MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 24-Feb-16 10:53:00

Guest post: "I wasn't just a stay-at-home mother, I was also unemployed"

Amie Caitlin, who spent two years looking for work after being made redundant, says many employers still need to change their perceptions of working mothers.

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Amie Caitlin

Finding Our Feet

Posted on: Wed 24-Feb-16 10:53:00

(25 comments )

Lead photo

"I wanted to work to provide financially and be a role model."

After being made redundant just days before my maternity leave began, it took me two years to find my way back into the world of work.

During that time, I eventually stopped calling myself a stay-at-home mum. I had, until then, shied away from the word 'unemployed', ashamed of its connotations. But in reality, that's exactly what I was.

Sadly, I am not alone in my experiences. In 2005, the Equal Opportunities Commission estimated that 30,000 women lost their jobs each year as a result of being pregnant. In 2015, that figure had risen to 54,000. The Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination suggests the recession gave companies a smoke screen to hide behind to 'trim the fat' - that fat being pregnant women and women returning from maternity leave.

It took me six months to realise the life of a stay-at-home mum wasn't for me. An experienced brand manager, I started advising for a start-up on their marketing strategy. I fitted the work into nap times and evenings, dabbling on my phone while my daughter gurgled on a blanket. The work kept me sane while listening to 'Sleeping Bunnies' on loop and I felt useful beyond motherhood. But I was paid in equity, which doesn't pay the bills.

By my daughter's first birthday I was itching to return to the workplace.

I threw myself into the job hunt. I trawled job listings and reached out to industry contacts while my daughter napped. After bedtime, I completed applications, wrote covering letters and prepped for interviews by preparing presentations, reading up on competitors and the wider industry. Looking for a job took up every spare childless moment I had. Housework ceased, I never cooked dinner and I felt I was failing as a mother - plonking my daughter in front of Cbeebies while I took a call from a recruiter or tried to get an application out on time.

Employers need to recognise that parents are not second-class working citizens. Yes, our children are in the back of our minds and there will be times we need to stay home caring for them when they are unwell. But our children also make us driven and make us want to be the best we can be.


Getting interviews wasn't a problem, but getting a job offer seemed impossible. I was told I had too little industry experience, or that someone else had more experience, or that I had too much experience. I was told I 'wouldn't be satisfied by the role,' or that the company had 'gone with the safer candidate'.

Eighteen months into what I was still - at that point - calling my 'extended maternity leave', I realised it wasn't just my experience or 'taking time out to look after my daughter' holding me back. It was potential employers' perceptions of me as a mother.

They didn't see me as the bright professional I once was. I was 'just a mum'. They saw a woman with other priorities, other commitments and other drains on her resources. This became clear when one interviewer asked me outright if I had plans for more children, and another asked if my priorities had changed since having a baby. Friends said I should confront interviewers on these illegal questions, but I worried that would look like I was dodging questions.

The pressures my partner felt as the sole breadwinner increased as the second year pushed on. Our relationship felt increasingly strained. We were exhausted, stressed, short-tempered, worried about money and sleep deprived. Meanwhile my self-esteem was waning with each round of rejection.

Eventually, we put our daughter, now 18 months old, in nursery a few days a week (my grandmother kindly helped us with the fees), meaning I had more than 40 minute intervals to work in. This also made attending interviews easier and took away the panic of finding ad hoc childcare, often at short notice.

It was around this time that I took ownership of the word 'unemployed'. It signaled intent and a desire for a sense of self beyond being 'Mummy'. For me, calling myself unemployed was the first step towards becoming a working mum.

This January, I was offered not one but two jobs. The relief was so utterly overwhelming I cried when the recruiter told me.

I'm saddened and appalled by how many women have similar stories of their own. Many employers still need to recognise that parents are not second-class working citizens. Yes, our children are in the back of our minds and there will be times we need to stay home caring for them when they are unwell. But our children also make us driven and make us want to be the best we can be. I, for example, wanted to work to provide financially and be a role model for my daughter.

Flexible working policies are improving nationwide and shared parental leave is a step in the right direction. However, reports in October 2015 suggested only 2% of British businesses had had requests for shared leave. Free courses to help parents get back up to scratch in their industry could help, or 'returnships' - short paid placements like those currently offered by the banking sector. But this isn't enough. Until perceptions change and every workplace considers parents equal employees, parents - and mothers in particular - risk hitting a glass ceiling.

By Amie Caitlin

Twitter: @findingourfeet

misscph1973 Wed 24-Feb-16 13:54:08

Oh, that was just so beautiful! Thank you! I also really needed to go back to work after a year at home, I am not cut out for staying at home.

