Just because I’m now a mum, am I really worth $90,000 less?

Alice Almeida has been working with data for 12 years. She took time off to have a baby, and now has recruiters offering her entry-level jobs for $90,000 less than her previous role, and repeated comments suggesting she's slowing down her career to focus on her baby. Here, she reveals the grim reality of women trying to return to work in adland, and offers some solutions to the current state of play.

In May last year, I stepped away from my leadership position at News Corp as I prepared to become a mother for the first time.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, I really struggled mentally with this. I had been desperate to become a mum (many rounds of IVF), but the thought of stepping away from a career for which I had worked my backside off, was proving really tough to get my head around.

But those thoughts were pushed aside when my baby was born in July last year. During her first eight months, I kept myself up to date with what was happening in the industry as I couldn’t disconnect from it no matter how hard I tried.

‘Rather than assuming I’m looking for handouts or demotions, perhaps ask what I’d like’

I recently changed my LinkedIn to ‘open for discussion’ around any potential jobs out there, and was immediately contacted by a handful of recruiters saying they had looked at my profile and thought they had the perfect role for me. I asked them to send through JD’s or to give me a call.

During the first call I received, I had to ask the recruiter whether he had looked at my profile. He was seeking an ‘Entry-Level Data Assistant’. I have been working with data for 12 years now. His response? “I thought you’d be looking at taking a step back given you’ve had a baby”.

The second call I had was from another recruiter, again telling me that he had the best role for me. It was senior, it was data, it was exciting! And then I told him I was currently on maternity leave looking to return in the next few months and then he said “Oh, this might not be right for you after all as there is a lot of travel involved”. I asked why he thought that would be an issue. His response was “I didn’t think you’d want to travel as you’d miss your baby”. I replied “I am sure there are plenty of fathers out there that travel and miss their children, how is that different?”.

The silence was telling.

The third call was yet another “perfect-fit role” – a fintech company was seeking a digital strategist. I immediately got concerned as the level seemed a little low, so I asked for the JD. Again, this role was ‘entry level’. They were looking for someone with two years’ experience in strategy. I appeared to be 13 years over-qualified, and the salary was $90,000 less than I earned in my last role prior to maternity leave. When the recruiter rang to see if I liked the job, I informed him of my expectations. I was then told that I should adjust my expectations as “A lot has changed in digital in the past 12 months”. Not much makes me speechless, but I was so disheartened that I had nothing to say.

I couldn’t believe that this is what I was being dealt. After 17 years in the industry, I had left at the top of my game. I was continuously being asked to write opinion pieces on the industry, been interviewed for several publications, had been a guest speaker at conferences, and been MC at events.

A baby and eight months later, and I was expected to be appreciative that junior roles were even being made available for me. I was being made to feel like I was lucky to be offered these roles at all, that I should be grateful for anything that may come my way. After all, I was a mother now which evidently told the world that I no longer cared about my career.

Besides being disheartened, I was angry and frustrated that this could happen to a senior woman in this industry, so I did what many people do these days, and vented on LinkedIn (post below).

The viral LinkedIn post (click to enlarge)

The post has gone viral which is scary, yet sadly comforting. Women from all over the world – Belarus. Canada, New York, China, Ireland, New Zealand, and mostly Australia – all shared their own experiences with me. The common theme was that most had given up trying to get a job back in the industry and had decided to either try something new or start their own business. I also had a few incredible men reach out; friends, ex-colleagues and complete strangers all giving me support, strength and understanding. There were a few who shared ways they were working with mothers returning to work after having a baby and policies their companies had in place to make this the best for both sides. This was great to read, but sadly it didn’t outweigh the negatives.

There is still a lot of work to be done.

The discussion around why there aren’t more women in leadership positions is constantly coming up, but the question nobody is asking is how are we supposed to get those leadership roles if we can’t return to roles that are worthy of our level, after having kids?

Since the post went viral, I have had a few people ask how this could have been done better. I am certainly no expert in this field but what I would like to see is:

  • A change in mentality out there. I love my career and stepping away to have a baby doesn’t mean that I don’t care about it anymore.
  • Rather than assuming I’m looking for handouts or demotions, perhaps ask what I’d like. Similarly, let me determine what I’m willing to take on, and how I’m going to juggle the competing demands of a family and a workplace. You wouldn’t presume to tell a working dad what role would be best for him and his child, so extend me the same courtesy.
  • Start a conversation. Ask how you can make senior roles work for working mothers rather than the underlying assumption that working mothers have little to contribute. 9 to 5 employment in an office might be a necessity for some, but many companies are starting to acknowledge the benefits of allowing employees to work flexibly.
  • Appreciate that a woman who has carried a child, given birth, and played a not insignificant part in raising that child has gained skills and demonstrated character traits that make her more employable and more valuable to an organisation rather than somehow less so. (Any mother who has the patience to read Good Night Moon seven days a week, five times a day, definitely has the patience to handle a hostile executive committee).

I understand that there are women out there who like to step it back a bit once having a baby, and that’s their choice. But my desire is to jump back into the industry that I love and am strangely passionate about.

Thankfully, this experience has opened up some great conversations and encouraged a number of people to reach out in support. I have been inundated with offers from organisations who see me as exactly the same person I was prior to having a baby, and who are enthusiastic about finding out just how much this working mum has to offer.

Alice Almeida is a senior researcher, digital strategist and marketer who has held roles including head of digital strategy and innovation at News Corp, and manager of innovation and insights at Hitwise. She can be reached on LinkedIn here. 


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