Perception is Everything

When I was pregnant with my daughter I won our company a number of prestigious accounts, and when I was on maternity leave my boss paid me a bonus (not in my contract, just a ‘thank you’ bonus) and said it had taken them so long to find me, but how pleased they were with my work.

While I was on maternity leave my boss informally told me he’d try and arrange for me to work one day a week from home, but on my first day back he said it wasn’t possible and that I should be careful because ‘perception was everything’.

About five months after my return to work I had an appraisal. I was told my work was exceptional and there were no areas for improvement.

 Three weeks later, the office closed for the Christmas break, and when I returned to work I wasn’t given any more projects. Instead, my colleague was given projects with a male intern. On at least two occasions though, my partner asked me to re-do the intern’s work as it wasn’t good enough to put through.

 During this time I repeatedly asked for work, and my boss looked quite sheepish and made excuses as to why I had nothing to do.

 About four weeks into this I was called to a meeting. As I walked in with my boss he said: ‘Prepare yourself, this isn’t going to be nice.’ And it wasn’t. I was told that my work wasn’t up to scratch (‘You know you’re shit, you’ve always been shit’ was the exact phrase one of my managers used!) and that I had been warned many times about it (I had not). When I tried to point out that this was all lies (it was my word against three men who argued otherwise) they said it didn’t matter. If I didn’t accept a paltry pay out and leave that day then they would have me out in six weeks anyway with a disciplinary process.

 I spoke to two lawyers who separately said I had a cast iron case for constructive dismissal and sex discrimination. But it would take a year to come to tribunal and to maximise my payout I would need to be out of work for a considerable time. As I worked in a male industry I would be unemployable if I pursued a case.

 I chose to accept a pay out and walk away. Within two weeks of leaving I was earning £10k a year more at a better company, and my career went from strength to strength, so it worked out well for me. I spoke to my boss on the phone once as I was leaving (to arrange collection of my work) and he told me that he’d always rated me and hoped we could go to dinner once this was all over (!).

I found out later that my managers wanted to employ the much cheaper intern, and had decided to get rid of me to afford him. Why? Because I was a new mum with a five hour daily commute so could only work normal work hours. He worked until 9pm every night (getting less done in that time) and the perception was that he was better value for money on that fact alone.

I was (and still am) so angry about this. Especially as I never took a single day’s sick leave throughout my pregnancy and return to work (despite terrible morning sickness). I also worked late on projects when 8.5 months pregnant as I didn’t want my pregnancy to impact my work.