Name: Hannah Martin
Family life: Wife and mother of two
Work life: Freelance copy writer and co-founder of the Talented Ladies Club
But before she co-founded the “the UK’s number one online resource for ambitious mums,” Hannah Martin was just another lady struggling for her talents to be recognised after becoming a mum…
From talented lady to talented mum…
Always a creative soul, Hannah moved to Hong Kong after falling out of love with a Fine Art degree. It was there she discovered ‘Ad land’ – the magical, manic, fun, high speed and back then – and in many cases, today as well – the largely masculine industry of advertising.
Enthusiastic, determined and passionate, she persuaded advertising agency giants Ogilvy & Mather to give her a copywriting position, regardless of her lack of experience.
Ad agency culture is that you work until the job is done. It’s an industry where more often than not it’s believed that ‘he who works longest, works best’.
And Hannah thrived. She loved her job and was also extremely good at it, winning promotions and industry awards alike.
But after five years, it was time to come home and Hannah and her partner, Ben* returned to the UK in 2001.
One year later, Hannah found out she was unexpectedly pregnant.
Her line managers – both male, both dads themselves – were extremely supportive. They said they could look at options to work from home or even part time when she returned from Maternity Leave.
Hannah’s commitment to her role never wavered; she stayed late in the office, she missed midwife appointments and even worked right up until 48 hours before giving birth.
Ben was still an apprentice, making Hannah the family’s breadwinner. She was only able to take four months of Mat Leave, at which point her Grandma took over childcare of her newborn son and Hannah, still breastfeeding, returned to work.
“On my first day back, my boss said, ‘perception is everything’ and I didn’t really realise what he meant by that at the time. But he was right.”
The opportunity to work from home or go part time never materialised, but Hannah thought she was making it work. In advertising creative departments you work in teams and Hannah and her partner were given the agency’s most prestigious account. And at the end of the year, they received a glowing joint annual review.
But, like so many parents before her, Hannah could no longer stay until the wee hours of the morning – and didn’t want to. She had a two hour commute in and out of London and had to leave the office at 5:30pm to be able to get home in time for the evening feed and to see her son.
After Christmas, Hannah noticed that her work load had lightened.
An intern was picking up more and more of Hannah’s projects. Only, being far less experienced, his work wasn’t always up to scratch, so a colleague started asking Hannah to rework the intern’s copy on the sly, without any credit or recognition.
In early 2004 Hannah was called to attend a meeting with the Senior Leadership.
“As we stepped out of the lift, Adrian said, ‘prepare yourself, this isn’t going to be nice.’ And that was it, that was all the warning I got.”
Management, in no uncertain terms, told Hannah her work ‘was shit’. They claimed she had been warned about her performance numerous times. They claimed she couldn’t handle the job.
Her prestigious industry award, the adhoc bonus she’d been awarded on Mat Leave, the faultless appraisal she’d received just months before, were all brushed quietly and swiftly under the rug.
When Hannah pushed back, they called her crazy.
“I was completely emotionally unprepared for the meeting. I had no idea how to react to the news. I was told I had 24 hours to resign, accepting less than a month’s pay as redundancy, or they would start disciplinary proceedings.”
Hannah sought legal advice. Solicitors confirmed she had an extremely strong case, but it would take about a year to come to tribunal, cost thousands of pounds up front and the meeting was without prejudice, meaning the conversation could’t be used in court as evidence. Whats more, if she missed a single day of work during that time, the agency would have lawful grounds to fire her anyway.
Hannah knew she had a family to support and couldn’t take that risk. It was a case of ‘who blinks first’. Hannah decided to blink.
The fee the agency provided to pay for legal aid didn’t even scratch the surface. Clearly feeling guilty and knowing the company was mistreating Hannah, Adrian actually personally paid her fees in full. He said he hoped they could go for dinner ‘when this was all over’… They never did.
A fresh start
Within 48 hours of leaving the agency, Hannah was freelancing, earning a higher rate of pay in an fantastic environment at a more prestigious agency.
Over the next few years, Hannah enjoyed a successful copywriting career. With future employers, being a mum was never a hinderance or a concern. All that mattered was Hannah’s skill and the work she produced.
During this time, she also became a single mum, leaving the house before her son woke up and returning after he’d gone to bed. It wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity to keep a roof over their heads.
Some years later, when Hannah was pregnant with her second child, she knew she didn’t want to go through that again. She wanted a more flexible way of working and began looking at going freelance from home full time.
From one lady to 60,000…
It was during her second stint of Mat Leave that Hannah realised how many talented women were sidelined by motherhood.
She knew a successful architect and a top lawyer looking for admin roles because it was all they were led to believe they could do in between school runs. She heard countless women talk about how they’d ‘lost their edge’ or that the ‘world had moved on’ while they were on the Statutory Mat Leave, let alone if they had taken an extended period of leave to care for their families.
Hannah too was struck by a lack of confidence. She didnt feel like an entrepreneur, but she had uncovered a pool of accomplished, talented and hugely frustrated women. She kept talking about Talented Ladies Club, but it was 18 months before she finally joined forces with her friend, graphic designer and illustrator Kary Fisher, and kickstarted the project. After seeing a Career Coach, within four months she had a business plan and a website. Talented Ladies Club was born.
Three years later, they’re going from strength to strength, inspiring and supporting a growing community of women nationwide and beyond to rediscover their confidence and development a career that works for them.
“My job is to inspire women. I believe in positive honesty – there is hope, there is optimism, but you need to be realistic about what you can change and how you react to what happens to you. Mums can’t compete like-for-like with people without children. Do don’t. Be creative in your approach.”
The future is flexible
They say time heals all wounds, and scars fade, but that doesn’t change the fact Hannah was shaken by her experience and angry – and to be honest, when speaking to her last week, it was clear she is still angry, which personally I have a lot of sympathy with.
But Hannah is now channeling that emotion into supporting other women in similar situations, helping them flex their careers to suit their needs.
Hannah now has an incredibly successful freelance copywriting career, working almost entirely from home. She also manages Talented Ladies Club full time, writing the blog and managing the website alongside Kary.
When I asked Hannah what her top three tips were for parent at work, she said:
- Figure out what your non-negotiables are and stick to them.
- Figure out what you are willing to compromise on. (Because if you want your career to be flexible, you need to be a bit flexible too.)
- Don’t be idealistic – this is when the world lets you down. It’s about finding the opportunities within the reality.
“Becoming a mum doesn’t mean you have to give up on your career. You just need to be more creative and clever about how you pursue your ambitions.”
Last year, Hannah and Kary put their own experience of starting a business to good use, and developed KickStart – and online course and community supporting women starting their own business or going freelance. For just £25 per month, members have access to over 100 workbooks, twelve mini courses, 1-2-1 coaching sessions and more.
You can read more about Talented Ladies Club and what it has to offer or Hannah’s story on the following links.
Time for a change – how I (like up to 54,000 UK mums) was forced out of a job – Hannah’s story in her own words.
Going freelance was the best decision I ever made – how Hannah decided to quit her secure job and go freelance, making her career work for her rather than the other way around.
17 new skills you can put on your CV after becoming a mum – be inspired and get a taste of the Talented Ladies Club blog and what they have to offer.
Why join Kickstart – exactly what it says on the tin.
If, like Hannah, you have experienced discrimination at work as a result of being a parent or parent-to-be, the following organisations may be of help:
You may also find the following campaigns of interest: