I went back to work after mat leave for an hour

Yep, that’s right. When my twins turned two, I returned to work in my old marketing role at a big global corporate after two years of maternity leave. I lasted an hour.

Not long after I walked through those shiny revolving doors my new manager, accompanied by the HR manager, called me into a meeting and offered me a payout or a bigger role. 

It was a development that wasn’t entirely unexpected. My company at the time ‘didn’t do’ part time for mothers. You could come back in a part time capacity for three months after which you had to go full time or leave. That was the policy and everyone knew it. Kind of like daring mums to choose where their priorities lay. So I figured I’d do my three months and pray for a miracle they’d bend the rules for me.

But during this moronic meeting I couldn’t help but think: ‘JESUS!!! You didn’t think to call me last week with this news?’ I’d been up since the crack of dawn feeding and dressing the twins, putting on makeup, a suit and high heels, doing childcare drop off, and speeding into town while making it look like I hadn’t broken a sweat.

In fact, it had been a project weeks in the making with childcare trials, working out pick ups and drop offs with my husband, buying clothes that fit my new shape, freezing meals, bracing myself mentally and pushing aside the guilt. Why wait for me to come in? My manager was a dad of young kids himself, so he couldn’t have been completely oblivious to the domestic battles I’d already fought that morning. WTF!

I took the package. It was six figures and my husband was doing cartwheels. The other option was a bigger job with big hours and lots of travel. It wasn’t realistic and I didn’t have enough passion for it to make it work. For starters, I only had three days of childcare locked in. So I went home, hung up my suit and contemplated my next move.

This is why I’m all for setting quotas for women on boards. While, of course, in a perfect world everyone would advance through the ranks based purely on merit, the reality is so far from this. In the case of my employer at the time, a huge male-dominated company in the financial services sector, flexible options for mums were placed in the too-hard basket. The powers-that-be were prepared to let good talent leave – full of irreplaceable experience, skills and insights specific to their environment – rather than do the hard yards in figuring how to retain their value.

As a result it becomes slim pickings at the top. In my view, a top-down directive would force a serious bottom-up approach with genuine workable solutions to help mums stay.

Ultimately it worked out well for me. I’ve learned I’m too bossy for a boss anyway! Once I let go of my old corporate life as I knew it – sure, the payout helped – new doors opened in the right direction. Think twice before you squash yourself back into that less-than-satisfactory role with the only upside (apart from the paycheque) being the chance to drink your tea while it’s hot and enjoy private visits to toilet. It could be your opportunity to take a leap of faith and wind up doing something you love more.

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