Two days after Joeli Brearley revealed to her former employer that she was pregnant, she got fired. Rather than let this destroy her career, Joeli channeled her energy into helping women who find themselves in similar situations. On International Women’s Day in 2016, she launched Pregnant Then Screwed -- a website that seeks to eliminate pregnancy discrimination. Her career advice? “Remember you are valuable and brilliant.”
Fairygodboss of the Week: Joeli Brearley
Manchester, United Kingdom
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
JB: I have spent most of my career working in the arts in various roles. In addition to the work I do at Pregnant Then Screwed, I am currently a project manager at FutureEverything, a digital culture lab based in Manchester, UK. I am leading on a talent development programme for 7 incredible digital artists.
Working in the arts has taught me to think creatively and question the status quo. As a project manager I've had to work quickly and be adept at communicating with many different types of people. Ultimately it is those skills that have kept Pregnant Then Screwed going for the last 2 years.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
JB: I am most proud of Pregnant Then Screwed. I launched the project on International Women's Day in 2016. I built a basic website and started hustling people to add their stories and help me promote it. With no money, a job and two very young children, I have created a project and campaign that has supported over 1,000 victims of discrimination, has over 500 stories, exists in the UK, the US and Spain, and advises Members of Parliament.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
JB: When I was 4 months pregnant with my first child, I was fired by my employer. I informed them I was pregnant and 2 days later they left a voicemail to tell me my contract had been rescinded and I needed to hand everything over immediately. I found myself 4 months pregnant and unemployed with bills to pay.
I was then told I was having a high risk pregnancy and there was a chance I could go into labour prematurely; at 21 weeks pregnant, my baby would have died or been born with mental and physical disabilities. It was a terrifying, agonising time. My career and my confidence were on the floor and the health of my baby was in jeopardy.
I managed to pull myself together and secured a part-time position with FutureEverything which helped me get my confidence back on track. Through sheer determination, I also secured various freelance projects until eventually I had more work than I could cope with and I had to hire someone to help me.
The world was a very different place after this experience; structural inequality was suddenly so obvious. In many ways, losing my job whilst pregnant made me who I am today.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
JB: The MP Angela Raynor. She has been a big supporter of Pregnant Then Screwed since its inception. Her own story is incredible, she was born on a council estate, raised by a mother who could not read or write, she left school at 16 with no qualifications and while pregnant with her first child. She is now the Shadow secretary for Education and the most brilliant and genuine politician in British politics.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
JB: I spend every spare second of my time with my two children - Theodore, who is 3, and Jack, who is 11 months. I asked Theodore what mummy does when she isn't at work and he said, “you eat lots of chocolate.” Thanks, Theodore.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
JB: Mary Wallstonecraft - an English Philosopher, writer and advocate of women's rights. She was the first woman to talk publicly about structural inequality in her book “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).” I also admire the incredible travelling she did with her 10-month-old daughter in tow.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
JB: “No Limits” by 2unlimited.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
JB: I would have to say Erin Brockovich. A single mum and paralegal that ends up single-handedly taking down a powerful corporation -- what's not to love?
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
JB: 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou.
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
JB: Tough question. I genuinely spend all my spare cash on the children. I have an addiction to buying them tank tops!
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
JB: Remember you are valuable and brilliant. Our current labour market infrastructure does not work for women -- it is outdated and is dominated by patriarchal values. But without women, companies would simply fall apart. Companies who look after their female workforce see their productivity, creativity and morale increase. If they don't look after you, then they aren't worth your time.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.