I was the only female manager in my company and was working in a very competitive industry. It had taken me a long time to secure a job that I really enjoyed and I put my heart and soul into my work. However at 31 years old I felt that I didn’t want to leave it any longer to start a family. I had a very happy and healthy pregnancy and worked full time until four weeks before my baby was due. I carefully planned a work schedule for my colleagues so that the business would run smoothly during my maternity leave and I oversaw various administrative tasks whilst on maternity leave (before and after our daughter was born).
Towards the end of my maternity leave I started to put plans in place to return to work and it was then that my boss asked for a meeting. He invited me for lunch at The Institute of Directors and told me that he was going to down size the part of the company that I managed for economic reasons. Even though he didn’t mention redundancy at that meeting, alarm bells started ringing as I knew this man didn’t have children and that he had a pretty old fashioned attitude towards working mums. Looking back, I don’t know why I thought I could change his mind about working mothers. I had been a reliable, hard working, loyal and capable colleague in the past and saw no reason why this couldn’t continue. I wasn’t sick – just a parent. Lots of working men were parents so what was the problem?
A week later and just before I was about to return to work, I received a letter letting me know that I was being made redundant – no explanation. I was shocked and upset. I felt vulnerable. I was angry. I asked for a meeting and asked my boss why I was being made redundant. He told me that he was going to take control of my responsibilities and that he would be assisted by the junior member of my team that I had carefully trained to keep the wheels turning whilst I was on maternity leave. Now I felt betrayed as well as shocked and bewildered. How could this have happened to me? I had done everything possible to prove that I could be a good team member during pregnancy, maternity leave and on return to full time work. In the end I accepted redundancy because I simply couldn’t face a legal fight to retain my position. I knew I had a good chance of winning but why on earth would I want to return to this company and work with this misogynistic man?
I am taking the time to write about my experience because it may or may not surprise you to know that this all took place in 1990. I suppose I was amongst the first of a large wave of female professionals in the UK workplace at that time. There were very few laws to protect us then. Paid maternity leave was woefully short. Paternity leave had not been invented. Working women were very vulnerable – let alone pregnant working women. Along with other women of my age, I fought hard for younger women to be treated more fairly and it makes me extremely sad to see that discrimination after becoming a female parent is almost as bad as it was when I was a young mum. However 25 years later, I fear for my beautiful, hard working, ambitious daughter’s rights. I feel very sad that young women are being treated so badly simply because they become mothers.
I feel I need to explain the possible consequences of allowing maternity rights discrimination to flourish in context of what happened to me next. I was made redundant during a recession. Rather like today the economic climate was used as a weapon to hurt working women – young and old. There were few jobs around in my industry so I had to reinvent the wheel again and I started my own micro business – so I could look after our daughter whilst still contributing to our family finances. it wasn’t easy because I was fighting off the depression that was the inevitable consequence of being so badly treated by my employer – I felt limp and a failure and emotionally drained. I had no option but to earn a living however I could as we needed my income. It took a few years for me to grow the business and to earn a half decent salary – this had an inevitable impact on my ability to save for a pension. I am now almost 58 and despite having worked hard all of my life I know that i will be a financially vulnerable older women when I eventually retire (if I am ever allowed to retire!). Women who have children have by default a start-stop working life and this has a financial impact not only on our lives as young mums but also as older ladies. Women are more likely to live in poverty in old age than men.
In my experience, women are real grafters – we work, we bring up our families, we do voluntary work in schools and the community, we look after our elderly parents – we are fantastic human beings. Yet we are so badly treated by the system even now in 2015. How on earth did this happen? How can we let it continue?
Despite everything, I have to say that (even though my career never did get back on track and even though I probably have never reached my full potential in my chosen industry), I have loved being a mum. That sad and pathetic man who made me redundant all those years ago can never take away the sheer happiness and pride that I have felt as I have watched my daughter grow up to be a lovely young woman. Ladies – we must stick together to rid the system of this blatant discrimination – for the sake of all we mums, our partners and our children.