For the past twenty months, on the blog I have delicately danced around my experience of job-hunting while on maternity leave. And then extended maternity leave… And then while looking after Little Miss full time… and now, let’s just admit it shall we? I’m unemployed. And I happen to be a mum too.
Recently, a friend – another unemployed mum – suggested I should write about my unemployment saga (for that’s exactly what it is). I explained that I have refrained from being too explicit as I include Finding Our Feet on my CV and am nervous of scaring away potential employers. What if they consider this an attack? Or take it the wrong way? Or worse, consider me unemployable because of something I say?
But since going on Mat Leave, I have spoken to countless women who have been made redundant, forced to resign, unable to find work, you name it, after becoming a mum.
Well. Enough’s enough.
My saga begins on Monday, January 20, 2014. The Other Half and I’s five year anniversary and the start of my final week at work before Mat Leave.
I was a contractor at a large, popular UK brand. My agreement was up for renewal for a third 12 months stint while I would be on leave.
HR asked me for a meeting first thing. Truth be told, as soon as I saw the email I knew what they were going to say.
HR gave me the choice: end my contract now, “so you don’t have to worry after the baby is here” or wait until June when my contract was due to finish to go through the process then. Either way the message was clear. They weren’t renewing my contract.
My lawyer said if I wanted to fight, I would have a good case. But I had to be prepared for them to back down and keep my role open for me. Which in reality, wasn’t practical; I commuted nearly two hours to and from work each day. The OH and I had already been wondering how we would manage it with a nursery run in the mix as we commuted in opposite directions out of London.
Whether they were simply making a kind gesture as I had worked there over a year or were aware of the grey area we found ourselves in, I’ll never know but my employer bumped me up to the permanent employees’ maternity benefits package as part of my redundancy agreement. In some ways, I was lucky; redundancy meant I could take a year off with Little Miss – something we wanted but previously couldn’t afford. So I took the money and left quietly.
Five weeks later, Little Miss was born.
I spent the next six months in the baby bubble until August when an opportunity came up with a parenting app start-up in London. I came on board as a marketing consultant in return for share options, which was fine as at that point it was more about keeping my CV ticking over and my brain active between laundry loads and nursery rhymes.
It was around November we started discussing my return to work, ‘for real’. By March 2015, I was attending interviews fortnightly and by June, I was attending one, sometimes even two a week. Calling in any and every favour possible to help look after Little Miss in the meantime.
I was trained at a successful UK brand; I’ve kept active during my maternity leave, with both the blog and in the end consulting three small businesses on their marketing strategy. For every interview, I research the company, their past campaigns, their competitors, their products, their opportunities. I ensure I can speak about my own experience confidently and passionately in relation to the criteria they’re looking for. I work damn hard.
And as a result, I’ve gotten through to the final round of over half the interviews I’ve had. But none seem willing to take a risk on the woman who’s been out of the workplace for a year… or 14 months… then 18 months… now 20 months…
I’ve had interviewers ask me outright how I feel about returning to work after having a baby, if I mind working late now I have a family, have my priorities changed now I’m a mum…
I’ve applied for roles to be told I don’t have enough experience, or that another applicant had more fitting experience. I’ve also applied for jobs below my level of expertise, to be told I’m over qualified or wouldn’t be satisfied with the role.
Perhaps I just have really bad luck, but it seems there’s always a reason to say no. And while there is a chance that it is my experience that’s the issue, after nearly a year of job hunting, interviewing and rejections, I’m starting to find it hard to believe that’s all it is.
In May, I sold my car, giving us a cash influx to see us through the next six months. In July, I finally scored some steady freelance work. A friend passed my CV along and it turns out, a mum was exactly who they were looking for. I managed the social media profiles for three Early Life Nutrition brands (ie, formula and baby food).
But the work was quite dry, responding to parents’ complaints and comments, finding a hundred ways to say “he’s such a cutie”. Not only that, but the hours were hardly sociable: 4pm-midnight any night of the week or 8am-4pm on a weekend.
After three months, I sadly gave my notice. As a family, weekends are precious and evenings are mine and the OH’s time to catch up – even if only with oh-so-romantic household jobs. Unfortunately the pay wasn’t high enough to compensate the antisocial hours.
I then was offered a role at a childrenswear website. I was extremely excited; I was offered a fair salary and four days per week. It all seemed to good to be true.
And then the offer changed. And then it changed again. We finally compromised at a 25% reduction in my salary, 4 days per week in the office and 1 day per week working flexible hours with a six month probation period when I would be on one week’s notice.
I had a bad feeling after the negotiations, but once I was actually in the office, certain things came to light that made me uncomfortable, not least, the employer wanted me to sign a waver stating I was happy to work over 48 hours per week. I lasted 5 days. But we won’t dwell…
I’m sure some readers will say, ‘more fool you. You had a job – twice no less – and you gave it up. Stop complaining.’ And perhaps they’re right. But in nearly a year of job hunting, the two offers I’ve had would not be deemed acceptable by most working professionals for their own reasons. And yet because I find myself an Unemployed Mum, I feel forced to accept a below par offer. Parenthood comes with sacrifices, we all know that. But I understood that to mean I couldn’t go out drinking after work anymore, or lie in on a Saturday, or wear the same clothes two days in a row.
There are various schemes cropping up to help parents, mums in particular, back into the work place. DigitalMums, 2to3days.com and WorkingMums.co.uk are all great and I respect what they’re doing. But why should we be marginalized in the employment market as ‘a mum’.
Have my priorities changed now I’m a mum? Yes. And would it be preferable any future line manager keep in mind I have a nursery run to share and manage between my partner and myself? Yes. But this is no different to the changes the OH has experienced since becoming a Dad. And he does feel the pressure of that, but no one has questioned his loyalty to the company or his role as a result. No one sees him any differently.
So does the working world view me differently?
My story thus far has no happy ending. I am writing this blog post in-between an online interview (where you speak to your webcam, your video answers are recorded and sent off for analysis) and writing cover letters for more applications.
Something will come up. That’s what everyone says. And by the laws of probability, I suppose it will. But will it include a salary that will keep us in the black? Will it be below my level of expertise? Will I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth in the role, because sometimes my kids gets sick and I have to work from home or worse, take the day off?
I truly hope not.
Because I am intelligent. I am good at what I do. I’m bloody organised. I want to work. And I have a lot to offer an employer. All I need, is for someone to give me a chance.
Proud to announce this post was featured on Mumsnet’s front page on Tuesday, October 27, 2015.