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Power of the Parent 5: S2 Ep5: Clare Willetts – Not Only Pink and Blue

Power of the Parent 5: S2 Ep5: Clare Willetts – Not Only Pink and Blue

This week I’m talking to Clare, founder of Not Only Pink and Blue where the mission is to challenge stereotypes from birth. Originally a marketplace, Clare has shifted HOW she’s sharing her work, which will now take the shape of a directory of amazing businesses who are committed and aligned to her purpose.

Clare generously shared how that pivot has come about and the realities accompanying it, and we chatted about the obvious question she gets – have you only been bothered about this stuff since becoming a parent? (Spoiler, she hasn’t – wait for the 13 year old Clare story!)

We rounded the episode off by talking about how businesses can get involved and why it isn’t a ‘nice’ to do, but instead something that will make huge fundamental positive changes for now and in the future.

You can find Clare on Insta on @notonlypinkblue and the website www.notonlypinkandblue.com.

Episode Transcript

Charlotte Speak 0:06
Hello and welcome to Power of the Parent, the podcast. I’m your host Charlotte Speak, I’m a level seven CMI accredited coach, a strength scope Master Practitioner, Mental Health First Aider and talent consultant. And I’m also the face behind Power of the Parent. In this podcast, I’ll be speaking to parents in the workplace. Some of them are in traditionally employed roles. Others are running their own businesses. And we’re having conversations about life in general insights about being a parent and having a career and exploring the strengths that parenting has awoken for people. We will talk about things like the value that they’re bringing to the workplace, as well as my guests very generously sharing their personal stories and anecdotes about everything life can throw at us.

Hello, and welcome back to the next episode of Power of the Parent, the Podcast. Today I am joined by Clare Willetts, who is fundamentally challenging stereotypes from birth. Claire runs a marketplace, Not Only Pink and Blue. She has an incredible social media presence that is jam packed with brilliant calls to action, insights and super practical advice. She is also a recent queen of Reels. Claire’s background is a plethora of brand and marketing roles with some huge names and she’s bringing all of that brilliant experience into the world of equality and changing the sometimes stale conversations about gender. And I’m thrilled that she’s joining me today. So welcome to the podcast, Clare.

Clare Willetts 1:36
Thank you. I’m really happy to be here.

Charlotte Speak 1:39
Is there anything that I have missed from your back catalogue? And indeed current remit that you want to take the opportunity to add?

Clare Willetts 1:50
No, thank you for the amazing intro. Yeah, Not Only Pink and Blue, it has been a marketplace and it is currently, but as of this week, it will be changing over to no longer be just a marketplace. Partly because, so the marketplace was kind of, I guess, launch started close to 18 months ago now. And it’s been such an interesting journey, obviously a strange time to launch a business. But what I found is that actually, we’ve been doing so much more than a marketplace as Not Only Pink and Blue. And I also found that there are lots of businesses who would love to be on there but can’t be for lots for various reasons. Like, it might be that their distribution centre isn’t set up so that they could use our packing slips and packaging and things like that. Or it could be that they’re on another marketplace. And they don’t allow people to be on other marketplaces. So what I found was actually there were loads of amazing brands in the space, all small, brilliant businesses that couldn’t be on there. And so I got to the point where I was like, actually people want to find these brands, and maybe what we could do is become a directory. So we’re moving away from the marketplace to become a directory so that you can go in, you can still search that directory by the type of product you might want, you can still filter it by age, you can filter it by where you want to ship to. So if you want to send a present to someone who’s abroad, you can obviously filter it by that, or buy books and clothes and whatever it is that you want to buy. But you will see a much broader range of businesses, because now we can have homeware, and skincare and all of those things on there as well. So that’s really exciting. So there’s a directory, but then we were also doing an awful lot of corporate things. So you know, consultancy for businesses and going out and doing talks and actually, I was like well, we don’t showcase that on the website, because the website is set up to the marketplace. So how can we make sure we do that, there’s something else that we’re bringing in as well, which I’m sure we’ll talk about at some point. But then the other element is obviously the blogs and resources. And so we turned that from just being blogs, not just, you know, their articles, and we have guest bloggers, I mean, it’s brilliant, the articles that are up there, but also to have a repository of resources for people. So you might be thinking, I want to look at gender stereotypes in education, oh, we’ve got some great companies you should go and look at. And we link out to those and their resources. We’ve got some downloadables of our own and so that there are other places that people can look and find more information about the things they might want to see. Yes, big change coming. But super exciting.

