Surviving redundancy on maternity leave
Living in an exhausted, hormonal, loved-up baby-bubble, the absolute last thing I was expecting was to be made redundant.
I was on maternity leave from my employer of 15 years, about to turn 40, and massively sleep-deprived. Losing my job came as an immense shock at a time when I was already feeling vulnerable, with my self-confidence at an all-time low.
I passionately loved the brand I’d been pouring my heart and soul into for the past 15 years, and had grown hugely fond of many colleagues. I’ve always been a high achiever and work is incredibly important to me. Put simply, my job was a big deal not a hobby.
Shock turned into disbelief, hurt, confusion, then anger, and finally grief. I don’t need to tell you how tough it is for professional working women to find part-time skilled work; work with a salary that actually reflects your workload, effort and experience AND offers the flexibility you need for managing childcare and family life. So I found the prospect of suddenly being unemployed for the first time in 20 years – while also being a mum – pretty damn terrifying. I just didn’t know how I was going to cope with redundancy on maternity leave.
There’s a misconception that it’s illegal to make women redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave. It’s absolutely not. Maternity discrimination is unfortunately widespread in the UK. An Equality and Human Rights Commission report way back in 2015 estimated that 54,000 women a year lose their jobs as a result of having a baby.
And when a company acts illegally and the redundancy isn’t even lawful, they are almost never held to account. Few women on maternity pay can afford to spend £20,000+ taking their employer to a tribunal, even if they have the mental and emotional resilience to deal with the stress. And so it goes on.
But I’m here to tell you that there IS life after redundancy…even if it happens while you’re busy keeping a young baby alive. I’m living proof that a dramatic plot twist doesn’t mean the story’s over.
I suffer from anxiety and always thought this would preclude working as a freelancer. I didn’t have the confidence to take the plunge until my hand was forced. It took the redundancy and then a fateful call from a former colleague with the offer of work, to kick-start this brave new freelance life.
I now feel happier, more fulfilled, and more in control of my life than ever before, but it didn’t happen overnight. Rebuilding my self-confidence was an iterative process, and it took time to gradually change my perspective and reassess everything.
Find your (new) purpose
If you’re made redundant on maternity leave, my number-one piece of advice would be to let the panic subside, then pause and take a step back. Start by completely re-evaluating everything. Think about:
- What you’re good at
- What you love doing
- What people need (and are willing to pay for)
Then find the sweet spot between the three.
This may sound like common sense, but it’s easy to become stifled and blinkered in a corporate role, drowning so deep in bureaucracy and politics that you lose sight of what you’re awesome at.
Suss out a shortlist of potential role ideas and start getting out there. Be brave, be flexible, grow, learn, meet new people, go to events, stretch out of your comfort zone, and be open to new opportunities. Say yes to things.
It’s never too late to re-frame your skills and find a new purpose – it’s never too late to re-brand. Be flexible. Once your perspective shifts, you’ll be able to see fresh potential in everything.
Job-hunting can be a full-time job in itself, and a particular challenge when you’re busy bringing up a baby. So start slowly and don’t put pressure on yourself. Give yourself time. Begin by blocking out just 30 minutes a day for job and career admin. Shoehorn the time in.
Create a support network. Find people in the same boat. Social media can provide an invaluable way to connect with others in the same position, share experiences, and make contacts locally. Consider a career coach if you need more rigorous guidance and an invested sponsor.
Look for workshops in your area covering confidence building, interview skills and returning to work – some of these are free of charge. There’s also a growing number of schemes and initiatives helping #womenreturners to find placements, and organisations selling valuable upskilling courses – like Tech Pixies and Digital Mums.
Keep the faith
You never know what’s around the corner. This change was exactly what I needed – it just took time to see it. With hindsight, I’d been unfulfilled, undervalued, frustrated and unhappy in my permanent role, but I’d felt trapped by circumstance, salary and motherhood. I’m now invigorated and energised, growing and learning, making a tangible difference to my clients and finding work so much more rewarding.
Grab life by the cojones. Most of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we face adversity. So just be brave and take that leap.
Jaime Cox is a freelance copywriter and editor. She launched her business Compelling Copy UK after being made redundant on maternity leave with her third child. Compelling Copy helps female founders and freelancers to attract and engage their ideal clients with SEO-savvy website content, blogs, social media and emails. As well as a Journalism degree, Jaime has over 20 years’ experience in print and digital media, across internal and external comms.