Discover more from System Changers
March of the Mummies, apologising, and off-setting the art world
Version #1 of the format, here goes!
I hope you’ve all had a great month. I’ve been busy working with my brilliant clients, completing training with Co-Active, and planning some exciting travel to the US and the UK in the coming weeks. I’ve also been designing the format for this newsletter and collecting things to share with you. I love the way it’s focusing my radar, sparking ideas and even spontaneous trips to meet System Changers. I was nervous about starting this project but I’m loving it so far.
As promised, this issue has a few different sections; an interview with an inspiring System Changer; useful resources, tools and insights from my work as a coach; updates on live projects, campaigns and opportunities; and a personal reflection on what I’m learning about changing systems in my own work and life.
I hope you find something here that fuels your growth, enjoy!
System Changer profile: Lauren Fabianski
“We’re in a tinderbox moment right now. People are angry. All this Government incompetence has done us a favour because we’re starting to really connect with people. It’s an exciting time to be a campaigner because if you can be a voice of reason in all of this chaos you can really make an impact.”
Lauren Fabianski is the Campaigns and Communications Manager at Pregnant Then Screwed, a charity and nonpartisan campaign group dedicated to protecting women from pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and raising awareness of the issue to trigger change. Her work has helped Pregnant Then Screwed to build relationships at ministerial level, deliver the charities’ biggest ever protest and partner with some of the UK’s leading advertising agencies.
Lauren has been helping brands to grow for over twelve years. At the start of the first wave of Covid 19, whilst pregnant with her second child, Lauren created a community for pregnant women who felt overlooked by the Government when regulations on maternity services were being announced. It was through this work that Lauren decided to leave the ad industry and refocus her career towards women’s rights campaigning. She lives with her family in Leeds. When she’s not working, she loves to read sci fi novels, DJ at festivals with her husband and make art with her two small children.
It’s been a privilege for me to support Lauren as her coach this year as she’s helped Pregnant Then Screwed go from strength to strength. I invited her to speak to me about her work and her growth as a System Changer at the forefront of a national movement for women's rights.
We spoke a few days after March of the Mummies, a hugely successful campaign she helped to organise, which saw more than 15,000 families take to the streets across the UK calling for Government reforms to childcare, flexible working and parental leave.
You can find a full transcript of our conversation below.
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Resources, tools and insights for System Changers
When you need to say sorry: A client of mine is currently re-connecting with their network to explore opportunities for a new role. We spent a recent session exploring who they are at their best, and ended by agreeing on how they would fully embody this person in an upcoming call with a former collaborator. “I’m going to apologise,” they said, and I scribbled down the words and drew multiple rings around them. They knew they’d messed up during their last encounter and that they should hold themselves accountable for it. How impressive is that? Good apologies are hard, but they’re crucial for healthy and growth-promoting relationships. If you’re ready to own a mistake and you want to prepare a meaningful apology, listen to this eye-opening conversation between Dr. Brené Brown and Dr. Harriet Lerner, ‘I’m sorry: How to Apologise and Why it Matters.’
When you’re looking for the words to help you win: I always ask potential clients to tell me about a System Changer who inspires them. My new client Emma Eastwood, Head of Strategic Communications at Human Dignity Trust, told me about Anat Shenker-Osorio, who’s a researcher, communications strategist, author and podcaster examining why certain messages falter and others deliver. Shenker-Osorio has led research for new messaging on issues ranging from clean energy to immigrant rights to reforming criminal justice. Her original approach combining priming experiments, task-based testing and online dial surveys has led to progressive electoral and policy victories across the globe. Her writing and research is profiled in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian among others. The second season of her podcast ‘Words to Win By’ launched this week.
When you need to process something difficult:
Oh, David Whyte! Part of the Co-Active coaching methodology is called Process. It’s all about spotting turbulence under the surface and inviting our clients to explore it. When we allow ourselves to sit with an emotion we find difficult, and when we are witnessed supportively in doing so, we can often unlock new ways to move through it. This poem speaks so beautifully to the benefits of diving beneath the surface and releasing whatever’s stuck to find new ideas and ways of relating to it. In coaching, we use this to envision new possibilities and fuel action. The turbulence could be grief, as explored in Whyte’s poem, or any other emotion you’re struggling to confront. Here’s a journalling prompt: name the turbulence under the surface right now, what’s there? If it could speak, what would it say?
