Three people who’ve inspired me in the last seven days
Last week was a lot. There’s been some sad stuff out there that made me and a lot of other people angry. People have died trying to get to safety and at least one woman and one girl have been murdered. Sometimes weeks feel flooded with bad news and it’s a stretch to feel positive. But last week, I felt inspired. Against the bleak backdrop of the breaking news, three stories or more specifically, three people have really shone through.
Joeli Brearley, Founder of Pregnant then Screwed has poured her personal experience of pregnancy discrimination into cooking up the UK’a leading voice on motherhood and its associated penalties. She is a force to be reckoned with, and last week her force was felt. Following a campaign by Pregnant then Screwed and a publicly funded judicial review, last week the court found that a UK Covid scheme indirectly discriminated against maternity leave takers. About 75,000 women who took maternity leave during 2016–2019 lost out on earnings because the government’s self-employment income support scheme (Seiss) used average profits. Last week, thanks to Joeli and her team, partners and supporters, that policy was found to be discriminatory. Although it’s very disappointing that the circumstances surrounding the pandemic have meant that this discrimination has been deemed ‘justified’ by the judges, it’s still a watershed moment for mothers. This ruling means that the Government will now have to consider the needs of people who have taken maternity leave in future policy design. It also opens the door for new challenges to be brought forwards on the grounds of maternity discrimination. This is huge.
When I stop and think about Joeli, what she’s driven, what she’s achieved, it’s remarkable. She’s used her own experience to make life better for others. She’s galvanised people’s energy and desire and she’s turned it into action, which has led to real change in our society. You don’t read about leaders like Joeli in the text books, but damn straight, you should.
Stella Creasy is a British Labour and Co-operative politician, she’s also a mother. This week, Ms Creasy revealed that she’d been chastised for bringing her young baby into the chamber and reminded of the ‘rule’ against doing so. Ms Creasy isn’t entitled to many of the maternity rights that come with other positions and she is breastfeeding her baby. She’s working, she’s got a very small baby and she’s breastfeeding. The woman’s a hero. It’s so hard and tiring and hard and oh, tiring. We need to wrap our arms around mothers and protect them from whatever madness makes their lives more difficult, not create new ways to kick them. One result of her speaking out about her treatment is that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has asked a committee of MPs to review the rules. This is good news.
This story isn’t about breastfeeding in the commons, and of course many people have missed the point. Ms Creasy has said that she is speaking up for others, for mothers of the future. She has drawn attention to some of the barriers that exist for women who want to enter into politics. If we want a more diverse parliament and better workplaces, we must design the jobs and the policies and processes that surround them to be more inclusive of mothers’ needs. It’s so vital that women like Stella stand up and say that, and I for one am grateful that she has.
Kevin Sinfield, former captain of Leeds Rhinos and now Leicester defence coach has just ran 101 miles for the MND Association and Leeds Hospitals Charity. Clearly this is a colossal challenge, both physically and mentally, but that’s not what inspired me. Kevin is fundraising for these charities because his close friend and former team mate Rob Burrow has motor neurone disease (MND) and he has witnessed up close the devastating impact the condition has had on Rob and his family. Seeing the pair of them together inspired me. Seeing Rob’s wife Lindsey and daughter Macy complete the final ‘extra’ mile with Kevin inspired me. But, above all Kevin’s approach, attitude and the admiration that came from his adoring fans and friends inspired me. It’s plain to see that ‘Sir Kev’ is something special.
During the same week in which the revelations about Azeem Rafiq’s experience at Yorkshire Cricket Club kept unravelling, it was a tonic and a relief to see Kevin in action. Every time I heard him speak, he spoke about Rob and his family. Every time he was asked about the challenge, he acknowledged the team behind the scenes and the support from the sidelines. Despite now having raised over two million pounds (plus the couple of million raised through previous challenges), I have never heard Kevin make it about him. I cannot see any arrogance, any toxic masculinity or any attempt to hide how hard Rob’s diagnosis and decline has hit him. You can see his vulnerability, it’s written all over his face. This is powerful and authentic leadership. Leadership isn’t about what you think of yourself, what’s in your bio or how far you’ve climbed, but about the footprints you’ve left along the way and the impact you’ve had on the lives of other people. Leadership is what people say about you when you’ve left the room. Well Kevin didn’t have a room, he had a stadium, Headingley Stadium, and boy did people have stuff to say. Thousands of people turned up to welcome him home and spoke so highly of his character and his credentials as a leader on and off the pitch.
I’ve really enjoyed capturing these reflections. When the news is hard to handle, seeking out those that inspire you is a bit like hitting refresh, and perhaps that gained inspiration and energy can be channeled into doing good things that will in time mean happier headlines.