With the increase in remote working proving that it’s possible to do your job on flexible hours without constant supervision, will now be the time that employers finally wake up and stop using loopholes in the system to legally dismiss pregnant employees? Probably not. But here’s why treating new mothers as a corporate burden is not only cruel, it’s also a mistake that could be detrimental to the success of your business.
When I discovered I was pregnant, I informed my employer before the recommended 12 weeks. I wanted to give them as much time as possible to put together a plan for my return to work that was manageable for everyone. I didn’t want to leave them in the shit, just as I didn’t want them to leave me in the shit.
I told them immediately that I would be unable to return full-time since I have no family here to help me, and also because the whole point of having a child is that someone has to raise it, something I was looking forward to.
I was reassured repeatedly throughout my pregnancy that returning on reduced hours was something they would accommodate and that, no matter how things panned out, they would implement a plan that we were both comfortable with. When I asked for this in writing, however, they were not forthcoming – something that made me highly anxious when I went off on my maternity leave.
Then, sure enough, 10 months after I had told them I was pregnant and a mere 6 weeks before I was due to return to work after maternity leave, they changed their minds. Instead, I was offered a choice: Return to work full-time or you don’t have a job.
Since they refused to give me anything in writing before I left, this last-minute change of plan is perfectly legal in Malta. I know because I went in person to the government offices to check. An employer is under no legal obligation to finalise a return-to-work plan for pregnant employees or justify a refusal of flexible hours. If they choose not to put anything in writing, they can then decide in what capacity you will be returning whenever and however they want.
When I last checked, sadly, there was nothing in place legally allowing pregnant employees to use physical force to get something in writing from their employer, so as it stands, if what they decide isn’t possible for you, tough shit.
The Ultimate Ultimatum
So, with little warning, I was expected to put my 6-month-old baby into care for 40 hours a week or be unemployed. Despite being reassured throughout my pregnancy to the contrary, there was no reason given as to why reduced hours were no longer an option, no discussion with myself or my colleagues about it, no “Let’s try out a few options and see what’s manageable for everyone”, no attempt to help out this scared, insecure new mother who had worked so hard for the company leading up to this point.
I really had no choice but to resign. Even if I could figure out a way to return full-time, I absolutely did not want to invest my abilities in a company who thought that putting pregnant employees and new mothers in such a cruel position was acceptable.
You see, before we become a parent, our careers are the centre of our world, it’s where we spend all of our time, it’s what drives us to wake up in the morning, it’s what consumes most of our thoughts. In my case, I worked my ass off in the years (and literal days) leading up to the birth of my child. I worked extra hours, I took on extra responsibilities without extra pay, I committed myself fully to the success of the company, I even stupidly worked from my hospital bed after I miscarried my first pregnancy, something I hugely regret now, looking back.
So, to then just be discarded like a broken printer, put on the trash pile purely because I wanted to contribute to the continuation of the species was utterly, utterly heart-breaking. As a new mother, your confidence takes a big hit as it is. You feel rough, you look like shit, you worry about your baby, how good of a mother you will be, or if your partner will ever want to have sex with you again, your identity takes a pounding, your armpit hair gets really out of control, all of this. So, when your employer then makes it clear that they don’t want you around, that as a mother you are of no use to them anymore even though you know you are capable, it’s a real kick in the ovaries.
So, What Now?
There I was, a new parent with no job, no independent income, stressing about the consequences of what just happened when I should have been focusing on my newborn. Who was going to employ me now? Will I even find a part time job in my field or will I forever be financially reliant on my partner? Should I hide the fact that I have a baby in interviews in case they think I will be some sort of liability? What have I done that’s so wrong?
As if by a miracle, a few weeks after I resigned from my job, a friend of mine received a text from a client saying, “I know this is a long shot, but I don’t suppose you know of a content marketer who can work 20 hours per week?” Funnily enough, he did.
I met up with Francesca who explained that she was launching a start-up on her own and was looking to hire someone to help her with content and branding. She also told me she was pregnant.