When you’re ready to stop writing people off:'s new book ‘The Persuaders’ is an essential resource for System Changers. The book is an insider account of activists, politicians, educators and everyday citizens working to change minds, bridge divisions and fight for democracy. Giridharadas talks about the power of people who can “stand bravely in the truth of what they believe and reach out” to people they disagree with. It’s a book about the importance of persuasion in an age of polarisation, and it’s packed with insights on how we can work together and across divides to talk a better future into existence.
When you’re trying to change an industry from within: I’ve just finished Edward Enninful’s memoir ‘A Visible Man’ and I absolutely loved it. Enninful is editor-in-chief of British Vogue and the European Editorial Director for Vogue. The book charts his inspiring journey from a childhood bedroom in Ghana overlooking firing squads, to leading a global movement for change in fashion. He became editor-in-chief of British Vogue in 2017, making him the only Black person to serve in this role in the history of Vogue. I was deeply moved by his reflections on family, identity, purpose and overcoming health crises and, in his words, soul sickness. His stories of celebration and community, his connection to his craft, and his commitment to being of service to the world are what have stayed with me the most. Sharing on Oprah Winfrey’s podcast how he overcame multiple experiences of racism and exclusion to become an era-defining icon, he said, “I want people to know that it’s possible to change an industry from within by being yourself.”
System-changing projects, campaigns and opportunities
A carbon-negative art world. Platform Earth is an environmental arts charity harnessing the power of carbon-negative art to fundraise for marine carbon capture projects. Limited editions of screen prints from their recent collaboration with Es Devlin at Frieze London 2022 can be purchased here. All proceeds to Sussex Kelp Restoration Project. Thank you to my school friend Sophia Olver, Director of Programmes at Platform Earth, for sharing.
Accelerating the transition of top talent to working on climate. Over the last few days the climate tech community has coordinated with Stripe, Twitter, and Lyft alumni to figure out how to best support those affected by recent tech layoffs. Climate Draft is a climate careers resource hub and aggregated jobs board for tech workers. Read more about the initiative and the network around it here.
Who owns the ‘White Lives Matter’ trademark and what will they do with it? A thought-provoking interview here with Black radio hosts Ramses Ja and Quinton Ward on a surprise gift from one of their listeners.
A young woman speaks truth to power at 10 Downing Street. The UK’s first Muslim jockey, Khadijah Mellah has recently shared her story of delivering a poem to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson when she was invited to celebrate Eid al Fitr with him this year at 10 Downing Street. “It is not in my nature to turn a blind eye so I tried my best to remind Boris that although it is a step in the right direction to celebrate Eid together, accountability for the trauma and harm he has caused is important to me and so many others.” Read her poem here.
What does it mean to use our creativity for good, today? Creatives for Climate is a global network of creative professionals with a shared mission to drive action and awareness on our climate and ecological emergency. They arm creatives with the connections, skills, and opportunities for action they need to drive and demand climate action. Their third in-person summit is being held in Amsterdam today. Find out more and join the community here.
Intersectional Incredibles. My client Christian Tooley was on Sky News! Christian is an award-winning queer entrepreneur, investor and innovation strategist. Listen to him speak with Ian King about intersectional investing, queer capital and his organisation i³ here.
The power of good copywriting. Greg Bunbury’s billboard concept ‘Black History Addendum’ for Black History Month seeks to “challenge the myth of Windrush & British Caribbean migration as some kind of ‘invasion’. An unexpected guest at the table, as opposed to the reason the table is able to stand at all.” Check out Black Outdoor Art, his project using outdoor media spaces as a platform of Black British artistic expression & creative activism.
A Map of Countries that Criminalise LGBT People. My new client Emma Eastwood leads Strategic Communications at Human Dignity Trust, which is the only organisation working globally to use strategic litigation to defend the human rights of LGBT people. Based in London, their team of lawyers, researchers, activists and communications specialists work with activists and lawyers across the world. Find out about their research and take a look here at their map of countries that criminalise LGBT people here.
