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It has been two years since Harvey Weinstein’s NDA scandal first broke and a new campaign highlights the misuse of NDA’s across the industry.
How do you solve a problem like Non-Disclosure-Agreements? This is the question that campaigning group Pregnant Then Screwed is seeking to solve with a social media campaign that will see 12 strong female voices silenced across social media for 12 hours. The social media gag is running for 12 hours on Saturday 5th October, the two-year anniversary of when the Harvey Weinstein story first broke.
The campaign highlights how far society still has to go to address maternity discrimination and sexual harassment. The organisation is calling on the government to set up an independent body to monitor the use of NDAs to help meet this challenge.
The 12 women who feature in the campaign include the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, Joeli Brearley, Hannah Bardell MP, Gina Martin, Dr Sue Black, Helen Pankhurst, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Deeba Syed and Christine Armstrong.
Joeli Brearley, Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, says the organisation is launching the campaign to shine a light on the fact that employers are still using NDA’s to gag and silence women. She believes that lifting the lid on the secrecy and lack of transparency surrounding NDA’s will fundamentally shift business. She explains, “How are we ever going to fix a problem that we can’t see?”
How are we ever going to fix a problem that we can’t see?Joeli Brearley
According to Brearly, non-disclosure agreements are used “very regularly” within maternity discrimination cases. She points to the government database for tribunal statistics where the majority of cases are settled before they are heard, as contributing to a climate in which patterns of discrimination cannot be addressed or recognised. “More often than not women don’t even get to tribunal. We know of many different companies who have won awards for gender equality, yet they are still discriminating against vulnerable women,” she explains.
The Women’s Equality and Select Committee is making changes to legislation; if women who have signed an NDA have been the victim of a criminal act, they can report it to the police. Yet, as Brearley explains, “nobody knows what is happening with maternity discrimination as it isn’t a criminal defence.”
In a legal framework in which just 0.6% of women who have experienced maternity discrimination will make it to a tribunal, Brearley urges urgent action. She explains, “Currently NDA’s can get [people] out of going through the process. Until we radically reform the entire system, it’s not a perfect solution but an independent body for women who sign NDA agreements would allow oversight and the ability to see if patterns are emerging.”
She believes that not much has happened within the two years since the #MeToo movement hit the headlines, because it has been a “brick wall within business.” She also noted the growing noise surrounding men being frightened about being with women in work situations.
Yet a fundamental shift is impacting the movement. Brearley explained that social media has been crucial to the campaign reaching the right people. “Instagram is the place where people can connect, and it has helped to build a real sense of community around women’s stories to drive change.”
Companies are not going to regulate unless their reputations are tarnished.Joeli Brearley
Brearley notes that it is greater transparency that will drive change. She explains, “Companies are not going to regulate unless their reputations are tarnished. Shareholders need to be made aware of what is going on. We need to find new ways of allowing women to speak out.”
The government is currently running a consultation for sexual harassment. Under the current model an employee only has three months in which to report sexual harassment or maternity discrimination. It’s a time limit Brearly believes is in-humane: “We know this is a massive issue; an enormous amount of women will suffer mental health issues after these experiences. Their confidence is torn to shreds.”
Brearly urged companies to ensure that systems and processes for reporting were in place at companies. A number of the world’s biggest agency networks currently have anonymous reporting lines.
For those who have experienced discrimination and harassment and ended up signing an NDA, Brearly urges people who have experienced discrimination not to turn the trauma of that experience in on themselves. She noted, “Women are made to feel problematic, particularly when they have babies. That simply isn’t the case.”
If you have been a victim of maternity discrimination, you can call Pregnant Then Screwed’s free legal helpline on 0161 930 5300. NABS runs a free impartial and confidential advice line for anyone in the industry who needs support or guidance surrounding these issues on 0800 707 6607.
Pregnant Then Screwed has collected 3,000 anonymous stories; human stories to drive change. Here are three of those from the advertising and marketing industry.
I have cysts and fibroids and a year before I fell pregnant, I was told by the surgeon and consultant that I couldn't have children. So, when I found out I was pregnant I was elated, emotional and confused. Because of this I was waiting for the three-month mark to tell work, but unfortunately 10 weeks in I suffered a bleed and went into A&E one evening. I told my boss the next morning that I had been in A&E and I needed to see the consultant in the morning for the all clear (I didn't say why). He was very supportive. That afternoon I came into work and after the all clear I explained I was pregnant, but I was deemed high risk so would have to have more appointments. Said supportive boss didn't look at me and stormed out.
Over the next few weeks, I was subjected to doors being slammed in my face, various passive aggressive actions, and he started to humiliate me in front of clients and my team. This culminated in a series of panic attacks. I called a grievance and met with my other boss and colleague. My other boss kept quiet, but the colleague supported me. That afternoon I was sent home. I went to the GP who then signed me off on stress leave.
A week into stress leave, I got a call from their lawyers saying I was being let go and that my grievance meeting was in fact a disciplinary meeting that they had called. I then had to appoint a lawyer and over the following six weeks we battled. It was exceptionally stressful. I became anxious about looking at emails and the phone ringing.
We got to an "acceptable figure" and I was forced to sign two NDAs with it, one against the individual boss and the other against the company. My NDAs hang over me constantly, and I have an ongoing fear I'm going to be sued because of course I talk about it otherwise I'm going to go mad!
