Guest post: "Let's share our stories, and show how systemic maternity discrimination is"
Joeli Brearley on why she's set up a space where mothers can share their tales of workplace discrimination
Pregnant Then Screwed
Posted on: Fri 27-Mar-15 13:10:19
(55 comments )
In 2011 I was made redundant and decided to take the terrifying leap from the safe embrace of PAYE to become, like 1.5 million other women in the UK, self-employed. I had some niche skills and good experience in a rapidly expanding new industry, so it seemed like the perfect time to give it a go. Things went better than I could have hoped; I took on some really exciting clients and was designing and initiating my own projects, which was something I loved doing. Then, in the Spring of 2013, I discovered I was pregnant.
I knew that having a baby would mean I lost some of my momentum with my freelance work, and of course I anticipated some financial belt-tightening, but I planned everything meticulously to ensure that my clients and projects would be well looked after in my absence.
I was four months pregnant when I announced news of my pregnancy to my main client. I had designed, developed and secured the funding for a huge project we were working on together and we were about seven months into the process. I had mapped out the rest of the project for them to ensure there wouldn't be any problems. I had a fantastic replacement ready to step into my shoes as soon as my maternity leave started and was confident that the remainder of the project would be executed exactly according to plan.
Without any further communication, I was sacked.
My contract was rescinded immediately and I was told to hand over all of the resources. I was devastated. I had poured my heart into that project, and suddenly I found myself four months pregnant with a huge hole in my income. How was I going to pick up any more contracts before I had the baby? Nobody would employ a visibly pregnant woman. I contacted a solicitor but was told that as it was a matter involving contract law, not employment law, and that winning a court case against my now former client would be extremely unlikely. The doctor told me not to get stressed.
I was four months pregnant when I announced the news to my main client. I had a fantastic replacement ready to step into my shoes, and I planned everything meticulously. Without any further communication, I was sacked.
My experience isn't an isolated incident. 50,000 women a year lose their jobs because of maternity discrimination. That figure doesn't account for women who are demoted, suffer harassment, aren't put forward for promotion or lose contracts if they are self-employed. The problem is systemic and it is systematically being ignored. Since the Conservative Party introduced new fees for employees to use the Tribunal system, there has been a 70% decrease in Employment Tribunals: many discrimination cases are very hard to prove, so when you have more to lose financially, you are far less likely to take the risk. This is especially true if you are pregnant or have just had a baby - you're in a very vulnerable position, and need to do everything in your power to provide for your family.
As the law stands, from the point at which you have been subjected to any kind of workplace discrimination you usually have three months to take a case to Tribunal. For maternity discrimination, those three months usually come at a time when you are exhausted, lacking in confidence and knee-deep in baby poo. Making your lunch every day can feel like climbing Mount Everest; masterminding an Employment Tribunal would feel nigh-on impossible.
The problem is twofold: the law does not protect pregnant women or new mothers effectively; and too many employers believe that once a woman becomes pregnant she loses her drive, her ambition and/or her mind. Such discrimination can cause us to withdraw and many don't return to their previous careers - some by choice, others because their confidence has been shattered.
So what can be done? I believe that a major factor in any societal change is enabling people to recognise that they are not alone. I want to tell women: this isn't just ‘something that happened to you’, or ‘bad luck’, this is systemic, and illegal, and you did nothing wrong. I decided to set up Pregnant Then Screwed - a new project designed to expose these problems and injustices, by sharing the real stories of real women who have suffered this type of discrimination - so that women can see that this kind of injustice is happening every day.
The site has been going for a couple of weeks now, and it's incredible to see how the women who've shared their stories have dealt with their painful experiences, at times when they are at their most vulnerable. Despite their terrible treatment, in many cases, these new mothers dust themselves off, pick themselves up and achieve just as much as before - if not more. If you've got a story to tell, I'd really appreciate you sharing it with us. I hope that together, our voice will be much stronger, and we can make a case for recognition, respect and change.
By Joeli Brearley
While I was on ML the company I was working for restructured and all posts were to be considered for redundancy, except mine. They first asked for volunteers, I tried to volunteer but was told that I couldn't due to the fact I was on ML and had 'enhanced rights'. Not enough volunteers came forward so everybody had to interview to keep their job or not, except me, I was the only safe post solely due to ML. I really wanted to be made redundant because if I got a redundancy payment I could have been a sahm for a couple of years, without it I would have had to go back to work.
So, somebody who wanted to keep their job, lost it, and I got to keep a job I didn't want.
I know mine is probably an unusual story though.
Oh dear, where do I start?