School of System Change. When I heard from a friend that Saskia Rysenbry, Curator at the School of System Change, was an hour up the road from me in Ericeira, I jumped in the car to meet her for coffee. We had a brilliant chat about the venn diagram of our work; the School’s multi-method approach to systems change learning, and my focus on the inner work of being a System Changer. Find out more about their courses and partnerships here.
A personal reflection
After a few years of reassessing and redesigning, a period of great change and challenge, I’m beginning to feel really grounded and empowered. I’ve overcome a lot of unhealthy habits and mindsets to get here and I’m taking some time to celebrate that today. I’m really proud of myself.
After umming and ahhing over this content idea for a while, I’ve taken action and made something that really resonates with people. I can feel my brain and my soul expanding. What a feeling! What was I waiting for?
And after lots of training and practice in an entirely new discipline, I’m thriving. I’m coaching people who are driving change in the accessibility of VC funding, in the affordability of homes in London, in LGBT rights all over the world. My clients are making front page news and changing lives, they’re fostering grassroots change and shifting norms and infrastructure globally.
This is the sort of work I’ve always dreamed of doing and it almost feels too good to be true. So I’m writing it down and sharing it here to mark the moment, ignoring the gremlins telling me that’s a silly thing to do.
For anyone stuck in a crisis of confidence, identity or purpose, here’s a quote from the amazing Debbie Millman that coaxed me forward:
“My desire for a full and impactful life was 1mm bigger than the fears I had about who I was, and that was enough.”
Thanks for reading System Changers! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
System Changer profile: Lauren Fabianski
Every news channel, every radio station, every newspaper. Front page news in the Observer and the Sunday Times, and the top story on the BBC’s website and app. March of the Mummies has had almost 900 pieces of press coverage. How do you feel?!
We had a debrief before this call and we can’t quite believe it, it doesn’t feel real! It went better than any of us expected. I think each of us cried on the day when we saw all the people in Parliament Square. We’re very proud.
Whilst it was stressful to pull it all off, it feels so important to have done this campaign at this moment in time because the Government is falling apart. Yesterday I met with a civil servant at the Department for Education who have just welcomed their 5th Education Minister in a year. I wanted to know their position on an important upcoming debate, but they couldn’t tell me because the newest Prime Minister still hasn’t appointed the Parliamentary Under Secretary who would be responsible for the debate. It feels like an episode of The Thick of It where they’re putting policies together in the back of a taxi on the way to announce them.
Contrast that with what happened on Saturday: 15,000 families uniting and marching with very clear demands for change. It was amazing for everyone to see that we can organise, and we can do it in a way that really engages and resonates with people, cutting through the chaos. It was heartwarming to witness after the absolute calamity that’s been the last year of policy and campaigning in this space.
We’re in a tinderbox moment right now. People are angry. All the Government incompetence has done us a favour because we’re starting to really connect with people. It’s an exciting time to be a campaigner because if you can be a voice of reason in all of this chaos you can really make an impact.
What do we need to know about this campaign, and what happens next?
The campaign is calling for; good quality, affordable childcare; flexible working to be default for all jobs; and properly paid parental leave for all parents. You can find compelling data on all three, and advice on how to take action on our website.
The biggest thing that happens next is shaping the manifestos for the next General Election. It feels very far away, but it's not!
I don’t think there’s a credible way for this Government to carry on in its current form. Everyone’s disillusioned and everyone’s lost faith. A General Election is coming. It’s so important that people unite and carry on delivering these very clear messages about what we want to see in considered manifestos from all parties. We know that Labour have switched into General Election mode already, and we’re meeting with all parties to build momentum around these issues.
Our quality of life is falling, our birth rate is falling, our rights are being rolled back and it’s just not good enough, it’s dystopian. But it’s so important that people don’t feel powerless and that they keep engaging and writing to their MPs and demand better.
We’re going to teach as many people as possible how to engage with our political system. We want people to feel like they can really make a difference, because they can.
You work in a small but mighty team of five people on a wide range of initiatives. Tell us about Pregnant Then Screwed and the work you do.
We’re the voice of working mothers in the UK, and we’re looking to end the motherhood penalty. This is the discrimination that starts to happen to women before they’ve even decided whether they want children - we know that employers avoid hiring women of childbearing age - and it lasts all the way through to the gender pension gap, when women retire with significantly less in their pension pots than men.
We work really closely with mothers to understand how they’re feeling and what they need. We use social media to better understand trends and sentiment and how they change over time. We collect data on people’s experiences and we’re very responsive to what’s happening. If a particular theme comes up and there’s lots of engagement around it, we’ll launch a survey to gather data. We’ll use that data to launch petitions, trigger debates, and organise meetings with front bench ministers. We also submit data to calls for evidence, which is very important in the policy making process.
The campaigning side of the organisation is all about using this next level social listening to respond very quickly to what’s happening on the ground. This makes our work quite difficult to plan, but it also means we get lots of traction with the press and the Government because our news and our data is always so topical. Our success during the pandemic was borne out of the frustration that no one seemed to be listening to pregnant women and what was happening to them. We got thousands of messages from people saying they were really struggling to get advice and support, so we collated all of those voices and shared them as widely as we could to create change.
We also provide free support services, including a free employment rights helpline staffed by qualified advisors, which are life-changing for those who engage with them. A lady called Donna Patterson called our advice line and, with the support of our mentors, took legal action against Morrisons, her employer. She decided to represent herself after her legal claim was refused, which involved cross-examining eight witnesses. She’s recently won a £60,000 payout and told us that she would never have done it without our support. She’s been featured in The Guardian and The Times and was on BBC Radio 4’s Woman's Hour this morning talking about it.
How would you describe your role as a System Changer on this mission? What do you do?
I work my socks off and I have to be very adaptable and not at all precious about my roles and responsibilities. I have to do whatever’s most important in the moment to make the biggest amount of noise. I see my role as being brand guardian to the charity, which is in my DNA with my advertising industry background. As we’re growing at such speed, it’s very important to look after our brand so that we’re taken seriously.
I came into this with absolutely zero political knowledge. Before my interview at Pregnant Then Screwed, I had a call with a friend who works in policymaking and he gave me a ‘policy for dummies’ session, teaching me about the different levels of debate that happen, what Hansard is, how everything works in practice. I’ve been learning as I go along, reading as much as possible, listening to podcasts, subscribing to newsletters. I think it’s so important for people to understand that anybody can do this, even if you don’t understand politics. There are so many resources out there that are easy to access and digest, and even if your starting point is just to read unbiased news regularly, you’ll quickly start to understand what’s happening.
I work very closely with our Founder Joeli Brearly to set organisational strategy, and I’m lucky to have a lot of creative freedom. We have medium to long-term campaigning aims that we’re working towards, but a lot of our work is reactive to what’s happening on the ground. We get things done at a speed that would make former advertising agency colleagues of mine cringe! It works because we’re all so passionate about women's rights and the bigger picture.
We work very hard on building good relationships with the press, but not in an old school going-to-breakfast kind of way. We reach out to them telling them that we’re here to be useful, that we can get them brilliant data and case studies that no one else can. The Guardian asked me for a comment last week and I sent it over with an apology saying “sorry it took me so long, it’s been really busy here,” and the journalist replied saying I’d made her laugh out loud. A 20 minute response time from Pregnant Then Screwed comes with an apology, when everyone else usually takes takes weeks to get back to them.
Our work with the Government is simply about building relationships with anyone who cares about the issues we’re campaigning on. We’re on Hansard all the time looking at what people are talking about, what debates are coming up, who’s showing up, and then we try to build relationships with those ministers over our shared interests. We provide them with data that’s specifically related to their constituency so they can raise questions. MPs are expected to be knowledgeable on a really wide range of issues and it’s impossible for them to know everything they need to know. We summarise the most important points in upcoming debates, explaining why they’re so important, making it really digestible in one or two sides of A4. All of this enables them to show up for these issues feeling informed.
The most important part of my role is the social listening, making sure that we’re representing women and what women need with powerful data.
What does your support system look like?
My family is incredible. I couldn’t do this work without the village I’ve got around me. My husband and I both have flexible jobs, which makes it possible to have two small children and both do very demanding work. We’re a feminist household, obviously! So we’re equal partners in all cooking, cleaning, childcare… On top of that, my Mum, my Grandma and my friends help with childcare. They also help me to create space for downtime because I’m so engaged in what I do that I find it hard to step away from my work. I have friends who can spot it happening who say “you know what, we’re going away for the weekend” and that’s brilliant. I feel very lucky.
Joeli is a formidable boss. Unlike so many leaders, she’s not a gatekeeper. She shares many of the brilliant opportunities that are offered to the charity, not keeping all the fun bits to herself. She explains things in accessible ways and doesn’t make anyone feel like they’re stupid because they don’t understand how something works. We’re all learning and figuring it out as we go. She knows how far to push people without breaking them. Everyone in the team is passionate and brilliant at their jobs. We’re good at looking out for each other to make sure we’re not doing sneaky work when we’re not supposed to be!
Tell us about your success so far, what changes are you seeing?
One of the frustrating things about campaigning for policy change is that it doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how big of a splash you make. What we are seeing though is more and more MPs caring about childcare, particularly how it relates to household poverty in the cost of living crisis. Things are starting to shift so we’re not constantly reaching out to MPs saying “you need to care about this”, instead, they are reaching out to us and saying “I care about this, what can I do”.
I’ve also learned recently that we’ve completely smashed our target for the amount of money women who we support through our support services have been able to claim from their employers. A lot of our comms work next year is going to focus on raising the profile of our helplines so that even more people are empowered to take action when they face discrimination.
What are your superpowers?
I give anything a go. You don’t have to be an expert, just have a crack.
I know that done is better than perfect. Letting mistakes go and moving on to the next thing.
I’m very brutal in the way that I prioritise. The opportunities we’re presented with are incredible, but we can’t do them all. We have to work out very quickly what could make the biggest impact and go with that.
I bring efficiency to our communications work. I also make it sustainable for the people on the team, because the risk of burnout is very high. We have very small budgets to work with so we can’t brief each social media post we want to do out to an agency. We need to think about what assets we can create and chop up and use multiple times for months to come. I make comms work better.
What’s in your toolkit?
Brilliant women. One of the best parts of my job is that all of these incredibly talented women with skills that we don’t have in our tiny team are constantly emailing me saying “hi, I want to help, please let me know if I can be useful”. I’ve learnt so much from them.
And coffee, a lot of coffee.
What are the three hardest things about the work that you do?
Our work in the pandemic meant that every day we would receive heartbreaking messages from women who had suffered terrible experiences in lockdown. Whilst it was wonderful that these women felt like we were a safe place for them to reach out to, the sheer volume of these messages was having an impact on the mental health of the whole team but Joeli and our board quickly realised this was happening and organised vicarious trauma training for everyone then signed us up for unlimited therapy sessions through Spill which really helped.
It can be really hard to switch off when you’re doing something that you love, especially when it comes to using social media outside of work hours because I always find myself reading news articles about our campaigning areas.
It would help if Government ministers stayed in their roles for more than five minutes. It feels like every time we build a good relationship with someone they leave the department.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned working on this mission?
Change is slow. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. You just have to be relentless.
What have you learned about yourself doing this work?
That it is possible for me to wake up every single day and be excited to go to work, I just needed to be doing something that feels purposeful. I haven’t had the Sunday Scaries once whilst working here.
How are you currently working on your personal growth?
I never thought when I started working with a career coach that a lot of our early discussions would be about self care outside of work but that has proved fundamental to how I show up mentally. It’s also been super helpful to have a protected space where I can really think about where I want to be in the future because I never really took the time before, I was too busy getting things done right there and then.
What does the world look like in ten years’ time if Pregnant Then Screwed has been wildly successful?
The UK will be recognised as a place where women can fulfil their potential, flexible working is the norm and childcare is accessible to all who need it. By then I hope that we’ll have expanded internationally and be working towards a global culture shift.
What’s next for you and this work?
International Women’s Day is always very busy at Pregnant Then Screwed so we’ve already started work on what we’ll be doing next year. We’re also keeping a close eye on workers rights that may be at risk as a result of Brexit, I feel like a campaign to protect parental leave entitlement might be necessary before the year is out.
As for today, we had 15 photographers across the 11 marches and I’ve still not reviewed all the photographs yet so I can’t wait to look through all of them this afternoon!
If you could ask readers to do one thing to support your mission, what would it be?
Engage with your local MP. We’re always creating easy to use templates for people to email or tweet their MP asking them to go to important debates. Hold them to account. Ask them to show up and represent you. I promise it makes a difference.
Thanks for reading System Changers! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.