The person they then appointed into the role was less qualified than me, cheaper than me, and had no baby at home

In 2016, I had been working in the public sector (university, then NHS for 19 years, then university again) for a total of 22 years. I had two children aged 12 and 14. In February that year I applied for, and got, a really senior civil service job working for a system leader who is a role model and an inspiration to many – I was thrilled. I was a bit less thrilled to find myself, a week after accepting the job, pregnant at the age of 45. I decided to be completely straight with my new / soon to be boss, and he was great about it saying they would just manage. The ‘on-boarding’ process was painfully slow (welcome to the UK civil service) and I finally took up the post in May 2016.

I worked until the day before my daughter was born, and took 5 months of maternity leave, making use of all the keeping-in-touch days so I could step back in with the minimum disruption to the work and team. The civil service wouldn’t recognise my continuous public sector service for maternity pay, so the 5 months was unpaid leave (bar the statutory minimum which I think came to about £300 or £400 a month. I was / am the main breadwinner in my family). This was a financial hit of nearly half my years salary but I took it because I was so committed to the job and my team and my boss.

While I was on maternity leave, my fantastic new boss took a new job and in the third month of my leave it was announced there would be a restructure. I was interviewed by one of the senior leadership team by phone as part of this process whilst still on leave (with a sleeping infant lying on my chest). The restructure took months. I returned to work when my daughter was 5 months old, which was a wrench – I had had multiple physical issues in late pregnancy / after the birth, although I hadn’t taken any sick leave, as well as a prolonged period of antenatal anxiety. I also discovered on my return to work that there was nowhere to express milk other than a public toilet cubicle, despite this being a huge public sector organisation, and my memories of the first weeks back are coloured with vivid recollection of aching leaking breasts. The team interviews and reviewing continued.

I was interviewed again and lead my team through the process. It went from a ‘light touch’ restructure to a full formal process, I had no effective manager of my own in place and I ended up being interviewed for the job I was currently doing by a panel of three men from within the organisation, told during the interview that although I could clearly manage people they didn’t feel I had ‘done any innovation before’ (which was demonstrably untrue), and not given the job. Particularly insulting was that I had been strongly advised by senior management, on my return to work, not to shake things up or change anything while the review was underway so was forced to maintain status quo while they decided what they wanted.

I was put at risk of redundancy and only when my union got involved was I offered a trial period in another team – working on ‘maternity’ – not my area, but it felt very much like being patted on the head by men in suits and told to toddle off and work on babies which would be good because I had recently had one.

The person they then appointed into the role was less qualified than me, cheaper than me, and had no baby at home. I had no real line management from when I returned to work, no support, was working all hours to support the restructure process in addition to my day job and not even offered a trial in the job I had already been doing. I left a permanent job where I would have got maternity pay for this role. I am lucky that, as it happened, I’ve made the alternative role work (there were never any issues with my performance), but I remain bloody furious at the way I was treated. Had I not got my union involved I do believe I would have had no job. The stress and long hours it put me through left me in pieces – I didn’t feel I was in a position to challenge anything further than I did because I am the main / sole at times breadwinner and my kids depend on me. I had a significant debt to repay after 5 months of no pay – and there aren’t many areas in my field to work in so I needed to somehow keep a job. I can’t think about it too much now or I still get angry.


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