On maternity leave, I did my best to stay in touch with my company. I logged in periodically to check through my emails, I pushed to do KIT days and attended the meeting I was requested to. But then, having made all the necessary childcare arrangements (awkward with a BFing 4 month old and no family nearby) and made my way into the office, I found that said meeting was cancelled and no-one had thought to inform me.
There was a company wide cost of living increase to salaries just after I went on maternity leave. I've had to push to receive the same, and I still don't know whether I have or not as I've not received a letter of confirmation (despite requesting one three times) and so far I haven't received a proper payslip either.
When I returned to work, instead of being in the same team, I found myself in a different team. At least I'm still doing a similar job. However, the guy I was working with, who is my equal in age, experience and joined the company after me, is now my senior and line manager. I wasn't even made aware there was a senior position available.
And lastly, just for the icing on the cake, my first month back after maternity leave my company forgot to pay me. I got a pay slip, with a 0 salary. Nice.
Hello Little Miss Viper,
So sorry to hear that happened to you. Would you be okay for me to post your story on the Pregnantthenscrewed.com site? The more stories we have the more we can expose the problem
I was made redundant on maternity leave. Before I left one of my bosses (a woman) told me she didn't think women with under 5s should work.
I was on a short term contract so I didn't have a strong enough case to get compensation. (I threatened them with a tribunal and got 1 months pay in lieu of notice)
They had the opportunity to source funding to continue my role after my leave- the person who covered my leave was supposed to do this but the management just didn't bother.
So I'm in no doubt it was unlawful discrimination.
I ended up out of work for years. The effect on my family's life has been catastrophic (homelessness etc)
In my opinion it should be criminalised.
I was made redundant on return from maternity leave. It had been agreed that I would come back3 days a week but on my return I was told that job was no longer available. I was told I could apply for another job in the department which was full time but I could try and do it in 4 days a week.
I was gutted but decided to apply On my second day back I was sent to a small room and was given a case study from which I had to prepare answers and give a presentation to other colleagues.
Unfortunately I had a panic attack instead as my colleagues came into the room (my first one). Telling someone about it later was enough to bring on a second panic attack.
My baby was only 7 months old and in the end I decided just to accept the redundancy as I couldn't face the thought of a tribunal. I wish now that I had pursued it, but instead I signed a compromise agreement so couldn't even talk about it.
My FTC was coming to an end when I was 4 months pregnant with my first child. Instead of renewing it for another 6 mths as per usual, they decided they no longer needed the post. Convenient timing for them. I wasn't actually showing and have no doubt that if I'd left them in the dark about my pregnancy they were considering offering me a perm role. I chose to be honest, and yes I got screwed.
There are some awful stories on here, however I would like to present the flip side.
Two weeks ago I told my employer I was pregnant, a week before their annual promotions and salary meeting. I had been nervous about doing things in this order as, though I was working at a level above my grade, this new information could jeopardise any decisions made.
Following that meeting I was promoted and received a 13percent pay rise.
I work in a professional industry where promotion is about the level you operate at rather than a specific change in job role per se. My new level is second only to director, so is significant in a firm of around 50.
I should add that I have also been promoted above some of my peers. Had they wanted to, it would have been very easy to justify not promoting me for reasons other than impending maternity. My promotion has also been acknowledged by colleagues as well deserved, so is certainly not some kind of token gesture.
It also comes with increased holiday allowance and pension contributions, all of which I will continue to accrue during mat leave.
Whilst we rightly need to recognise poor employers and appalling practice, we should simultaneously celebrate those who do It well if only to highlight how possible this is and encourage it.
Apologies if this comes across boasts to previous posters who have unfortunately been mistreated. It is in no way intended to be. Hopefully others can learn from my employer and others like them. They are out there.
There was a restructure at my organisation whilst I was on maternity leave. There were several of us in the same role. As it was on maternity leave, I was 'job matched'to another role at the same grade whilst my colleagues had the opportunity to apply for a range of positions and all gained promotions. I wasn't allowed to apply for any of the other vacancies and 2 years on my ex colleagues now earn nearly 10k more than me.
Lastnight I have a similar story to tell. I'm on my 2nd ML and my employer has been incredibly supportive. It no doubt helps it is a big firm and a law firm too but they have continued with the usual pay rises during both leaves and are paying for my childcare costs whilst I attend a course they've asked if I will go on. All around very impressive and shows how much work some of these other employers have to do to understand how parents on leave should be supported.
I think it works both ways. As someone on ML I do feel detached from work and haven't been kept up to date particularly. Thete will be changes to my team- not my post- when I go back but I can't expect it to stand still and to be involved in all the decisions. It is my choice not to be there. I do feel irritated by it but am trying to keep it in perspective.
From the othet side, when I have been at work and in a senior leadership role, I find the way some pregnant women behave quite awful. I work in a school and we have staff who have a baby every two years. It has an awful impact on the classes they teach who are repeatedly disrupted across the 5+ years they are with us.
We have pregnant women who ask for what they feel are 'reasonable adjustments' - like not doing break duties which means another member of staff has to do two in a week. One said she felt sick until 10.30am so could we be flexible about her working day and let her come in at Break. She was upset when we said no because there are no children to teach after the end of the day. She thought she could use that time to mark her books and prepare for the next day. Who did she think was going to teach her classes until Break.
They want to be off a year but keep their classes and tutor groups who then are chopping and changing.
They ask to return to a part- time job and are annoyed when we say no because we need a full time German teacher, not 3 days and two afternoons. Who are we going to find to teach German for two mornings in a week when it is hard to find anyone who wants to teach it at all.
They want to use their KIT days but only want to do 10 mornings but HR tell us we have to pay them for full days. Why should we?
Then there are the ones who are off repeatedly because their child is ill and get upset if they are not paid.
Some of us work hard throughout our pregnancies and afterwards. We are let down by those who expect all kinds of allowances to be made for them- their attitudes are why many employers think pregnant women are flakey employees.
This one was one of the most annoying. We had a head of a core dept who had three maternity leaves in 51/2 years and was hardly with us. She left - huge sighs of relief as we were able to appoint someone we thought would be really great and be there. We interviewed her in the April. When she started in the September she announced she was almost 5 months pregnant - and it was very evident. She went on ML before Christmas, was off until the next Christmas and pregnant again by the next September. She is now off on ML again. The department has not had a stable leader for 7 years now. We can't appoint anyone other than someone from inside temporarily.
Is it any wonder men get the big promotions?
Ignoring last two posts...
I wasn't discriminated against exactly I don't think, but I suffered with hyperemesis and was signed off work for a month. In and out of hospital, couldn't keep water down, the works. Despite my contract saying I should be paid in full for the first three weeks or so, they only paid me statutory sick pay. My boss had not told me this would happen and another senior woman had told me I would be paid so when I got my payslip it was a massive shock. I don't work for fucking pin money, excuse my French, so some warning might have been useful. I raised it with HR but was told pretty much tough. I didn't have the energy to fight it even though it left me a bit financially up the creek. I left shortly afterwards even though it meant forfeiting my maternity pay rights.
Except now with shared parental leave, the father could possibly take off longer than the mother. Although in reality, due to the fact that men tend to earn more (unfairly), they probably won't.
I could argue the toss about your fucking discriminatory posts but i CBA with dickheads tonight.
As another person mentioned above, I wasn't allowed to take redundancy on my last Mat Leave due to having 'enhanced rights'. Would have loved too though. Private company.
I have worked widely through the NHS, and encountered a lot of women being reorganised during maternity leave to less responsible posts/demotions in practice if not on paper. It's a disgrace.
My employers responded to me officially notifying them I was pregnant with a notice of upcoming redundancy, timed to fall right at the start of my requested mat leave. I contested it, and they then spent months refusing to give me an answer on whether I had a job to return to or not. It didn't get resolved until I was 34 weeks pregnant and an absolute emotional wreck with the stress of it all.
Their reasoning was that if they kept me on, they'd have to pay me their employee maternity benefits, and that wasn't included in the money they'd allocated for my salary as part of a project I worked on so they didn't see why they should have to.
'they want to be off for a year'
'they have the legal right to take a year's leave'
'we can't appoint someone except from inside temporarily'
'we have been able to offer a promotion contract of a decent length to another member of staff who has gained a lot of useful experience'
'there are no children to teach at the end of the day'
'we offered her a deal whereby she went part-time from 10.00 to 4 offering an after-school activity, and have taken on a GT candidate/NQT/HLTA who takes the morning class'
i can see it's not easy but at the same time, having babies is life - you'd be out of a job if none of us had any
Lulu - what?! So they should only have one baby? Or space their babies out...? Is that genuinely what you think? It's up to senior management to organise good cover, not for women to stop having babies to avoid disruption to other people's children! I was signed off with hyperemesis, I worked fucking hard during pregnancy but I was very ill and needed time off just as anyone sick is entitled to, pregnant or not. And of course employers should try to accommodate flexible and pt working, for everyone. You employ humans, not robots, and deserve work/life balance.
Also, I was excused break duty after being unable to intervene in a fight at five months pregnant. If you think I'm going to put myself in between rugby playing 16 year olds with my baby bump you are sorely mistaken. My employers have a duty of care to keep their staff safe. What a vile post.
This is exactly why people can not speak up about how pregnancy can affect employment, employers and employees. there are a group of women who immediately become aggressive and can not listen to anything that might challenge their view.
I have already said lots of pregnant women work incredibly hard, and that I am on ML and not finding it easy. I have every sympathy for women who are ill during pregnancy or men who are ill. But businesses, whatever they are, don't exist for the benefit of employees. They provide some kind of service. schools exist to provide the best education for children in the safest environment- for children and employees. I don't believe maternity rights should be at the cost of the quality of children's education, their safeguarding or at the expense of the working conditions of other staff.
We did offer her a part- time post and she was very offended. She wanted a full time post , paid full time but only working part time. That is my point. a school should not be financially out of pocket to meet the requests of any member of staff, not just those who are pregnant. That money is taken from provision for children. A GCSE class should not have to be taught by HLTAs before Break rather than by a specialist teacher just because someone requests they start late. Just because you think it is reasonable, does not mean your employer has to find it so.
Nor should another member of staff have to work extra duties.We always offer pregnant staff duties in less busy spots whete there is more than one member of staff. Many just say they don't want to do duties as they feel their bumps are vulnetable as children move around corridors. That means other staff do extra duties. Ever member of staff in our school already does duties, including the Head and support staff.
I am not going to be bullied by people on here who swear and are aggressive, into not saying what I think is true. Some posters are just not willing to listen.
RigglinJigglin Similarly, I CBA with dickheads tonight who are just aggressive and offensive rather than willing to actually discuss why employers might have a view that pregnant women are a risk they don't want to take. You are exactly why.
You did speak up. So did we.
As I said, I do see that it's not easy, and I have been in a management role. I work in a very stretched team and we've got a lot of maternity leaves just coming up. To be honest, training budgets are so tight and there's such a bottleneck preventing promotion that maternity leaves are one of the major ways to gather experience allowing you to finally get a good promotion. In most public services the staff are the asset, that's all you have with which to provide the service. Of course that doesn't mean that every request by every staff member is going to be agreed, but she isn't a crap employee just because she asked. Nor is she a PITA because she's pregnant, don't tell me she wasn't a PITA beforehand too.
Thank goodness shared parental leave and people needing to work longer until retirement should eventually mean less discrimination. I hope that ways will be found to make jobs like teaching genuinely doable until much later in life, in ways that I don't see how they are at the moment. Because working for 20 years post-menopause should give us all plenty of staff who aren't having babies every two years, to make the job of managing teams easier. And if all those staff have left, perhaps we have to look at why.
Lulujakey1. You are wrong.
Companies and public sector organisations alike can no longer claim that they have no part or purpose in benefitting their employees. The Equality Act 2010 places a legal duty on all public sector employers to play their part in making society fairer by tackling discrimination and providing equality of opportunity for all.
Schools are also not unique in providing a service. Many employers in both the public and private sector provide services to vulnerable and non-vulnerable customers, clients, consumers or service users including children. Good employers manage to find flexible solutions and ensure high quality service continuity at the same time.
But I gave up being a school governor precisely because of an inflexible attitude to (amongst other things) part-time working arrangements for mothers returning from maternity leave.
My assessment was that the education providers in schools are simply not trying hard enough with their workforce planning arrangements to meet their obligations and be inventive and flexible to benefit their employees and so provide equality of opportunity and a happy fulfilled workforce.
Lulu, i've come back on to say that I haven't overall changed my opinions but I was being more bolshy than I meant to be and I am reading your posts again to take them in better.
Although not made redundant on maternity leave, I was threatened with it on my return. I ended up leaving and taking a job elsewhere-sort of wish I had stayed and fought.
I would love to share my story, but unfortunately I am midway through very stressful legal proceedings so I can't.
I do want to be counted though. I have been treated terribly and if I wasn't financially comfortable I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it.
In support of Lulu we have all met the militant mat leavers who abuse every right and see no problem at all in doing a job they used to do 5 days a week (with overtime) in 2 days, and no they are not always a PITA beforehand either. Problem is there behaviour buggers it up for the rest of us. As our company has grown bigger they are able to be much more flexible and offer a range of part time roles but I don't know how smaller companies cope.
The redundancy on mat leave, missing out on pay awards or being 'restructured' is abhorrent behaviour by any employer.
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