But I did eventually leave my job as a teacher (in another country). Although the hours were too long, in the end it was the poor management that was the last straw. I now work from home as a translator, and although it's not the reason I chose this, it does help that I can set my own hours to fit school hours. And I love not commuting!

It's shocking that you got jo offers when you changed the description from "stay at home mum" to "unemployed", although it makes sense, in a way.

HeadDreamer Wed 24-Feb-16 17:09:52

I can completely relate to your point about employers using recession as an excuse to get rid of pregnant mothers and in my experience, mothers of young children. I was also sadly mad redundant when my DD1 was 2yo and so were many of my colleagues in similar situation. We all believe that we are the fat because they think we'll be going on maternity again soon.

I'm shocked at the discrimination you faced when you described yourself as a SAHM, when you only have had just over a year off. But I'm not surprised. By using the label, they are assuming you are the type of person who don't care about your career.

I'm glad you've found your feet again in the world of work. All the best in your new job.

KittyKatty123 Wed 24-Feb-16 18:06:22

I am totally with you on this. After 10 years at home raising children and then becoming a single parent I went back to university and got myself a masters degree that I hoped would help me back into the workplace. But nobody wanted to know. After 2 years and over 500 job applications I finally took a minimum wage catering job and 2 years later I'm still in it. God knows what I'm going to do when I'm no longer eligible for child benefit and child maintenance to pay the bills and mortgage!

bibbitybobbityyhat Wed 24-Feb-16 19:02:04

Congratulations on your two new jobs.

lou732 Wed 24-Feb-16 19:58:08

Sadly I can also relate to this. I am about to return from maternity leave and have been offered a less senior role than the one I left. They've told me there are no vacancies at my previous level but have a man in my old role who was hired while I was on maternity leave angry

Labracadabra Wed 24-Feb-16 20:13:59

How did they know you had a child? I was also made redundant 4 months into my maternity leave (nothing to do with me or my pregnancy, the whole site was closed and all 3000 employees were made redundant) so I completely empathise with your situation and the stress of job hunting when you're meant to be enjoying time with your baby but I had about 6 big job interviews (some were second stage interviews) before I found a great role, and it never, ever came up that I had a child? Did you mention it or did they bring it up?

makingmiracles Wed 24-Feb-16 20:37:54

Labra- I was always told to explain career gaps in my cv as raising family..? What else would you put on your cv for gaps when you have not been in employment?

jellyjiggles Wed 24-Feb-16 21:07:00

Yes yes yes! I've been made redundant twice since I became a mother. First time round was on maternity leave and after 2 years of interviews but no offers I returned to education and retrained in an alternative career.

I now find myself 9 months into job hunting and once again the same process. I've had lots of interviews but no job offers for all the reasons you mention.

Getting back into work is extremely difficult when in reality the challenges of being a sahm and the huge learning curve of parenthood have increased my skills and make me more employable. Sadly employers are so closed in their judgement of my situation and ability I have a huge hill to climb.

amiecaitlin Wed 24-Feb-16 21:12:00

Hello, thank you for your kind words. Calling myself 'unemployed' rather than a SAHM was more for my personal mindset rather than how I referred to myself on my CV or with employers. But things did seem to change around that time.

amiecaitlin Wed 24-Feb-16 21:14:27

Wow, I am so sorry to hear you've had a tough time too KittyKatty. Have you considered any courses like Digital Mums or something? And do you know the sites like 2to3days.com and things? Good luck with your job hunt and I really hope things come good for you too in the end.

amiecaitlin Wed 24-Feb-16 21:24:44

Labra - as Makingmiracles said, I was told to explain career gaps. Initially, that was fine as it wasn't long, but by the time I'd been job hunting 18 months, I felt that no explanation on my CV just seemed odd and recruiters / employers would be wondering what I'd done with my time.

In that vein, I also had my blog listed on my CV and the small businesses I had helped with marketings strategy (one parenting app and one childrenswear brand) during this time unemployed. I'm a parent blogger, so the fact I have a child is rather out there for everyone to see - a risk I had never considered when I started blogging during my pregnancy when I was in full time employment.

Jellyjiggles - I'm so sorry to hear this. I've lost count of how many women I've heard from with similar stories since I first wrote about this issue on my blog at the end of 2015. Hopefully the more of us who speak up, the less this will be an issue for our children' generation. Have you heard of organisations like MaternityAction.org? Might be worth taking a look at.

