that they had encountered.

Nine years later, it has evolved into something greater than even Brearley could have imagined.

In 2023, the group provided tailored support to over 83,000 women, and their work was raised in Parliament 29 times. Pregnant then Screwed secured £1.4 million for women who experienced discrimination and their campaigns appeared in the press over 2870 times.

“I’d love to say this was all well thought through, but it wasn’t – there was no plan,” she tells emPOWERED magazine at the Women in Data flagship event earlier this year in London.

With regards to the name of the group, Brearley says she wanted something catchy, something that demonstrated her anger.

“I didn’t want to sugarcoat it; I didn’t want to pretend it was all fine and have a wishy-washy name.”

“Originally it was going to be even more obtuse than pregnant then screwed, it was going to be pregnant then…,” Brearley pauses and smiles.

She then laughs and says: “I realised that might limit me.”

The inception of the idea came after Brearley’s own experience with pregnancy discrimination. She worked for a children’s charity and was pushed out of the company by a woman… by voicemail.

“People often pigeonhole pregnancy maternity discrimination as men pushing women out and it’s not – women are just as bad at it as men,” Brearley says.


Shortly after her dismissal, Brearley discovered her pregnancy was high risk, and then found out that she had a three-month time limit to raise a tribunal claim.

“So, I was left with a choice between accepting the justice that I deserved or protecting the health of my baby because of the way the justice system is.”

Brearley was forced to drop the case. But it wasn’t over. In her anger, Brearley’s first campaign aimed to extend the three-month tribunal time limit.

The #GiveMeSix campaign received support from 56,000 women, accruing signatures from 103 MPs from all political parties.

Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showed that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity and 77% of working mums encounter potentially discriminatory treatment in the workplace.

Those figures have almost doubled in the last 10 years, yet only 0.6% of women who encounter this type of discrimination raise a tribunal claim.

There is already precedent in employment law for six months to raise a claim, if the claim is for equal pay or redundancy payment.

Therefore, the campaign argues that extending the time limit for pregnancy or maternity discrimination to six months shouldn’t be too complex.

Other areas of litigation have limitation periods of up to six years and the group says any extension would be beneficial, though 12 months would be ideal; anecdotally, this is when many women say they are ready to fight.

March Of The Mummies

Brearley’s proudest moment came on Saturday, October 29, 2022, with March Of The Mummies – a national protest to demand Government reform on childcare, parental leave and flexible working. More than 12,000 parents marched across the country in 11 locations including London, Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham.

Why did this take place? For Brearley, discussing childcare often feels “soft and fluffy”.

“The reality on the ground is that it is hurting people, damaging their careers and pushing them into poverty,” she says.

“There are women having abortions because they cannot afford to have that baby and that is devastating.”

For Brearley, coming together to say it isn’t good enough, and that we can demand better was as powerful a message that could have been sent.

“When you’re the one saying this is shit and needs to change, and then seeing the noise that echoed through the corridors of Westminster and was covered by newspapers across the country was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been a part of.”

Essential spaces

Events such as The Women in Data event from earlier this year, according to Brearley, are essential in giving women spaces where they can gather and have conversations about specific challenges they’re encountering and support each other to progress.

“We see a difference in women doing that, not just at events like this, but within organisations where women are enabled to have groups where they can be honest with each other and know it’s a safe space.

In there, Brearley says there should always be groups for subgroups such as black women, Asian women and disabled women, given they encounter specific issues that some women may not identify with as closely.

As the progress of women taking on diverse roles continues, Brearley believes that systemic change is essential for further advancement.

“It starts very young at primary school, and it starts by talking to pupils in a gender-neutral way,” she says.

“We still expect women to go into female-dominated roles and we often talk to them in a way that encourages them to do just that – so it starts at school.”

For Brearley, employers have some way to go in implementing gender-neutral language. She says that in job adverts, we know that if a job is labelled as flexible from the outset, the number of women applying for those jobs drastically increases.

Zurich Insurance became the first company in the UK to advertise all vacancies with the option of part-time, full-time, job share or flexible working. Coupled with the use of gender-neutral language, this led to a 16% rise in women applying for jobs.

“We don’t want pool tables and free beer, we want childcare policies, proper parental leave policies, we want to see no gender pay gap, and we want to see women that are already in senior positions working with that organisation.”

“I think it’s key that these companies ask women what they want, what they need and then go and do it."

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