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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