Behind the Hashtag: How Mother Pukka founder Anna Whitehouse's #FlexAppeal changed the flexible working debate

"I didn’t feel like it was my fault. I felt like the system wasn’t working, not that I wasn’t working."

Working mum Anna Whitehouse quit her job as a copywriter after her attempt to change the hours she worked - after a telling off at her daughter's nursery - was rebuffed.

Frustrated, she spoke out online under her alias 'Mother Pukka' with a simple and direct call for change.

Three years on and nearly 50,000 Instagram posts later, the presenter told ITV News how she created the campaign for flexible working hours and even got the likes of McDonald's using #FlexAppeal.

Opening the floodgates

Anna started the campaign to spend more time with her daughter. Credit: Anna Whitehouse

The Flex Appeal campaign started after Anna found herself in the teacher's office at her daughter's nursery back in 2016 being reprimanded for arriving late for the daily pick up.

But instead of feeling ashamed about her tardiness - which was caused by a fellow commuter getting her bag stuck on the Tube - she went to her employer to ask for more flexible working hours.

Anna wanted to see her daughter for more than a few minutes a day but to her surprise her employer rejected her proposal.

Anna said they feared it would "open the floodgates" to others wanting to adjust their working schedules.She remembered: "That was the moment I quit and that was the moment I set up Flex Appeal, to simply question: Why can’t we open those floodgates?"

Sharing the message online

The hashtag for Flex Appeal has been used almost 50,000 times on Instagram so far. Credit: Anna Whitehouse

Turning to the online community, she recognised that she wasn't alone in her annoyance at rarely seeing her toddler during the week.

Anna said: "I simply posted ‘today I quit my job, I can’t make work work, I need flexible working. #FlexAppeal."

The 'poor parenting' label offered up whenever she missed her daughter's bedtime could seemingly be solved by thinking beyond the 9-5 hours expected by her employer.

So Anna started to roll out events across the UK to encourage people to ask for more of their workplace.

Flash mobs for Flex Appeal

Anna has led several flash mobs across the UK to her 'Flex Appeal' anthem. Credit: Anna Whitehouse

Anna's work has seen a cardboard cutout chicken star in a TEDx talk about the cause.

And even Flex Appeal flash mobs as campaigners join her daughter in singing the cause's anthem: 'Let’s talk about flex baby, when you’re on the P-A-Y-E.'Anna said their call goes beyond working parents.

"This is not for mothers or for fathers, it’s for people suffering from anxiety, people living with disability, caring responsibilities - people just wanting to live," she explained.

Evidence from her campaign has since been used by the Welsh Assembly to suggest universal flexible working could help close the gender pay gap.

Last summer Anna teamed up with McDonald's to promote her cause and she has been in talks with NHS workers to start lobbying for healthcare employees.

However, Anna claims not every company has embraced the change.

"We’re not fighting for it to be there, we’re fighting for it to be used," she said.

"It’s a fundamental shift in the way that we work and to do that it does have to come from the top."