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This is what happens when you’re a contractor in banking and you have a baby

Maternity leave banking

I’m a senior contractor with a long history of working in banking. I have ten years’ solid experience in my field and have worked across top tier banks. I am also a woman and a mother. I took a year of maternity leave and now I am back on the market.  And I am finding it almost impossible to find a new role.

Before you say that this is just how it is for experienced contractors in banking now, I’d like to say that it’s not. It’s because I’m a woman and I have had a baby., I know this because the day I put my CV out there I received four calls from agents. The next day I received three more. They were all interested until I mentioned I’d been on maternity leave.

This is how a typical conversation went:

Agent: “Hi, I’ve seen your profile and I think you’d be a great fit for a role I’m working on.”

Me: “Great, tell me more”

Agent: Goes on to tell me more about the role and to gauge my interest. There’s a short discussion on my rate expectation and they ask for a full CV.

Me: “I’ll send that across to you shortly.”

Agent: “So, how soon can you leave your current contract?”

Me: “I’m available now – I’m just finishing up on maternity leave.”

Agent: “Oh, you’re on maternity leave…”

We’d finish on the phone and in most cases, the promised right to represent email would never come through. When it did, there would be complications like the rate suddenly being much lower than expected, or an obscure requirement cropping up. The first time it happened, I thought nothing of it, but the more it happened, the more I started wondering. Was it because I’d been on maternity leave?

Personally, I think it was. On one occasion, for example, I was called three consecutive times early in the morning for a role a recruiter insisted I was a “perfect match” for. When I mentioned that I’d been on maternity leave, he said “Oh right,” and then, “Unfortunately this is a full time position.”…I told him that was great as I wasn’t looking for a part time role. Nothing else came of it.

I’m not the only one. I know of other female contractors who’ve had similar experiences. One suggested it’s best to use personal contacts when you come back from mat leave because recruiters are so unhelpful. Another advised emailing recruiters and saying, “Are you considering candidate who have been or are on maternity leave”. Even if nothing comes of the role, maybe it will force the recruiter to question their prejudices and to see the candidate, not the maternity leave.

In truth, I don’t think the problem is just the maternity (although this is certainly a lot of it) – it’s also the leave. I’ve also been told that because I’ve been “off” for a year, I should consider myself lucky to have any job at all.

There are plenty of laws to protect women, but they only apply to full time employees. When you’re a contractor in banking, it’s still the Wild West.

So I want to set the record straight.  Women who have children don’t all want to work part time hours, or have special treatment. We won’t come to work with baby sick in our hair. Most of us who have taken time out, through choice or necessity, develop a set of skills that are priceless in a traditional workplace. Time management, crisis management, staying calm under pressure. You take the wins when you get them and make the best of everything else.

And when the time is right, a real desire to get back to the world of work means that parents, especially in my experience women, who have been on maternity leave, want to return to work and prove that they are as good or even better at their jobs than ever before. Give us chance. If not, you’re losing out.

Susan Montag is the pseudonym of a contractor who is looking for a job with a bank in London. 

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Comments (6)

  1. It would be interesting to see some statistics on how long it takes women returning to contracting after maternity leave to return to work compared to other (male and female) contractors. The contracting market is really tough at the moment, especially where one has gaps in employment, and I’ve experienced a lot of what this contractor mentions (promised follow up calls and emails not materialising, roles which I’ve been told I’m perfect for, etc.). I’ve never been on maternity leave, but I wonder how much it really is a factor in this market – I’m sure in some cases it is, but I’m sure there are also banks where having been on maternity leave counts in the contractor’s favour. Would be interesting to see the evidence.

    One thing I’d mention – laws to protect employees, both male and female, don’t apply to any contractors, either male or female.

  2. No, this phenomenon isn’t something circumstantial attributed to Brexit…it’s always been like this, unfortunately. The same thing happened with me 6 years back when I started to look back after maternity break of 9 months. I even said to a recruiter, “I haven’t given my brain to the child. it’s still intact and I’m as much qualified.” Exasperated and unwilling to downgrade my worthiness, I started my own company but now due to financial situations shut it down and looking again to get a foot into the door. But it’s the same thing. Moreoever, the opportunities for returnships, an alternate entry way, are very scarce. For anything other than returnships, we tend get pushed back esp when so many are laid off more recently and actively looking for work.

  3. This is what happens when you’re a contractor in banking and you have a baby

    I want to leave a comment for the above topic.

    I am a certified career coach and may I suggest that you apply directly to financial institutions, and also make use of linkedin – I am a contractor also for over 15 years in Banking – I bypass the Agency and go direct. You are welcome to contact me eddympapet@gmail.com


  4. The market for contractors has been bad for some years now, going back to just after the crisis, although Brexit has made things worse (there are still some pockets of opportunity, but in general the market is bad at the moment). I’m sure there are some cases where contractors coming back after maternity leave counts against the candidate, and some where it counts in the returning contractors favour. But I’ve had a lot of the experiences mentioned in the article as a contractor who isn’t returning from maternity leave. As one other commenter said, there are a lot of people who’ve been laid off more recently and are looking for work, and generally a gap, for any reason, is looked upon unfavourably. It would, as I mentioned, be interesting to see some evidence on how long it takes males v females, and females returning from maternity leave v females looking for a new contract for other reasons to find a new contract. I’m aware of contracts in the current market where there have been over 100 applications, so it isn’t always the case that returning from maternity leave is the reason for not getting a role, and there may be cases where it is thought that returning from maternity leave was the reason for not getting an interview or position when there was another reason, and conversely cases where returning from maternity leave was the reason for not getting an interview or position when it was thought to be some other reason.

  5. Hi,

    I’d have to say this as more to do with the gap on your CV (especially as a contractor) than to the fact of it being maternity or being a woman (albeit you might have a minor number of recruiters reject you based on this). As others have also said the contract market is fierce.

  6. I went through something similar. I’ve finally figured out I never tell anyone verbally I am on leave until I am at the interview and only if asked. I do always put correct employment dates on applications. I leave current role end date open-ended (no end date at all).

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