Regaining confidence: ask the expert

After 10 years in the motor industry and having reached a senior management position, I fell pregnant. Immediately the company treated me differently and when I was on maternity leave they made my position redundant and offered me a lower position, but on the same money and grade. I split up with my partner. My manager changed and my treatment over the 3 years I went back to work was appalling. I was put under an immense amount of pressure, despite having agreed flexible hours to enable me to drop off and collect my daughter from nursery. At the end of 2007 I started to get ill and was suffering chest pains from the stress I was under and in May 2008 I was signed off sick by my doctor as he was concerned about my deteriorating health. I lodged a grievance, but they issued a scathing letter with everything they could throw at me – although in none of my appraisals for the 13 years I was with the company had any of their issues been raised. I decided not to fight and just left. My health is getting better, but my confidence is shattered and I am worried about my sickness record [108 days off]. What can I do?

I am so sorry, it sounds like you have had a terrible time, and I hope you continue to feel better.
There are several issues which come to mind that I will go through and provide suggestions for you to move forward.
Firstly, if there are any remaining negative emotions around your last employer, it is important to deal with them. Try to articulate the precise emotions you feel – anger, resentment, injustice, disloyalty, pain. You might want to get ‘closure’ and one thing you could try would be writing a letter to a particular individual or several individuals who you feel were responsible for your treatment. This letter will never get sent. However, by writing down exactly what they did and how it made you feel, going into as much detail as possible, it will greatly help you to externalize the negative feelings you may still harbour towards them or the organisation and this will help you to move forward.
Whilst I do not want to downplay what has happened, it is important that you realise that this kind of thing unfortunately happens to hundreds of women when they fall pregnant. Usually employers defend themselves so aggressively that due to stress and financial pressure, the employee doesn’t pursue her legal options. So what I mean is, try not to take it personally. It may have been worse for you as you are involved in a very male industry.
Next, put things into perspective. It is easy to catastrophise at a time like this. After a long and successful career, suddenly life has become very hard emotionally and financially. However, don’t forget all those years before you had your baby where you worked hard and progressed very well. No-one can take all that experience away from you.
In order to get help back that confidence that you clearly had before, I suggest that you write a potted history of your education and career up until you went back to work after having your baby – only being positive. Be as detailed as you can be about the choices that you made, the successful interviews you had, the positive feedback that you’ve had, the goals you set yourself and then achieved. Make yourself the heroine of this story and just remind yourself of how much you, personally, have achieved. It might be weird at first, but there are a load of impressive, true facts around your career path that you need to remind yourself of at a time like this, of just what you’re capable of. Make it a masterpiece of you in all your glory that could have been written by your best friend or parent!
Don’t let the last few years, where the behaviour of others has derailed you temporarily, taint how you perceive the whole (at least 10 years) of your career. It’s like letting one drop of black paint dye the whole white pot grey. Keep things in perspective.
Finally, the way you speak of your future career prospects, you seem to be saying “having 108 days off work makes you unemployable”. Do you really think that is true? Has everyone who has ever had a career break of 3 months never again found employment?
Even saying ‘108 days’ rather than ‘3 months’ makes it sounds worse. Challenge this assumption you have made about employers not being interested in you. There are many people who have more than 3 months off work and successfully return.
Go back to your positive potted career history. Now write down what employers look for in potential employees to make sure they get the best people. What have you got to offer?
Remember yourself on a really good day at work, when you looked smart, felt confident, and did great work. That was you, and that still is you. You are still the bright white pot of paint, you just need to remove the drop of black that is clouding your ability to see a great career future ahead.
In terms of explaining the time off in your CV or interview, I suggest you chat this through with a recruitment consultant. They should be non-judgmental and give you good advice as it is also in their interests that you find employment.
All the best.

Comments [2]

  • Anonymous says:

    It’s not nice to think of these things happening to anyone else, but it is reassuring as I was beginning to feel like I was the only one this was happening to.. I think I will take your advice and start looking in new directions I have not considered before.. many thanks for taking the time to post a comment..

  • Anonymous says:

    I have great sympathy with the lady. I too was totally victimised and demonised by managers. I left my job after 11 years, it’s taken a few really good volunteering sessions to get back the confidence I used to have. I’d say I am still a work in progress though. It’s an opportunity to change direction if you want to.

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