Basketofchocolate Wed 24-Feb-16 21:27:28

I'm not unemployed as I do the same job as a childminder who does breakfast and school pick ups so I have that part-time job looking after my son. However, I am most definitely underemployed.

I too used to work in places where you have to describe all gaps in your career so it's not possible not to hide that you are a parent. I think parents have a bad reputation among those who are not parents, although the reality is often quite different.

Mercedes519 Thu 25-Feb-16 09:29:26

I know the solution isn't to penalise working mothers but I see the other side of the equation. I have a team of mostly women and at any time I have one or two out on maternity. I live the model of working parent - I work flexibly, take the time for my kids but still put 100% into my job - but I have to confess my heart sinks when someone tells me they are expecting.

For me it means - finding someone to cover the role, who is willing to work 6/9/12 months - often I don't know how long. A whole round of recruitment, interviews and then settling someone into a new role and team. Extra support while they get up to speed. Then extra work for me when that person returns to work, often wanting to work part-time so it falls to me to make the adjustments across the whole team to make that work.

I do it, it's worth it because I do agree that working parents - especially mothers - are committed, loyal and work really really hard BUT we have to acknowledge the extra work that's involved. It puts pressure on us to be worth it...

Husbanddoestheironing Thu 25-Feb-16 09:56:05

This perception is one of the problems though Mercedes, isn't it? Out of my around 40 colleagues in the last 5 years there has been 1 male in his 50s off for 3 months with a hip replacement, one in his 40s that got knocked of his bike and broke his leg badly and was off for 8 weeks, one young male off for 6 months with mental health issues and an older woman who was off for 3 months after an urgent op and another with no kids off for a year with a serious autoimmune disorder. Most of these were not foreseeable for 6 months in advance in the way that maternity leave is, making planning difficult. so really the problem is just 'people' isn't it. And actually as a part-time worker (with children) I was happy to temporarily increase my hours a bit to help out during some of these periods. Funny old world.

colliepirate Thu 25-Feb-16 10:30:54

I'm in a very similar situation wine

Mercedes519 Thu 25-Feb-16 10:40:02

Absolutely husband and I don't know what the solution is. I'm lucky to work for an organisation where flexibility is encouraged with really good flexible working and m/paternity policies but I know it isn't like that everywhere.

How do we change that perception that working mothers aren't worth the time and trouble?

LaPharisienne Thu 25-Feb-16 12:22:39

Lou732 your employer has to provide your old job, or a "similar" job if it isn't possible to give you your old job. www.gov.uk/employee-rights-when-on-leave

Not sure why it isn't possible for you to have your old job if it still exists and a less senior job doesn't seem "similar" to me...

Sculler Thu 25-Feb-16 15:17:11

Lou72 I experienced your situation back in the 99s and successfully sued my employer for sexual discrimination and injury to feelings. Do consider challenging what is a violation of your rights.

Littlepanda2012 Thu 25-Feb-16 15:28:32

LOU732 - pretty certain they can't do that, I'd definitely check where you stand, ring ACAS as they can provide you with additional free advice - I've used them twice, once when my old company tried to restructure my job and when I decided to leave at the end of my maternity. I also know of three people who successfully sued their previous employers for similar reasons. All of which have been in the last five years.....

butterfly23 Thu 25-Feb-16 18:57:26

Can sympathise. Trying to go back to work after an absence of 5 years. My options seem to be: return to teaching (stressful), which provides a 'proper' income or try and find something less stressful, which unfortunately doesn't pay as much. In addition to finding hours that fit around school hours. Finding a job is a job in itself!

butterfly23 Thu 25-Feb-16 19:00:04

Can sympathise. Trying to go back to work after an absence of 5 years. My options seem to be: return to teaching (stressful), which provides a 'proper' income or try and find something less stressful, which unfortunately doesn't pay as much. In addition to finding hours that fit around school hours. Finding a job is a job in itself!

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Thu 25-Feb-16 21:11:10

Lou, some basic info here from Citizens Advice. Yourbureau should have a list of employment lawyers, some of whom work on a 'no win no fee' basis. Yours is potentially a case of discrimination.

Oly5 Thu 25-Feb-16 22:18:39

Lou, what they are doing is illegal, especially if there is somebody working in your old role. Call maternity action

Husbanddoestheironing Fri 26-Feb-16 19:29:00

mercedes I think it will only work when men take up their new option of longish leave to look after babies too, because then there will always be the risk of anyone taking leave. I also welcome the idea that anyone can request to work flexibly. If more people without children work part-time then it becomes more 'normal'.

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