My single most challenging day at work actually occurred at home. While it’s pretty difficult for me to pick a single moment – for over the course of my fairly long career there has been many – this one still reverberates with me today and seems to resonate with many.
I was sitting at home on maternity leave and my seven-month-old baby was sleeping in his room next door. I received a call from work informing me that there was to be a restructure. To say I was blindsided would have been an understatement. While I do understand the intricacies of corporate restructures and redundancies, this seemed to be a very specific shuffle and my role was the only one impacted – my job would no longer exist.
I’d chosen to take a year off work following the birth of my son and at the time, I felt this was reasonable. I still think this is reasonable but in hindsight, it was certainly unusual within the industry and at the level in which I was working. There weren’t many women in senior level positions and none by whom I could role model by. However, we’d brought someone in to backfill my role, who had coincidentally resigned when I took the call, so I was not in the least concerned about my tenure within the business.
During the course of a number of days I took multiple phone calls and was told that while my role would no longer exist there was still a position for me within the business. I’d be reporting at a different level, I’d need to return to work immediately and 75 per cent of my role would involve travel. The conditions were simply untenable for me and so ultimately, I had to say no. To add salt to the wound, I was asked to communicate this to my team rapidly and did so via voicemail.
On the following Monday a company announcement was made that the person who had resigned as my backfill was now in this new position permanently. I felt a mix of emotions. I was angry that this had happened to me. I was embarrassed. I was ultimately devastated. I thought this was the end of my career and I was really surprised. I loved the role I was in, I enjoyed working with my team, I thought I’d done a good job and I expected to be in the role for some time to come. The restructure felt particularly targeted and the way in which I was replaced…interesting, for lack of better word.
Going back to work after maternity leave was challenging in itself. I returned with no official job (although they were working through it at the time). Eventually, I was fortunate enough to return to a different part of the business working with a manager I knew and trusted. I did deliberate on whether I’d stay or go. Ultimately, I decided to stay. I had broad relationships across the business, and I enjoyed the work. While I was disappointed by how I was treated, I didn’t want to walk away.
One of the most important lessons I learnt from this experience is that we all have choices. The business made theirs, but I could also make mine. You need to choose, and then you need to commit to it. There’s no point staying and being perpetually angry and feeling aggrieved within the business. In saying this, you do have the right to voice your feelings and having the opportunity to discuss how I was treated with those involved helped me move forward. They might not have agreed with me, but they gave me the time to listen.
Inevitably, some relationships were damaged in the course of this transition and there was tension as a result, but I also did my best to make it clear on my part that I wasn’t going to hold a grudge. In time the working relationships improved with key people and we maintained a level of respect and professionalism. The first six months of returning to work were challenging on many levels. It was a very tough year.
I think returning to work after maternity leave is difficult at the best of times and parental leave remains an issue that we, as leaders, need to do better at. My child is now a teenager, but the reason why I’m telling this today is because I am shocked by how this story still resonates and I hope that by sharing my experience it may help others who have gone through – or are going through – a similar experience.
To hear more from industry leaders championing change Verity Leadership presents the 2019 CEO Champions of Change with a great panel of local leaders who are embracing and encouraging greater diversity and inclusion. For more information visit verityhq.com.au/2019-ceo-champions-of-change/