Emotional. Whilst it was happening it was an emotional rollercoaster, and whilst the ride has slowed down, it has its moments of ups and downs. If I’m honest, having suffered maternity discrimination has made me resent my kids at times.
Kids aren’t the easiest to be introduced into your lives; it’s an emotional time anyway. But if you’ve suffered maternity discrimination you have an added element. I sometimes look at my kids and not only do I think about my identity like everyone, I look at them and think, I got sacked because of you. Despite having a second, close in age, I too can see this creep out.
It’s also hard to rationalise your emotions at times too, especially with friends and family because they don’t quite know what happened and how deeply it has impacted you. So, even though I’m supported by all my family and friends, there are times I just cannot see it as I regress into self doubt and loathing.
Psychological. I have this huge chip on my shoulder, and despite returning to work, whilst it has started to heal it is still there. And when I’m in a bad spell I am just paranoid of everything, even if it's not about me, and I’ll dwell all day on a stupid comment preparing myself for the worse. I have so little trust in everything and everyone.
Financial. I had a good pay out, and in my role now I’m on good money but I’m obsessed about finances. I’m anxious at the end of each month thinking this may be the last pay. What do I do next? How can I continue to help provide for my family? How will I pay my childminder?
I signed an NDA last year. I was made redundant when pregnant as apparently my job was no longer needed. I was an EA, however a few months after I left, he had a new assistant.
Finding out I was to be made redundant whilst pregnant was probably the most stressful moment in my life to date. It took away all the happiness I had felt about having a family. It left me questioning if I wanted to keep my baby. Could we afford it on my husband’s salary alone?
I was always the higher earner and his salary was 50% less than what I earned. Would we be able to give my child what he needed? Would I be able to get a job whilst pregnant? The answer to the latter was obviously a big fat no. I had gone from being extremely proud of where I worked, to signing on at the job centre and I didn’t have a hope in hell of getting a job.
Looking back, I can now see that all of this started a really depressing moment in my life when it should have been anything but that. I was diagnosed with PND once my son was six months old. However, looking back I believe this started when I was made redundant and I am still suffering with the aftereffects two years later. My confidence has taken a huge nosedive; I am no longer sure that I am good enough to do the job that I did for many years before all of this.
I was one of the “lucky” ones because I managed to fight for a pay-out that has enabled me to be out of work for this long. That fight really took its toll and the aftereffects of it all have left me feeling lost, anxious and an inferior version of myself. I’m not sure I know who I am anymore which in turn has had an effect on my relationships with my family and friends.
I didn’t want to sign the NDA, I wanted to fight them all the way and say screw the money, but I couldn’t take that risk and they knew it. I was vulnerable and they took full advantage of that. I needed that money to secure the future of my family, so I took it. It still sticks in my throat to this day.
I had been working in a senior management role in a leading cosmetics company for several years when I fell pregnant in 2016. The thought never even crossed my mind that it would in any way damage my career. I had a great relationship with everyone, I was a top performing employee, I left everything in meticulous order, I interviewed, hired and trained my maternity cover, my colleagues gave me a nice send off and off I went to become a mum.
During my maternity leave I had several keeping in touch days and everything seemed normal to me, my boss even telling me that he was looking forward to having me back. But as my return date approached and I was preparing to come back to work, things started to change after I had asked about the company’s flexible working policy.
On my last KIT day, 8 months into my maternity leave, my boss informed me that there had been many changes internally and that there would be a restructure. When I asked him if my job would be OK, he promised that I would not be affected. During this meeting I had indicated that I would need some flex on my return to accommodate nursery pick-ups and drop offs. He said that should be ok, ‘see you soon’, and then silence.
I didn’t receive any response to my emails about my flex work request or when I would be returning. This is when I knew something was wrong. I emailed and called several times, and no one returned my calls or emails.
He finally called me, as I was due to go back to work, informing me that there was no job for me to come back to, and that they would offer me ‘some money’ to compensate me. There was no process, no discussion, no apology.
I was devastated by this news. I loved my work and I couldn’t wait to get back. I felt humiliated and diminished as a person. I knew what they did was wrong, but I had no idea how to handle the situation, so I started doing some online research and that’s when I came across PTS.
I spoke to Danielle Ayres on their legal advice line who confirmed that I had a discrimination and unfair dismissal case. In the meantime, my work came back to me with an offer, which was nowhere near what I thought they should pay me. This went on over several weeks and the negotiations started becoming quite stressful and I felt extremely anxious. I asked Danielle to take over the negotiations and to deal with them directly. I wanted to fight, I was so angry, but at the same time it was affecting my mental health.
We finally settled, the week I was due to go back to work. I signed an NDA in exchange for my silence. It was a very bittersweet victory. I had my job taken away from me for no other reason than the fact I had a baby. My maternity cover stayed on in my role, someone younger, cheaper and with no kids.
I was so disillusioned by this experience, and it had so many far reaching implications. I lost all my confidence. I became very depressed when all my mummy friends went back to work after maternity leave and I was left unemployed with mounting bills to pay. Luckily, I had some money to fall back on, but mentally I felt broken and defeated. The hardest part has been not being able to publicly speak about any of this because of the NDA. My rage is an inner silenced one.
Becoming a mum should never be at the detriment of a woman’s career. There is something very broken with a society that does not value and support mums who genuinely need and want to work.
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