Having my work acknowledged would have made all the difference to my mental health

I’m writing this as a form of catharsis – seeing as there’s no legal way for me to get any closure from the situation. OK, so I work in a fairly large UK organisation and, probably as the sector I’m in is so completely dominated by women, up until now hadn’t experienced much in the way of workplace sexism. When the pandemic happened my workload went through the roof.

I’d just found out I was pregnant then suddenly the nurseries closed and I was dealing with work crisis after work crisis in my first trimester while chasing a toddler around a playground. I woke at 6, worked till 8 am, looked after my kid all morning then handed him over to his dad after lunch and carried on working till midnight with a short break for tea, bath and bedtime. I’d also taken over someone else’s part-time role during this time – so now I was doing one-and-a-half people’s work. It was at this point, despite my team wildly surpassing their targets, I realised I was getting f-all credit for my work – instead the praise was going the junior members of my team who were more visible (because they weren’t working at night!). When I went on mat leave I was stressed, burned out and felt massively underappreciated but, on the whole, looking forward to having a ‘break’ then getting back to work in 7 months.


Six months into my mat leave I have a quick catch up with my boss. He casually floats the idea that my mat cover takes over my team and the majority of my role – leaving me more time to focus on big picture stuff (!!!???). After half a day in tears and a call to Pregnant then Screwed I email him asking for clarity. Massive backtracking ensues (someone in HR has clearly pointed him in the direction of the Equalities Act). However, when I get back to work my mat cover is still in place, essentially doing my job and confidently offering ‘helpful feedback’ on decisions I make. Privately, he’s politely hostile – mansplaining very basic parts of my own job to me – plus some other stuff that’s far too identifying but which horrified my HR dept. I push for a distinct job description … many months later and his role’s objectives still overlap with mine.

I then find out that despite me taking on someone else’s role and loads of extra responsibility my request for a pay review was ignored when I made it before my mat leave – but other members of the team who also took on extra responsibility had theirs taken forward. I request another pay review and despite explicit instructions from HR that pay reviews are not performance based and relate to responsibilities only my boss then blocks it based on three ‘performance issues’ that he’s never included in any of my appraisals – and just happens to notice when I ask for a bit more money (and, if it were to be approved, a cast iron case for it to be backdated to the earlier date when I’d originally requested it.)

I’ve just found out I can’t sue my company for maternity discrimination as I’m raising it later than 3 months after my mat leave ends. This seems crackers as the pay process is so opaque it was only by chance I found out people who didn’t go on mat leave got a pay increase.

My mental health is shot to pieces. I was having daily panic attacks that were totally incapacitating. I’ve just finished some CBT which helped a bit but it got to the point where I stopped seeing friends in case they asked ‘how’s work’ and it set me off.

The law needs to change and attitudes need to change. I’ve never been prouder of anything than what I achieved at work over the pandemic. No one can take that away from me but having my work acknowledged would have made all the difference to my mental health.


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