Here's to new beginnings!
This blog post is long overdue for many reasons! I've been promising to write it for a while and not just to be read but to write it for myself as a way of drawing a line under it and moving on. But as we all know, life gets in the way.
I've also been back and forth on whether to write it at all. Do I even care any more? Does anyone else care? And maybe I've moved on already? And I think I have. But recently I've come across some signs that made me want to tell my story.
I've decided to write it with some small omissions. I still have friends at my old workplace and no matter how it came to an end, I was really happy there once. It was part of my new chapter of moving to Bristol, it gave me a social life, friends and a new challenge.
I had originally planned to write about specific scenarios and even quote some of the things that were said to me, about me and about other colleagues whilst I was there but I've decided not to out of privacy and respect for those involved. Including myself.
I'm realising I'm also building this up to be something massive but my thought process has been important and my career is also so important to me. It always has been even throughout IVF and will remain so even though we now have Freddie. I'm still me! I've had a new job for a while; being mummy and it's been the most challenging job I've had so far but it doesn't mean I've wanted to stop my career plans. It just means I value my time with my family and I've made some changes to my career to allow me to achieve that in a stress and guilt free way.
I first started this job on the premise that they didn't know much about marketing and they wanted an expert to come in, create a strategy, implement some key changes and help them build a brand. So exciting! It was a great brand from the outside, a little darling of its industry with huge potential and I wanted to be part of it. Cue 2-3 years of trying to persuade them to do any marketing of any value, spend any money at all on beneficial activity with the constant reminder that I was an "outsider" from a culture of internal promotion opportunities that didn't understand their "build it and they will come" answer for everything. I spent a long time trying to prove myself, change things and basically try to achieve the things they said they wanted but with no budget. It was hard, but I had friends there and I wasn't giving up without a fight. At around the 3 year mark, things had started to shift for me personally as we began our fertility investigations. I decided to open up to my boss about my struggles and that we were going to embark on IVF. I know I didn't have to but I guess I thought my honesty would have been appreciated and not held against me.
I had always assumed that my tenacity in the role, my drive, my commitment and all the work I had done to build the brand would have stood me in good stead for possible promotion. I had always made it clear in appraisals that I wanted more. I wanted development, to grow with the business, to build a budget, to push the brand and to do it well. The opportunity never came. And things only went on to prove that my time there was up.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, I was immediately put onto furlough. Totally understandable given the brand new situation we all found ourselves in. However, over time, it appeared that other brands had kept their marketing teams to maintain communication with their customers and their teams. When I proposed this to the business, I was told I wasn't required. They didn't see the value in it 🙄 as time went by, they had changed their minds but of course it was their idea.
In June 2020, when our fertility clinic eventually reopened, we went ahead with our frozen embryo transfer which of course resulted in our beautiful son. Throughout my pregnancy I was put on and off furlough, helped with recruitment of my maternity cover and completed a short handover with my cover before being induced. I'll never forget the consultant telling me at the hospital that they wanted to induce me and my first reaction was that I hadn't finished work yet! I actually said: "Oh no, I can't do that tomorrow, it's my last week at work before maternity leave." That's how engrossed I had been in it and how much I cared about what I was handing over.
When Freddie was born, I sent a photo to my line manager and she replied congratulations. And after that, I didn't hear a single thing at all. For months. The rules around staying in contact with an employee on maternity leave are wooly. The wording says "reasonable contact" presumably to ensure an employee isn't bothered too much whilst their off. But I literally heard nothing at all. No check in texts to see how I was, how Freddie was or if I might like to pop in some time, go for a coffee and catch up. Nothing.
I know for some people this might sound "reasonable" but I felt it lacked thought. For me it felt like I had left the business permanently and been forgotten. I didn't feel like they even wanted me to return to my role. I didn't mind so much in the first 3 months. Juggling becoming a mother and taking care of a newborn was enough to manage! But at 6 months in, it got a little more complicated.
They put out an advert, hiring a Head of Marketing (my job title). I found the advert because a friend of a colleague had seen it and was interested so had asked said colleague for details about the company, what it was like and how to go about applying. The advert had omitted the company name...like they didn't want anyone to know? On top of this, they had also recently been advertising for an additional junior person in my team. It would have been nice to be told this, if I was returning to work, it would have been great to be invited to do the interviews as part of my KIT days.
I decided to make contact with my line manager, because at 6 months with no contact and what felt like my job being advertised, I was a tad concerned! I asked about it all, the two roles being advertised. Can I help with interviews? Can we talk about KIT days?
