Women at work, beyond the 9 to 5: The untold realities of working mothers’ lives.
Charlotte* has two girls aged 18 months and 6 years. She was pushed out of her last workplace while she was pregnant, following a difficult IVF journey that got her there. You can read about her IVF journey in part 2 of her story.
In this part of her story, you can hear about how Charlotte got pushed out of a senior role once she told them she was pregnant.
Strong policy doesn’t make up for a bad manager
Charlotte had been at the same company for 11 years in a senior executive position.
“It’s renowned for being a company with an amazing culture and a massive focus on behaviours and doing the right thing. It is quite progressive in terms of lots of forward-thinking inclusivity policies.”
During the challenges of COVID and a transformation in the business, a new executive leader was appointed whom Charlotte reported directly into. Charlotte was thrilled at the prospect of being able to learn so much from someone with incredible international experience, and happily shared all her corporate knowledge.
“At the same time, and unbeknownst to everyone, I was hiding the very early weeks of pregnancy.”
It was an incredibly complicated pregnancy (you can read more about Charlotte’s fertility journey here) so she couldn’t share it with anyone until 21 weeks.
“I said to [my new boss], ‘I’ve got some wonderful news, I’m pregnant!’. And the first thing out of her mouth was, ‘Well when are you leaving and how long are you taking off?’. It wasn’t quite the response I was after, especially given the traumatic experience I had been through to get there.”
From there, the relationship soured rapidly. Charlotte was happy to share her point of view about transformation decisions, and said it quickly became apparent that it was an absolute no-no to voice anything in opposition to her new leader’s ideas.
“And I think the fact it was coming from ‘the pregnant chick out the back’ who was about to leave, compounded it.”
Being pushed out during pregnancy
It’s illegal to fire someone for being pregnant. But that doesn’t stop some companies from sidelining women once they announce their pregnancy. Three months before officially starting parental leave, Charlotte’s suggestion to split her role into two positions to cover her leave was implemented, and she was immediately sidelined.
“Things started to get really weird. I was taken off the leadership team mailing list. I was uninvited to our weekly catch ups and regular meetings, there was a whole leadership team off site that I was not invited to, despite being the third most senior person in the entire team. I found out about it after the day when people asked if I was sick, when I hadn’t even been invited. I was taken off key strategic projects, which I had been leading or my team had been leading. And I was given a project to keep me busy, that had really nothing to do with my job.”
Charlotte took it on the chin and worked on the random project, which ended up being important.
“Just before I was leaving there was an opportunity to present it to the group leadership team and the Board. And my leader prevented me from doing that.”
“I realised that’s what happened to me. She wanted me to leave.”
When good policies just feel like lip service
As Charlotte said, she was working for a company that had all the best practice policies in place, and a fabulous reputation for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and behaviours. But it didn’t play out that way for her.
“There was company policy around connection days, where you get paid for up to 10 days during your period of parental leave to come in and connect. Nothing was offered to me. When I mentioned it [my boss] just said, ‘yep, yep, sure I’ll be in contact’. And I walked out, just to nothing.”
When her baby was three and a half months, Charlotte went for a connection day and was told the team was going great without her and her role no longer existed, ‘so where are we going to put you?’. With 20 years’ experience, on maternity leave from an executive role, Charlotte was clear that she wasn’t going to be just ‘put’ anywhere.
“It was just very clear that she did not want me on her team. I was a complete threat to her. Realising that, I suggested I be made redundant and she was very happy to make that happen.”
But in a company that does farewells ‘properly’, Charlotte didn’t have a farewell or even receive a card from colleagues at a company she’d been with for a quarter of her life.
“I suggested I come to team Christmas party just to say goodbye to everyone. [My boss] rang me specifically to request I don’t come, saying, ‘The party is about the future and you are the past’. So I literally walked out the door after over a decade of being incredibly hard working and valued member of that team with nothing.”
When you don’t have the strength to fight
Looking back, Charlotte thinks her boss exploited the lack of cross-company communications during COVID, the massive structural change the company was going through, and Charlotte’s own vulnerability due to her high risk pregnancy.
“If I had been on my A game and not pregnant and not worried about COVID and all that… Oh, my God, I would have gone to f*cking town on this. But I was existing in this incredible state of vulnerability that was able to be exploited. It was horrible. So, I was made redundant, and that’s it.”
“I am so sad because I loved my job, and I loved that company. But the bit I’m still angry about is the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my team. No one even said, ‘thanks for all your hard work’ after all that time. It was just this weird ending. It was just nothing.”
The other piece that really angers Charlotte is seeing the company posting about things like the parental leave, positive retention data, and how inclusive they are. In her own words, she thinks,
“What a load of f*cking crap that is.”
How poor policies target women in the workforce
While she was still with the company, there were numerous discussions around the restructure and various impacts of it. At one point the Head of People and Culture announced that the company was getting rid of all part time roles.
“I just remember looking around the boardroom table asking, ‘Are we okay with this!?’ First of all, can someone please explain to me why none of these roles can be done part time. Second of all, this disproportionately impacts working mothers, because they’re the ones doing the part time roles. We’ve just spend all this time making it a flexible workplace, and now the moment the sh!t hits the fan from a dollars point of view, we do a restructure and get rid of all the part time roles. So all the women get made redundant! I just couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d gone back to the 80s or something.”
This type of company response isn’t unusual. Whenever there is economic uncertainty, casual and part time jobs are the first to go. And because 71% of part time workers in Australia are women, they are disproportionately impacted by poor job design and a lack of flexible options.
Building a culture where everyone can thrive
Shifting a culture to enable meaningful part time work, ensure women aren’t sidelined if they have a family, and where you get the full value of your diverse and experienced workforce, takes time and investment.
Find out more about how I can help here.
*Not her real name. Because of the stigma faced by working mothers, the motherhood penalty, and the fact that the state of women’s relationships directly affects the state of their lives and careers, the women in this series have chosen to remain anonymous.
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