Mariella Frostrup on why she will continue to fight for women’s working rights

The broadcaster is to speak at the IoD NI Women’s Leadership Conference in Belfast

Mariella Frostrup

Presenter and journalist Mariella Frostrup has been consistently outspoken in demanding better support for women in work, whether that’s around the menopause, gender pay gap or equal pensions, to name but three.

“When women’s basic needs continue to be ignored in the workplace, I feel I’m left with no option but to call it out,” the Oslo-born but Irish-adopted campaigner insists.

At Friday’s IoD NI Women’s Leadership Conference in Belfast, Mariella won’t have a soapbox, but instead will do a post-lunch fireside chat with event compere Susan HayesCulleton.

“But I still fully expect to get my points across,” insists the 61-year-old, who these days called Somerset her home.

In recent years her vociferous campaigning, either solo or in partnership with the likes of Davina McCall and Penny Lancaster, has thrust Mariella into the spotlight as a champion around a myriad of women’s workplace issues.

“Women have been battling so hard for concessions in the workplace to accommodate us through all stages of our biological lives - not just menopause, but everything from periods to pregnancy, endometriosis and miscarriages,” she says.

“There are so many actual biological experiences that are unique to women that have never been factored in to how our working lives progress, just by dint of the fact that it was men who traditionally went out to work and women whose unpaid domestic labour supported the developing of our economic model since the industrial revolution.

“That’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just taken us so long to wake up to the realisation that it’s fundamental change that needs to happen.”

Mariella moved with her family from Norway when she was six to Ireland, living in Kilmacanogue, a small village near the town of Greystones in Co Wicklow.

She then moved to London at 16, working in music PR and making her presenting debut on Channel 4′s Big World Cafe in 1989.

She went on to host TV and radio shows on arts and current affairs, including Radio 4′s Open Book and Panorama, and indeed she has written for almost every mainstream newspaper in the UK.

Mariella, who is married with two children, co-founded the campaign group Menopause Mandate, and wrote Cracking the Menopause – While Keeping Yourself Together (2021).

Yet despite a hectic diary (you can add to that her Have You Seen? podcast with veteran TV executive Peter Fincham, whose past roles include Controller of the BBC and Director of Television at ITV), she rarely turn down an opportunity to take her campaigning to a new audience.

Accepting this Belfast gig for the IoD was easy, she admits, even though her 50-minute fireside chat slot will hardly scratch the surface of all the issues she’s been outspoken on.

Take pensions just for starters.

She says: “Women go through periods of time when they won’t be paying into a pension because they are home bringing up children, and we still have to find a way to divide that equitably.

“I’ve never understood how we take on a joint mortgage when we get married or are in a long-term partnership. You don’t think anything of owing that vast sum of money and dividing it if you ever split up.

“So why don’t we have a joint pension like that, where you each pay into it when you can, and then in your twilight years that pension is something that you’ve built equally? It gives respect to both parties and the contribution each has made.

“In many ways, a joint pension is more of a no brainer than a joint mortgage.”

Mariella adds: “Women make up half the population and nearly half the workforce, so it would be beneficial to all of us, both sexes, if we come up with a working model that takes into account our difference as much as our similarities.

“There’s so much that needs to change, and it’s not about feminism in particular, but literally about accepting the fact that women’s contribution to the workplace is imperative and working out the best way to ensure they are not penalised for a fertility lifespan that is just something we were born with.”

She does concede, though, that some progress has been made.

“When I started working at the end of the 1970s, early 1980s, it was a difficult time to be a woman in the workplace at almost every level. There was also the expectation that you either behaved like a man, or your job was unsafe.

“You were almost looked upon as a decoration and had to fight so much harder to be taken seriously and given responsibility and, indeed, for there to be any expectation of you beyond 35, when you were expected to leave the workforce and parent the children.

“Thankfully that is definitely not the situation any more.

“But when it comes to actual protection in the workplace, and the things that really properly changing, it’s taking too long, like turning a tanker.”

  • The IoD NI Women’s Leadership Conference in partnership with Herbert Smith Freehills takes place on Friday March 8 at the Crown Plaza in Belfast. Tickets for the event are now sold out.