- I can help with interviews if I like, but it's already down to final stage. - The role being advertised isn't mine, it's above me and sits across both of the brands owned by the business. I would be welcome to apply, but through the agency that are screening external applicants(!) - Yes, we can discuss KIT days.
Am I being sensitive? Or would that make anyone else feel like they'd been forgotten about? I felt pretty rotten about the whole thing. I checked the rules. Spoke to a friend who works at ACAS and it turns out the rules are:
- Employers are supposed to keep you updated on structural changes with the business, particularly if it involves your own team. - Employers are supposed to make you aware of job opportunities available internally within your department whilst you're on maternity leave. - "Reasonable contact" should have been discussed before maternity leave started and agreed upon. How regularly I would like to be contacted and what about.
None of the above happened.
Meanwhile, my colleague had updated me that her friend had got through to the final stages of interview. Final stages! And was going for coffee with the decision makers. Sounded positive. I wasn't supposed to know this information.
I decided to apply for the "promotion" with the agency that was being used to recruit. We had a zoom, it went really well. She complimented me on my knowledge of the business. She even told me that the promotion would make sense. This also sounded positive. And then, weeks went by and I didn't hear anything.
I decided to chase up about my KIT days and one was booked in. I was nervous, felt like a fish out of water. Felt as though nobody wanted me there, like I was in the way, a formality. My boss was late, I waited an hour. I missed Freddie so much. When she finally did arrive, there was a big update on the business, what they'd been to over the last 6 months. No mention of my interview. We had been through a lot and then I was asked if I had any questions... Ummmm YES!? Can I have some feedback on my interview please?
I was told that the recruiter should have been back in touch (even though I'm an internal applicant) to tell me I didn't have enough experience with strategy... Speechless. That was it. The only feedback I got. I'd spent 5 years with a business that could only tell me I didn't have enough experience with strategy. And for an external agency to be managing that feedback with a person who was on maternity leave makes no sense at all. It's an insensitive way to deal with someone who has been unsuccessful at interview and would eventually be returning to work reporting to the person who eventually was successful at interview. Message received loud and clear, I wasn't really wanted in the business any longer.
It got heated. I said I had the relevant experience. I said I also had never been given the opportunity a lot of the time and why would that be different for someone else in the role. I got upset that they hadn't been in touch. I was told "they're not supposed to contact me while I'm on maternity leave" which of course is totally untrue. In particular, making changes to my team and line management is definitely something I should have been informed about. And that was it. She didn't want to talk to me any further, sent me upstairs to see the team and didn't come to see me before the end of the day.
Safe to say, I never saw her again. I think she was probably relieved to receive my resignation a month or two later by email. Unsurprised. But what really took the biscuit was that in her reply, she said she understood that life must have changed a lot for me to not want to come back to work... What an assumption! Like I'm not capable of working any more because I'm a mother? Strange! I took great satisfaction updating my LinkedIn much later with my new job. Delighted to be part of a business run by a mother of 3.
I felt sad for a while after that. Underwhelmed that I was never contacted by anyone in the business about my departure, not even a good luck message. Five years of my life, working my butt off, just all over. But over time, I started to feel relieved, happier, lighter, better.
I went through all of this whilst trying to navigate being a mum. Had I felt valued even with a small amount of communication then maybe things would have been different. But things are as they were meant to be. And for the better.
I suppose the point to my blog is that mothers are hugely underestimated. They are Trojans, warriors, the queens of multi-tasking and in my opinion, an asset to any business. There are many women campaigning for a fairer working life for parents, for fairer treatment in the workplace and whilst this is all amazing, it shouldn't need to happen! Two of my favourites to follow:
I'm also sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen to everyone. But chatting to mummy friends throughout the ordeal made me realise just how often it does happen and seems acceptable. Tired new mums unable to fight it and businesses playing it safe with their communications so as not to get caught out 🙄 tiresome.
In my case, I was tired too. Tired of being treated like I didn't matter. I did and do matter, but Freddie matters even more. I didn't want to spend any more time worrying about a business that didn't value me and family. I just wanted to be with Freddie and to have work fit in around me and him and our new family. And my new job does, entirely.
What's really cool is that as I've been spending time writing this, we think Freddie said his first word today... It was "Hiya" in a Welsh accent just like his mama! How amazing is that? So much more amazing than any job.
I'd love to hear about your own experiences, good or bad. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to share.
I'll leave you with this screen shot I found on LinkedIn: