Olga FitzRoy’s story: pushing for change in parental leave

Olga FitzRoy campaigns for more inclusive care policies for self-employed people in the UK.

Date

2023

Location

London, UK

Parental leave and flexible working policies are crucial elements of a caring economy and impact women’s opportunities and rights. Olga FitzRoy founded Parental Pay Equality to campaign for policy changes that support self-employed parents.

I’m a self-employed sound engineer. I work on music for film, TV, and with bands.

I’ve always been into music. I studied sound engineering in college and then I tried to get a job in a studio. People just laughed at me. I didn’t know that you needed to have contacts in the industry, which I didn’t have at all. My parents are teachers. So, I did a course which gives you a year in the industry. That’s how I got my in with actually getting into recording studios and meeting people.

I worked my way up from making tea and coffee, to sitting in reception, all the way to being an assistant engineer. I loved being an assistant engineer, but I wanted to have more choice on the projects I work on. I decided to go freelance and ended up doing a Coldplay album as my first freelance gig. That was my first step into setting up my own business as a sound engineer.

The government had just brought in shared parental leave, so I thought my husband and I could share that. But when I looked into the small print, I actually realised that self-employed women could not take shared parental leave.

Running my own business has many positive impacts. I get to be in control of projects, be my own boss, and have autonomy over how I work. I get to schedule my work in a way that works for me and can even do some work from home.

One of the big challenges that I think all entrepreneurs and business owners experience is the unpredictability of work and not having a steady income. This affected me most when I had a child.

When I got pregnant, I was quite excited. The government had just brought in shared parental leave, so I thought my husband and I could share that. But when I looked into the small print, I actually realised that self-employed women could not take shared parental leave. This meant that women were the automatic caregivers and that men couldn’t get involved in childcare. So, I basically had to take all the maternity leave myself and consequently take a huge break from my business. It means the business is effectively shut down for a year and then after that you have the huge cost of childcare in this country.

Maternity discrimination exists. It's very real.

It was quite hard to keep the business going as a result. Obviously, as any freelancer knows, if you just go on holiday, you get paranoid that your clients will forget about you. So, to take that much time off work, while also dealing with a lot of misconceptions that people have about women when they have children, that was difficult. Maternity discrimination exists. It’s very real. 55,000 women get discriminated against every year just for having a baby.

I decided I wanted to do something about it. I just thought it was wrong that freelancers couldn’t take shared parental leave when everybody else could. In fact, employees could do freelance work while they were off on shared parental leave. Yet self-employed women couldn’t do any work when they’re on maternity leave and their partners couldn’t share the load. It just felt unfair.

I founded Parental Pay Equality to campaign for a change in the law, to make things fairer for freelancers and small business owners. I started reaching out to politicians to explain the problem and ask for answers about why the policies were unfair towards self-employed women. I thought, surely the government will change it. I’ll just write to a few people. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as that.

I went to basically everyone I’d ever worked with and asked them to support me in campaigning for change. I took it to my trade body, the Music Producers Guild and the Musicians Union and lots of other music trade bodies who were really supportive, because the music industry is largely self-employed. We got lots of musicians and filmmakers to support the campaign, this included Tim Burton and Coldplay. It raised a lot of awareness.

One of our successes on the campaign trail is actually campaigning for a change in the KIT days, which are the keeping in touch days. Under the old regulations, a self-employed woman on maternity leave could work for 10 kit days. The guidance said as little as half an hour’s work counts as a kit day, which to me seemed wild. You could answer an email to a client and that would be one of your days gone.

It doesn't cost the government any money, but it means that women who've taken that time out are more likely to succeed in go going back to work. It is valuable for everybody.

We organised some meetings with the Department of Business and explained the impact taking that amount of time off would have on businesses. They listened to us and they changed the regulations. They made it so that you can actually do essential admin for your business, including answering emails, maintaining your website, doing your social media, and booking in jobs for after your maternity leave. I think that’s a really sensible change. It doesn’t cost the government any money, but it means that women who’ve taken that time out are more likely to succeed in go going back to work. It is valuable for everybody. 

My ideal future for the campaign work would be that I can shut down and that it’s no longer necessary. I would love for there to be a parental leave system that works for small business owners, and I would love there to be no gender pay gap. At that point I would stop campaigning.”

Our Partners

Our advocacy project on unequal unpaid care work is supported by the Ares Charitable Foundation and delivered with CARE International UK.

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