Charlotte Speak 4:22
Fantastic. And I mean, I did know that that change was coming. I didn’t want to be the one that announced it for you on here. So I’m so glad that you have talked about it because I think that’s just from a kind of a more broad conversation around being a small business. That is, it’s quite a sizable change for you, isn’t it and I suppose the work that goes into that shouldn’t be underestimated. And I think some sometimes it can feel like what we set out to do that’s what we need to stick to and there can be a nervousness around change for lots of very, very valid reasons, and some invalid as well, but that transition that you are making away from marketplace into more of a directory, you touched on there, what sparked it and that sounds brilliant, and I’m sure will bring to life for so many people that kind of thought process. What were some of the, or were there any, blockers for you? Did it kind of take a bit of time to make that change in transition? Could you give us a little bit, I mean, I’m sure it’s been a long time in the making, but could you give us a little bit of insight into how that’s felt as a business owner?

Clare Willetts 5:35
Oh, totally. And I think any business owner, especially a small business owner, especially when you’re a founder, and you’re bootstrapping and all of those things, it’s a roller coaster of emotions, right? And it’s tough because the normal sales that you would see, and as you said, I’ve worked across many brands for many years, and you know that there are peaks and troughs of sales and how it runs through the year, that has gone all out the window for COVID. And as a business who launched during lockdown, it’s like, you know, the rules didn’t apply, right? And so it’s been really fascinating. And then, when I got to the point that actually I was like, okay, well I’m doing all these other things as well. And I’m getting really great feedback from the content. I mean, you touched on it, I don’t have a massive social media following by any means but I get a lot of direct messages from people saying this really helps me actually, I’ve really wanted to talk to my family and friends about this, because I’ve only been given pink or blue products, or they talk to my children in a certain way. I didn’t know how to talk to them about it and you’ve really helped me. And I think it’s because, for me, this is not a blame game. This isn’t about going out telling people you’re doing all wrong. This is about, we all grew up in this world, we all experienced these things, we all absorbed them. And it doesn’t matter how hyper aware you are. And I am hyper aware, you still think, feel, do, say things that you’re like, I catch myself and go, ah, god, I can’t believe I’m saying that, thinking that, doing that. That’s just how it is because we’re all absorbed in it. So for me, I’m like, if you’re even aware of some of this, if you’re hearing some of the language, and that’s brilliant. And so it’s getting that kind of feedback. And then I was thinking actually, so much of my time is going into running the marketplace because when you run a marketplace, you’ve got two sets of customers, you’ve got, you know, the brands and the businesses who are on board. And also then you’ve got the customers as well. And then you’re managing this bit in between and making sure that okay, the orders have come in let’s make sure that they’re going out right and you know, something’s happened in between and then you know, the customer contact you or have to speak to the brands and again, I had a lovely brands on there absolutely brilliant people, I knew them all, I made sure I met all of them via zoom, obviously after lockdown. But initially I was going out and actually meeting everyone and seeing their processes and all of those things. But it is time consuming. And tech is much more complicated. And then I was like, I kind of want more time to do all of these things. And the process of going through that is hard. Because you put your heart and soul into business, right? And even you know, getting to launch the marketplace was like obviously, as you know, loads of work, all the stuff, all your emotions are in it, everything and you want it to be amazing, you want it to be huge, really quickly, although quite frankly, there’s no way that anything should be huge really quickly, I would have lost control of everything. And so I went through a process over summer. And I thought about it, I was worried about the amount of time it was, you know, taking for the marketplace from for me for all these things. I wanted to do more of the other stuff that I was enjoying and loving, the talks and you know, the content and helping people. And then over summer I was like, okay, what can I do actually? Because how do I make this work better? And I was down in Cornwall and I was chatting to, I thought it through – I’m one of those people who’s like, I always kind of have to make the decision. And then I’ll talk to people about it. And so I was there and so I was chatting to my husband, you know sitting, lovely looking at the sea, you know, kids are playing away going well, I think I’m gonna make some changes. And it’s quite a wrench actually, because you feel it’s emotional still because it’s your business and I talked it through with him and he was like, yeah, no, sounds great. Sounds like a really good idea, like, and then you start to go okay right, a little bit of validation. And then I started to talk to a few other people and then I spoke to some of the partners who were on the marketplace, who obviously I knew really well. I said to them this is what I’m thinking of doing, what do you think? And they were like yeah, no, sounds great. Totally understand why you’re doing it. And as soon as you have that, and then you have this moment where you go, God, have I just wasted the last year. You know? And then I was thinking about it, thinking hold on, I haven’t at all, because that has, it’s built the foundation of the brand. Actually, it’s, and like I said, my following on socials is small, but it’s highly engaged, right? And then you go, actually, that’s what helped me get to that point. That’s what helped me work out, you know, how am I talking to people? What is the message I want to get across? How focused do I want to be? Because as we know, we could be massively broad, actually, you know, I do, I want to be really focused around this, I want to stick to under 10 years old. For me, this is literally from birth, you know, it is about focusing in on that language and the stereotypes and you know, the way we buy, it’s still about these things and changing them. But this means that I can get to the absolute crux of what I want to talk about without thinking, oh, I need to go and sell some, you know, I need to make sure that people can see the clothes on site, so they can go and buy them. And so for me, yes, it was tough. That was not an easy process to go through. But I still feel like it’s still going to help those brands out, there are still going to be brilliant brands on the site but people can just buy directly from them, which is fantastic. And then equally, I can concentrate on the other bits as well. So, yes, long answer, but it’s really tough to go through that process. But that mindset of going from, oh, God, you know, I’m changing it and you know, what a waste of time, or maybe I haven’t given it long enough, all of those things to going actually I feel really positive about this, to be able to go through that. And that’s not a quick and easy process, either. But to be able to go through that and come out the other side and go, yeah, no, this is absolutely right. Feels really liberating.

Cha 11:48
No, it wasn’t a long answer at all, I think sometimes it can appear like people have made a decision yesterday with their business and it just happened overnight. And the same happens in corporate world, doesn’t it, which we’re both still relatively fresh out of, and we can kind of take ourselves back to those days where the decisions are like Titanic size sometimes. And to turn those tankers is like, you’ve got to do like little and often, little and often. And I’ve said this before, on the podcast, I talk with my hands way too much, which is not ideal when it’s an auditory experience. But for the benefit of the listeners, I am kind of, my hands are kind of making these funny little moves backwards and forwards, as if you were doing like a 42 point turn in your car, that it can sometimes feel like, let’s just inch this way and that way. And some of those things, I think, can feel, and I’m possibly projecting here, but for me, my experience of those tiny little moves, some of them happened without me realising. And I think sometimes when people say, so how did you do that? Or why did you make that decision? Sometimes you genuinely don’t know, because it’s happened in the background, or very organically and so small that you don’t necessarily tune into it, you just know that you’ve gone from A to B, and your why stays the same, but perhaps what you’re doing has shifted, because your mission is still the same, isn’t it, it’s just going to be a very different format.

Clare Willetts 13:15
Yes, and that’s it and that, for me, is the key thing. I remember, even when I set up the business, only to hold the name, way before I set up my business because I was like, I set up a blog initially and then I was like actually I’m going to register as a business and just make it dormant because at some point I’m going to set up a Not Only Pink and Blue business, and it was always still about that mission. And so even before I knew what the business was going to be, I had set it up, because I was like I am going to fundamentally work to make change in society so that it is better for our children. And so it is quite interesting and you’re right, those things do change and some of them are, you know, to go actually, I’m gonna build a whole new site. That’s a big decision. But the bits to get there, like you say, I mean, there are lots of contributing factors along the way that are inching you to make some of those decisions. So yeah.

Charlotte Speak 14:17
That is incredible. And a very powerful message to hear that, like you knew one day it was gonna happen by hook or by crook, and your business was going to be born. And the name, to kind of know that early on as well. Was there like, do you attribute back a particular trigger? Or when did you start to feel that rumble of no, this is going to be my, my purpose, and I am going to, and we have multiple purposes in life, don’t we? But from a business perspective, what was there something in particular that triggered it or was it like a slower burn?

Clare Willetts 14:55
So yeah there was, I mean, it’s interesting because people say to me ah so have you only really cared about this since you’ve had kids, and I’m like, no, because I actually think back and I go, oh, yeah, no, I was that 13 year old who petitioned the headmaster at school to change the uniform policy. So we had to wear box pleats below the knee grey skirts that were entirely impractical when sitting on a sports hall floor that was dripping from the roof in the freezing cold was like what the hell like and so I enlisted my friend Emma to come and help me. And we literally petitioned the headmaster and said, let’s change the uniform policy so girls can wear trousers, so we changed the policy. So you’re like, okay, actually when I think back, it’s kind of, it was always there. A couple of things really made me go, I have to do something about this. So I was, as you said, in a previous corporate career like you as well. I was managing partner M&C Saatchi, which for those who don’t know, is an advertising agency. So I spent a lot of my career in advertising agencies and I worked with a lot of clients, a lot of big clients, and we had a consistent conversation with almost all of them, and internally as well, about where are the senior females? What happens, what is going on, really. And so with a lot of those businesses and our own, we’d have women in business initiatives, you know, confidence pieces, and all of that kind of stuff. As everyone knows about, and then at the same time, we had government and charity clients who are telling us so we’re seeing the highest young male suicide rate they’ve ever seen. I was like okay, well, we’re kind of tackling this at adult level and that’s a good thing, we should be. But at the time, my friends were starting to have children. And so I was also out in the shops, and I was buying presents for them. And I walked into this world, and I knew it was there, right? But it was so stark, this pink/blue thing. I was like, this is madness. Like, where are the colourful things. That’s all I was thinking, like, I don’t want to buy pink, blue, grey, or bunnies. That’s my options. And so I was like, okay, well, where’s the colourful clothes, and that’s when I started to do a bit of blogging about where are the fun colourful clothes for kids. And then I started to have my own children. And I thought, hold on, is this pink/blue thing, just a colour thing? And I’m just annoyed about it. Or is there something more to it, and so I started to do research. And that’s when I started to find that, you know, by the age of seven girls are losing their confidence, they believe that boys are better than them at almost everything by that point as a whole boys brilliance kind of phenomenon that goes on. And then on the counter side, boys are losing their emotional literacy. And actually, by about the age of six, they’re finding that they don’t have language for any emotion other than anger. And it’s the emotion that they see as acceptable. Boys aren’t allowed to cry, you know, they’re not allowed to be sensitive, but anger is an acceptable emotion for them. So I was going hold on so we’re doing all these initiatives in this kind of adult sphere, you know, trying to give females confidence in their late 20s, mid 30s. So they can become more senior, we’ve got this horrific situation with our young male suicide rates. But we’ve already got issues by the age of six. And so I was going okay, there’s no absolute causal studies, although there are a lot of studies that show that adhering to gender stereotypes heavily does affect a lot of this stuff, especially on the male side. But I was like, what we’re doing is we’re trying to counter something that is so ingrained at such a young age, that’s really hard to change by then. So then I started to do more research and I started to look at clothes, not just colours, but the slogans on clothes. I looked at toys, gender disguise studies about how people give toys, even people who are aware of stereotypes and say that they would never do it. If they see a child and they think they are a boy or girl, whether they are or not, they’re just dressed like, using inverted commas, a boy or girl they give them different toys, they play with them differently. They’re more hands on and physical with boys, they are less physical with girls, you know, we’re talking about like, from 18 months old, and it goes all the way through. And so I was like okay and then I got two books and books horrified me. So you know 80% of the hero characters in books are male. Females that are there are generally support characters, they have far fewer words in books, they are generally caring or they are cleaning and then when you get actually into any other diversity so I always kind of talk like, if you take basically white male middle class as your kind of centre, which is what lots of things are centred around, as soon as you add any other ‘other,’ whether that’s female or there’s neurodiversity or, you know, diverse parts of the population, whether it’s race, whether that’s socio economic, whatever it might be, you see less and less and fewer and fewer of those kinds of characters. And so I was looking at it going hold on, in 2018, the study was 4% of heroes, in books, in kids books, were Black, Asian, or of an ethnic minority. And I was like, woah, can you imagine being a child and you never see yourself, you never see your friends, you never see your family. You know, that’s awful from that perspective, but equally from the other side, like we shouldn’t be having books where you only see one type of person, and we should be seeing lots of people. And of course, the main place that most people read their books is in school. And schools don’t have the money to replace their books every year. So a lot of those books are quite old books. And so, you know, so they will have probably even less, which is just, so then I start to go, okay, right, we’ve got to do something about this. And by then I was working at Virgin Group, I was head of customer brand experience there. And I was surrounded by an awful lot of entrepreneurial people, as you can imagine, who had like all either started a business or you know, done something, or, you know, I worked with Virgin Startups, a lot and they were obviously with all these startups. And I was like, okay, well, actually, maybe I should go and do something. And that’s when I decided on the marketplace, because I was like, I’m not gonna write books, I’m not gonna make toys, I’m not gonna make clothes. But there are some brilliant brands out there and maybe Not Only Pink and Blue could be the place where people come to try and change that buying behaviour. There’ll be no girl/boy filters. And it will all be about attitude and activity, and searching for stuff that, you know, your kids will like and want. And they are, everything’s for everyone. So that’s kind of how it came about. And that’s why it’s centred around the marketplace, because I identified buying behaviour as something that really needed to change.

What an incredible story. I nearly use the ‘J’ word. But what an incredible story, because it is and that’s why, we should be caring, in my opinion, we should be caring about this way before we have children. And, yes, that might be a trigger for it. But whether you’ve got kids or not, we’ve all got a role to play in changing these narratives, haven’t we? And we have to go from awareness to action, because we’ve got the gender stereotypes, but then all of the intersectionalities that cut through that. That’s not going anywhere like we are going to be nuanced humans forever. We always have been, we just haven’t been aware of it have we or as are aware of it? I don’t think and I think it’s such an important conversation and it’s something that I love that we are talking about more, we’ve obviously got a long way to go. But I think educating that next generation is definitely happening. I have nothing but praise for our school actually in the way that they are tackling some of these conversations. And lots of people have different opinions on what roles should a school play and I won’t get into that. But I think we have all got a role to play is kind of where I land on it really.

Totally agree. I agree. It’s like, so the line for our business and how I talk about it is: together, we can grow generations of equals. Because that’s where we can get to, but what I want that line to be is: together, we can grow generations of individuals. But we’re not equals yet. So once we’ve done the equals bit, then let’s concentrate on just everyone being individual, now we want everyone to be individual, of course, but we really need to create equality first. So there’s a journey, even within the brand, for me. Because to go from, let’s go from equality to individuality and then it’s just about who you are.

Charlotte Speak 23:56
Yeah, absolutely. One of the questions that would be on my mind, because some people listening to this, are my corporate clients. And I obviously have lots of conversations with them about how better to support parents in the workplace. I would be really interested in your take on this particular conversation around gender stereotypes, because that’s the start of it, isn’t it? Like we said, all the intersectionalities that feed off of that need to continue. What role do you think businesses can play in this going forward? Or what would your ideal be?

