#ParentsAtWork: Hannah Martin – the original Talented Lady

Name: Hannah Martin
Family life: Wife and mother of two
Work life: Freelance copy writer and co-founder of the Talented Ladies Club

To thousands of women, Hannah Martin is better known as @TalentedLadies.

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:

  1. Figure out what your non-negotiables are and stick to them.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

TLC Kickstart image

Further reading: 

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:

MaternityAction.org

Working Mums Advisory

You may also find the following campaigns of interest:

Pregnant and Screwed

Human Rights and Equality Comission’s #worksforme

________________________

ANY NAME OR BUSINESS MARKED WITH A * HAS BEEN CHANGED FOR PRIVACY REASONS.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE YOUR PARENTS AT WORK STORY, PLEASE CONTACT FINDING OUR FEET’S OWNER AND EDITOR AMIE CAITLIN VIA THE FINDING OUR FEET FACEBOOK PAGETWITTER OR EMAIL.
ALL INTERVIEWS ARE ANONYMOUS FOR BOTH YOU AND EMPLOYERS OR COMPANIES MENTIONED DURING THE INTERVIEW (UNLESS YOU REQUEST OTHERWISE). THE AIM OF THE GAME IS NOT TO NAME AND SHAME BUT TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE ISSUES AND TRY TO CHANGE PERCEPTION OF PARENTS AS SECOND-CLASS WORKING CITIZENS, BOTH IN THE MINDS OF EMPLOYERS AND IN THE MINDS OF PARENTS THEMSELVES.
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9 thoughts on “#ParentsAtWork: Hannah Martin – the original Talented Lady

  1. Caroline McLean says:

    Can completely relate to this story. I was put through a disciplinary because, whilst on maternity leave, i had decided to start a small sewing business making bunting for kids rooms, for extra money. My employer, a legal firm, accused me of doing so without their permission (although not a term on my contract), letting my 2nd job adversely affect my work and using the firms computers and internet to run my business during the hours i worked for them. Like Hannah, it all happened without warning, no time to prepare for it. I ended up having panic attacks and being signed off work. My husband (a police officer) and i set to work putting together “my defence”, not that i should have needed one. I also lodged a grievance complaint against the HR person who handled the investigatory meeting, citing 12 counts of bullying, harrassment and intimidation towards me whilst i was pregnant and after my return to work. The HR director took over my disciplinary and whilst she had to see it through, it was obvious that she felt i had been unfairly treated. I put up my best defence, challenged 34 pages of internet log-ons which werent mine and made the point i was not going to take this lying down. In the end i got a 2nd written warning, based only on the fact that i had used the company’s internet for personal use (not for my business) during company time. A new rule which had been introduced during my maternity leave disallowed this, but i hadnt been made aware on my return. I accepted my fate as it was purely a face-saving exercise for the firm and returned to work the following Monday. That day, i resigned from my position. I pursued the grievance and won, with 7 count of bullying, harassment and intimidation being fully or partially upheld. The HR person was demoted and subsequently left the firm. I realise i am not alone in my experiences sadly.
    And the sewing business i started? Its now 3 years old, and i’m about to go fully self employed and do it full time. They broke me for a while but it made me more determined to come back stronger.

    • amiecaitlin says:

      Wow Caroline – sounds like you were really sent through the mill! It still shocks me every time I hear one of these stories. I’m so sorry you had to go through this but thrilled to hear you managed to bring the company to some justice even if not in full and that your own business is going great guns. Congratulations!

  2. RachelSwirl says:

    Motherhood also sidelined my career (made redundant after having my first child and pushed out after having my second). I need to find a career but feel… lost?

    • Talented Ladies Club (@TalentedLadies) says:

      Really sorry to hear that. If it helps, you are far from alone! To rediscover your passion and find a career that you’ll love, I recommend making a list of all the tasks (however tiny) any of your jobs have involved, and put a a tick next to all the ones you were good at. Then put another tick by all the ones you enjoyed. Make a shortlist of the tasks with two ticks and see what kind of roles may involve these tasks. Then make a list of every activity/game you enjoyed as a child. Think about the type of activities they are (Creative? Physical? Academic?) and look for patterns. As children we are naturally drawn to activities we love, and this can tell you where your innate passions lie. Find a job that involves a similar type of activity and you’ll never feel bored at work!

      • RachelSwirl says:

        It’s all very well doing so but where I live is limited in jobs (arse end of no where ) and so right now pulling pints seems that is all there is for me. That and being the resident door mat for abuse.

      • amiecaitlin says:

        This just sucks Rachel. There’s no other word for it (that is acceptable to publish in a blog comment…). It really sucks.
        You’re a blogger though, right? Quite a few people suggested to me about kicking my blog up a notch and turning it into a business – have you considered it?

    • amiecaitlin says:

      So sorry to hear this Rachel 😞 really sad to hear so many women in this same situation whenever one of these interviews go live.
      I felt lost as well and as though I didn’t have a place somehow as it took me two years to find a new job. Working motherhood brings a whole different range of problems of course but I am pleased to be back working again.
      If you’d be interested in being interviewed, please do let me know (interviews can be entirely anonymous if preferred).

      • RachelSwirl says:

        Thanks I may be up for it one day. I’ve just come back from a bar shift where I have been informed how the staff there dislike me. The person who informed me of this mentioned that they had no idea why people take such a dislike to me and when I asked what advice they would give to me to help improve staff relations. Their advice was to leave…

        Came home to an argument and so I am now sat in the bath just wondering what exactly I do so wrong. People themselves don’t know, they just dislike me…

        It’s a horrid feeling knowing this is the situation followed by a redundancy and a push out. What am I other than a Mother ? I have no idea, probably best I stay away from being interviewed at this time as I have no words for my emotions.

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