I couldn’t believe it, after everything that had happened, I felt like crying from the sheer relief. I didn’t have to hide anything, in fact, she was openly asking me about my pregnancy and my baby. She told me that my son would always come first, so that if I ever needed to take him to an appointment, or he was ill or anything, that I needn’t worry. We’d get the work done, if that meant me sometimes working a bit in the evening to make up for time missed during the day, no big deal.
NO BIG DEAL.
Here’s What Happened Next
To all those employers coming out in hives at the very thought of this, worried about the damage pregnant employees will do to your business when the baby comes along, let me tell you what happened next.
Francesca gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, just as mine was growing into a demanding toddler and the world was going to shit due to a global pandemic. Together, from home, through lockdowns and quarantines, we launched not one, but two online businesses in less than a year.
I have genuinely never been so productive in my entire life – and I’m working half the hours. You see, for most people it’s impossible to work non-stop for 8 or 9 hours per day, we’re just not programmed to function effectively that way. What happens instead is that we mess around in the morning making coffee and talking about last night’s internet, faff around mid-morning reading the news, fiddle around in the afternoon making more coffee – all between attending hours of unnecessary meetings. According to this study, the average employee is actually only physically productive for around 3 hours per day.
Working from home, I have no colleagues to distract me, and you’ll be amazed how much having a child makes work seem like a spa break in comparison to parenting. So, when I work for 20 hours a week, I WORK for 20 hours a week, and I relish every minute, almost as much I relish picking my son up from day-care at 2pm because I’ve missed his chubby little face. Working as a mother is a whole new, wonderful ball game and one that I cannot believe all employers don’t want to be part of.
I can guarantee you that a mother working part time from home will produce the same amount of work as a young, fresh, childless employee working full time in an office, if not more. That impossible deadline you’re crying about? An absolute piece of piss compared to the to-do list of a parent on 4 hours of sleep. We are so hardcore we will make your best staff look like quivering, amateur wrecks.
I want every little girl — every child, really — out there to know this is what a venture-backed CEO negotiating for tens of million of dollars looks like. pic.twitter.com/fRCJOIHmMA— Kristen Anderson (@CatchKristen) March 11, 2021
Take It Personally
For all the smug corporate heroes reading this thinking “It’s business, don’t take it personally”, I am DONE hearing that. You need to put down your cigar and stop using this outdated cliché as an excuse to treat human beings like commodities, because you know what else is business? Being a competitive employer. Actually putting your company values into practice instead of using them as a fake-ass vanity project. Being a pioneer. Understanding that globalisation combined with the recent rise in flexible-working means you no longer choose your employees, we choose you – and the best employees will always choose to work for someone who values a healthy work-life balance, one who believes that time spent with your children is not time wasted.
Empathy is business nowadays, and you can blame lefty snowflakes all you want, but it’s the new reality whether you like it or not. Just look at your LinkedIn newsfeed if you don’t believe me.
Light the Beacons!
Being constructively dismissed from that company turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, but I was lucky. Not everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career and be a present parent, some still have to choose one or the other and endure the crushing guilt that comes with both of those decisions.
I hope that this remote working revolution brings vindication to all the mothers out there who’ve had their fires extinguished, whose talents have gone to waste purely because they refused to endure a lengthy commute to needlessly sit at a desk away from their children for hours on end. This is our time, and I can’t wait to see their faces when they realise what they threw away.
If you’ve found it difficult to continue with your current employer since becoming a mother, but you’ve got an idea for a kick-ass business, we recommend getting in touch with Social Hub Entrepreneurs [SHE], a supportive and valuable community for female entrepreneurs in Malta. You’ve never been more equipped to do great things!
If you do have a flexible employer and the time has come to return to work, check out our helpful article from Claudia Ginex, Chief People Officer at Gaming Innovation Group: Returning to Work After Maternity Leave – How to Get It Right.
You got this, mama!