Clare Willetts 24:34
Well, this is one of the reasons we’re kind of changing a little bit of focus as well, because one of the things that we’re looking at and we’ve developed is a parental leave programme, because we can start with the kids, but we have to start with the parents. And this is where I think businesses can really help. There are loads of places businesses can help, right. But actually, if we can move the dial of shared parental leave, which is currently at less that 2%, take up and actually stop the conversation being so much around women and maternity and make it about parental leave, there’s more than one parent, generally there’s isn’t always, but that one parent, if there is that could be male or female, actually. And if we can talk about parents, instead of just women, often we talk about the benefits of flexible working and things like that, and a really good maternity policy and all of those things. Actually, we need to broaden that because we know the statistics around how important it is to have parents in general around for children. But actually, we also know that certainly when we look at a male female split, for females, having children massively affects their careers and actually takes them backwards. But for males, when they have children, it actually pushes their career forward. And so that’s quite interesting, because actually, the issue is not children, right. The issue then becomes around gender again, and so that’s quite interesting. And of course, I understand what people say about the time off and things like that but that’s another reason to make shared parental leave more accessible. But I think that, so I think there’s a few things, and this is kind of why the focus of the parental programme has come about, because there is, I think there’s an interesting piece around, it doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, whatever gender you are, if you know you’re adding to your family, you know, in any way, actually, you should be able to tell your employer immediately. And the idea is that at that point, okay, for some people, obviously, they want to wait till after the 12 weeks, that’s fine. But at the point that they want to tell them, the idea for this is that then they are put into the parental leave programme. And that programme is a series of talks with really useful practical information about everything from going off on parental leave what you need to prepare, you know, pregnancy, nutrition, things like that, all the way through to healthy sleep habits for babies resilience for parents, weaning, and then all the way back to okay, I’m going back to what do I need to think about, what do I need to prepare? And the idea is, what that gives you is a base set of knowledge. Because when I was at Virgin, I did some focus groups around parental leave, because we were looking at how can we make sure that people are taking it up, we had great parental leave policies there. And I ended up setting up a kind of buddy scheme. But as part of that I did lots of focus groups. And it was quite interesting, because a few things came up. But one of the things that came up a few times from the dads was, but you know, women just know what they’re doing. And I was like, but we don’t, we work it out on the job. But we also create networks, ask more questions, we buy more baby books than anyone else. And actually, I was thinking about it, even from my perspective, and then talking to some of my friends and saying, sometimes you just have nowhere to go for some of these questions, and you have no idea and you’d read one book, it would say one thing and another would say something else. And then you had no one to then ask back the questions off around that. And so the idea of having someone that is doing a talk, so the idea is a 40 minute talk, then you’ve got 20 minutes of questions. And those groups will be kept relatively limited, there won’t be hundreds of people in the room. So you’re able to ask questions. And you might also go well, I’m not ready for weaning because I didn’t know I’m not giving birth yet. Or you know, my child hasn’t arrived yet, wouldn’t mind knowing some information about it. And you can go to that talk, that’s fine. And then you can get that information. And then whenever you’re starting to think about weaning at four and a half, five, six months, you can go actually, I wouldn’t mind doing that again, because now I’ve got a bit of information, but now I know what’s kind of involved. I’d like to get some more information on it. And then you go and do the talk again and you can ask more questions. So the idea is it takes some of that absolute unknown away. And it enables you to be with this set of people who are in a similar situation, asking the same kind of questions without you thinking, oh everyone else knows what they’re doing or I just don’t understand what I’m being told in these books or what whoever it was down the park told me they did. So we essentially democratise some of that knowledge and enable parents, regardless of gender, to really have time to go okay, yep. I’ve got the base. And now, as we all have to do, I will go and work out how it works for my child.

Charlotte Speak 29:39
Amazing and it sounds like you’ve got lots of very exciting plans to go and change the world.

Clare Willetts 29:48
Just a little bit.

Charlotte Speak 29:49
Why not? Thank you so much for joining me today. Clare. There will be lots of people listening that already know you through social media, but just for those who are coming across your work for the first time, where can we find out more about you and the work that you’re doing?

Clare Willetts 30:03
So on socials, I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and I’m @notonlypinkblue, and the website is notonlypinkandblue.com

Charlotte Speak 30:15
Amazing, well, we’ll put all of that into the show notes as well. Thank you again for joining us today and best of luck with changing the world. Take care.

Clare Willetts 30:24
Thanks, Charlotte.

Charlotte Speak 30:26
Thanks very much for tuning in to Power of the Parent, the podcast. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please rate, review and subscribe. And if you could tell all your friends about the podcast that would be wonderful. If you’d like to get in touch you can find me on Instagram. Just search Power of the Parent. See you next time.

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