I was marginalized after maternity leave

Women in the workplace are often discriminated after maternity leave, despite high productivity – how can professionals and managers mitigate the bad attitudes towards colleagues returning from parental leave?  

What happened?

I had returned from maternity leave after having a little boy.  Unlike the first two, who were girls, this child had meningitis at 4 weeks. This maternity leave was different.

I was paid on commission, and was always a top producer. My boss was an expert in my field, and although he knew the business well, he ruled by intimidation and with acute favoritism. This was over twenty years ago, and the environment allowed him to be comfortable making jokes about BB rated bonds such as, ” I dated a girl like that once”, to which many laughed and I endured.

He gave better deals to the men that joined, and often tried to take clients and reassign them to his male hires, but the clients balked and he would then back down.

When I returned from this particular maternity leave, my production was down (I had taken the full 13 weeks off rather than 9 and 8 like the other two). However, I shared my personal problem with very few colleagues.

I was in a meeting with a large group of people when my boss made the comment about me, “Well, she is not the largest producer and if this continues, then we have to look at keeping her”. I stood up and walked out.

The remainder of the year, I kept my head down, and had the best year ever. This was in spite of extra help being given to colleagues over me.

How did you respond?

At the end of that year, I went to speak with senior management and shared this story, and they asked why I had not gone to them a year prior.

I said that if I did when my production was down, then I would be viewed as a malcontent and he would have been able to put additional pressure on me. By coming to them in my best year, I had more credibility and I wanted them to be aware of his management style.

This is the same manager that knew that my husband’s business had suffered and that I had 3 children under 5 years of age.

I needed to earn a living.

He told me on a Friday night, ” It must be tough to be the  bread winner”, and I said, ” I know one thing, and that is that I can sell. I know that no matter where I go, I will earn a living. So, don’t worry about me, if I am not happy, I will leave and find a place where I can be successful. Excuse me, but it is late and it is Friday night and I need to go home.” It was my way of ensuring that he did not in any way think that he could intimidate or control me.

What are your takeaways in hindsight?

I earned respect and encouragement from his managers, and although they did not micro manage, he was aware that they respected me and therefore I was able to navigate the organization in spite of his style. Several years later, after taking on all of the tasks that others did not want because of the risk/reward profile, I was eventually promoted to his position.

Watercolor by Charlotte Goff http://www.charlottediane.com

One comment

  1. In the United States, employees have multiple legal rights against workplace discrimination. However, anti-discrimination laws are different in each state and have a wide range of implications. For instance, each U.S. state has a specific statute of limitations (a deadline) before which anti-discrimination charges must be filed.

    In order to support discrimination victims, betterbrave.org has built an interactive map that highlights state-based descriptions of anti-discrimination laws along with their implications. Their free tool can be accessed at this link: https://www.betterbrave.org/statute. It draws a parallel between federal and state laws, while also responding common questions that victims may have (e.g. “What can I do if my statute has passed?”).

    BetterBrave combats sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace by empowering targets and allies with resources and tools.


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