Thursday, May 13, 2010

Back to work

The day after Hannah turned 11 weeks my paid leave was used up and I returned to work. I expected changes and challenges but wasn't quite ready for what greeted me. I had been moved out of my own office and my computer placed at a desk in an open plan area, just in front of the new boss' office. I had my back to him and was facing a blank wall and a bookcase blocked my view of everyone else - except the male casual employee encased in a large glass office to my right. I had no phone or power point to recharge my phone or netbook.

And that was before my boss told me he was thinking of changing my job title to something that to me sounded a lot less responsible and professional than the one I had had previously.

I was in total shock. I had just wanted to go back to work and get on with doing my job – in fact I’d been looking forward to the intellectual stimulation and getting back into the swing of things. I knew there would be some changes but it was hard not to perceive what I found as anything but an attempt to intimidate and undermine me; it was completely insulting and unprofessional.

I now, however, must accept that this wasn't a personal attack on me as a mother returning to work but a reflection on the general upheaval in the organisation. A call for voluntary redundancies had gone out and by lunchtime on my first day back every single person in my new department (aside from my boss and another colleague on long-term leave) had applied. Did I even have a job to come back to?

One thing that had been organised properly was a lockable room for me to express my breast milk. I had sent my boss a polite but direct email about 3 weeks prior to returning to work explaining that I would need a private hygienic room to express.. It was also possible that my jokes about expressing in front of the CEO’s office if suitable accommodation was not provided had reached him. This was too much for the middle-aged men in the office to deal with and I got the room.

My colleagues have provided me with a lot of support. I heard a lot of stories from older women who didn't have any paid maternity leave and who had had to express their breast milk in the toilets because there were no facilities. (I refuse to hide in the toilet; after all adults wouldn’t prepare their meals in the toilet -why should I prepare Hannah’s meals there?). I think they all quite like the fact that I'd been very upfront in asserting my rights in regards to the breast feeding issue.

With regards to my workstation, I finally got an office thanks to intervention from several other managers and my workplace rep. I had a full and frank discussion with the new boss about my expectations of being treated as a professional and with respect. I asked him directly if the organisation wanted to get rid of me and, if so, I would appreciate if they had the decency to say this to my face. “Oh no, no, no, no," he claimed.

I even managed to negotiate working a day from week at home and a new job title that was at least on par with the one I had previously.

I’m trying to relax and keep an open mind and see what the next few weeks bring. But I so understand why so many mothers give up and drop out of the workforce or end up working at a job far beneath their ability. It’s hard enough to only see your child for a couple of hours each work day; this kind of ‘welcome’ back to work makes it almost impossible.

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