Bye bye baby: Mums dumped from jobs while on maternity leave
LOSING a job can be the most deflating and stressful experience an adult can go through, but when sales manager Jen picked up her redundancy notice with one hand while cradling her infant with the other, she wasn't at all shocked.
She had seen it happen many times before.
Women at the global company she worked for would frequently climb the corporate chain before reaching an apparently secure point in their careers, take some time out of the workforce to have a child, and never be welcomed back.
It was, of course, all a coincidence. It wasn't like managers would just blatantly sack new mums.
Maternity leave periods would coincide with a company restructure and raft of redundancies. It just seemed like the jobs held by those preparing to return to work always made the list of those that had to go.
While unsurprised to be told her position had been made redundant when she was on maternity leave with her child, Jen fought back.
She argued she was entitled to return to a similar role, but when she came in for a return-to-work interview at the end of the maternity leave, she was asked challenging questions that only an insider in the company over the past 12 months would be able to answer. She felt bullied out of the job, and didn't end up returning to the company.
WOMEN PUT OFF EVER WORKING AGAIN
Unfortunately, Jen's experience and those of her former colleagues are all too common, as a survey of Australian women seeking flexible work has revealed.
Job site FlexCareers has launched a new survey to determine how many women are actually being screwed over by their workplace when they have a baby, and the initial results are shocking.
More than 35,000 people have been invited to participate in the survey, and of the 400 who have already responded, more than half have reported being bullied or discriminated against due to pregnancy or in some cases surrogacy or adoption.
About 35 per cent of women reported hearing absolutely nothing from their employers during their maternity leave, 60 per cent said taking parental leave had negatively affected their careers, and 64 per cent of those who had been discriminated against said it had put them off returning to the workforce.
One respondent, Laura, said she had lost her job within hours of giving birth.
A few hours after delivering her child, she said, Laura got a call from her boss saying her department was being restructured and her role made redundant.
The distressed new mother had only left the office the week before, and said her boss didn't even think to ask if she had had the baby yet before blurting out the bad news.
When she told him she was in hospital, Laura said her boss said it had been a really hard day for him, having to tell people about the restructure.
BOSS 'LIVID' AFTER BEING TOLD WOMAN WAS PREGNANT
News.com.au has spoken to a number of women who lost their jobs while on maternity leave, and who believe that taking leave combined with a desire to return to a part-time position factored into the decision.
Brisbane woman Lucy found out she was pregnant only days into a contract with a human resources consultancy, and remembers the look on her manager's face when she told him the news.
"His face just dropped. He was livid," she said.
"Three or four days later, he told me, 'Unfortunately we're restructuring and your role is redundant.' Which it wasn't. It was really quite busy and after I left I was quickly replaced with a man who carried on the same job I had been in."
Chartered accountant Kate said, like a number of other women who responded to the survey, she had a great deal of trouble getting in touch with her managers while on maternity leave at the ASX100 company she worked for.
After meetings were cancelled, rescheduled and babysitters organised to accommodate the switching times, Kate was told in a phone conference her role was being made redundant.
When she referred to her parental leave contract, which said if her role was not available at her time of returning to work that every effort would be used to find a similar role, she received "an incredibly hostile response".
"They asked: 'Why are you being so difficult? Do you think you deserve special treatment?" she said.
"They said there were roles available, they were all full-time, I'd have to apply for them and I'd have to take a pay cut. I thought about it and took the redundancy."
'WORK FLEXIBILITY IS A LOT OF LIP SERVICE'
Like many others, Kate said the company she worked for had all the right policies in place.
Managers would stand up at the annual general meeting report on their key performance indicators which included flexible work standards and the numbers of females in senior positions.
But when it came down to it, the decisions were all around cost-cutting and women on maternity leave were low hanging fruit.
When it came to balancing pressure on managers to deliver what shareholders want versus a warm, fuzzy culture of a supportive family environment, several women said they felt managers were taking the easy way out by ignoring their commitments to supporting families.
"I feel like the support for women returning to work and work flexibility is a lot of lip service, but when you're actually in the situation, even at the big companies that have all the right policies, it doesn't work like that," Kate said.
FlexCareers CEO Natalie Goldman said it was up to bosses to stand up and help crush the barriers to re-entry for women returning to work.
"While there may be laws in place against this type of discrimination, they are not being enforced and things need to change," she said.
"CEOs and leaders need to stand up and abide by the law and not allow this to happen. They need to ensure that they enforce the law through their policies and practices, and ensure that this flows down to their leaders and managers throughout their organisation. They need to call it out when it happens and not stand for it."
Ms Goldman said in order for a change to happen, the problem needed to be measured, and that was why Flex had launched the survey to measure just how widespread discrimination was.
"By providing hard evidence, data, statistics and real stories, it will work towards changing what is happening to many women every day, with long-term effects on the careers, earning capacity, confidence, their families and more."