To: My Employer
From: A Working Mum
When I returned to work after maternity leave you viewed me differently. We discussed that “my priorities had changed” and therefore future promotions that were previously on the cards must be put on hold. And that, I later realised (if I was to continue to work part time anyway) meant to no longer exist.
At the time I lacked confidence, this I now appreciate (though didn’t at the time) is very common. I felt like my world had been turned upside down in the best possible way. My priorities HAD changed, I missed the little human who had stolen my heart, every single minute of the day and so somewhere, beneath the often-suffocating guilt of leaving her at a nursery, I thought you must be right. I couldn’t work beyond the hours that I was paid for anymore (nor did I want to), I couldn’t take any more workload because I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and so I agreed. I let you make these decisions for me and in doing so my confidence was rocked even more.
Over time, however, I started to realise that you were wrong. It wasn’t the case that it was either work OR home, just because my priorities were my family (they always will be as I think you might find is the case for every single parent, male and female, across your workforce) didn’t mean I couldn’t succeed at work. It didn’t mean that I was no longer ambitious or committed and it definitely didn’t mean that I was no longer capable.
I had so many new skills and experiences that you didn’t take advantage of. I could multi task like never before, I had more empathy, I had more patience, I was 100% more productive and had become a better leader of my team. You never asked how I managed the exact same job remit but in 30% less time (a common frustration for those working flexible hours), imagine the learning you could have gained from this fact. My appraisal grades were as high as ever yet you discounted me purely due to the fact I wasn’t in the building 5 days a week. I wonder how much talent you are losing due to this short term thinking (for the record it isn’t just parents who want flexibility and the most successful employers embrace this, check out this article by Mother Pukka . for all the benefits to employers including hard cash, loyalty, positive PR and standards of work).
Any good business knows the value in their people and that sometimes you have to nurture talent to help it grow. I understand that a period of absence can be hard to manage but the best businesses turn this into an opportunity to allow other colleagues to step into new roles and, you may not have noticed, but there normally is a fair amount of planning time.
Not only did you fail to recognise and reward my worth but following my subsequent maternity leave you also broke the law in treating me unfairly which led to my resignation. For a long time I thought this was my own fault, I took on the responsibility and felt ashamed of what happened but today I am giving the ownership back to you. Women must not be made to feel that they are a problem, that they must hide or downplay the amazing experience of becoming a mother in order to succeed or even just survive in the workplace. I have gone on to do work that I really feel makes a difference, running workshops and courses, to support other mothers during this time. This was very much your loss.
I feel you should know this, if you push us to one side, if you take us for granted or worse, if you get this wrong then we will eventually leave and take our skills and our talents elsewhere. Know the culture that prevails. You may have some great policies written down but that does not mean you are a good place for women to return to work. One of THE biggest factors on an individual’s experience is their line manager. How they manage the conversations, the induction back into the workplace (essential I believe), how much empathy they are able to demonstrate, how they support with that first day back, which, let me explain, can be heart-breaking and scary and exciting all at once. Train your managers on the process but more than that help them to understand and challenge their own unconscious biases.
Listen and question what is said in meetings, over the desks, in the canteen. Comments you might think are light-hearted, joking, well meaning. We can take a joke but only when it is actually funny. One in five mothers say they have experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer. This isn’t funny, or sometimes legal either.
There is change on the way. I know this because I see it, I feel it and I actively promote it.
Just take a look at how many of us marched with Pregnant then Screwed, #marchofthemummies to campaign against maternity discrimination and demand better for working parents (pics c/o Claire Brooks Photography).
Your female talent will leave and switch to more meaningful work or start their own businesses (I know this because I work with these women daily – see the 12 week programme I run called Game Changers if you want support with making a change). In time I envisage that more fathers will want to stay at home with their children or work flexibly too, now is the time to start thinking differently.
We need you as employers to get this right because businesses big and small need women leaders. Our world needs women leaders.
So this is my plea, know that some women have babies and embrace this as the positive fact that it is. We are often more committed, experienced, skilled, adaptable, all round brilliant as a result. After a period out we bring fresh perspective and new potential. The range of new skills is huge from empathy to multi tasking to negotiating (dealing with a tantrum in a supermarket is far more challenging than any heated management discussion). Pay us fairly, be open to new ways of working, be forthcoming with the initial support and you will honestly benefit for years to come, as will the world.
Thank you for taking the time to listen,
P.s If you are one of the incredible businesses who ARE embracing gender equality then I applaud you, please shout loudly about what you are doing, share your results with others and I hope you enjoy all the benefits and successes you deserve.
And if you want to shout about this issue then perhaps you could write your own letter or email to an employer (current or past, anonymous or otherwise) to celebrate or tell them the realities. This blog post came from a letter I wrote to my past employer and found it a slightly scary, incredibly emotional but also cathartic process. Notably if you feel you are facing discrimination then head here for support. Let’s start these conversations happening, get those in the highest leadership positions to hear our voices and see what we can do to change things.
And finally if you do want to get started on switching things up then I do also run a completely FREE mini Game Changers course which I hope will provide you with some inspiration.