Jun 06 2011 at 12:53pm
As most of you probably know, I recently left my position at the University of Waterloo. I wanted to post a little bit here about how that came about and what I’m doing now.
What happened, in a nutshell, is that the University decided to transfer the technical part of my job (including all coding), from Communications to IT. There is often a battle over who “owns” the web in higher ed. The same goes on at Waterloo.
The problem for me was that the job I had was probably about 70% technical. And that’s being conservative. I was responsible for the front-end code and back-end applications that supported the University’s communications efforts.As I’ve said here before, I love walking the line between design and development. It’s why I was attracted to this career path in the first place. The job I had before was probably too technical for me. That doesn’t mean that I was okay with losing the code altogether. A position where I was unable to work on any production code wasn’t something I was interested in. So I decided to move on.
Maternity leave in Ontario
Although I didn’t find out about it until much later, this change was made while I was on maternity leave. You may assume, as I did, that the organization has to keep your job for you while you’re on leave. This isn’t technically true. They are allowed to restructure in the normal course of business (sounds reasonable). If this is the case, they have to offer you a comparable position.
What “comparable” means is up for interpretation. It’s clear that the pay has to be the same, but what about the work? There’s nothing to say that it has to be comparable in nature, or in quality, quantity, or difficulty.
A lot can change when you’re gone for a year. The employer has probably forgotten about you, in the same way that you’ve probably forgotten about them. When you’re on leave, you’re not there to influence any changes they might be considering. Heck, you probably won’t even know it’s happening.
I’ve heard other stories of negative job changes that have happened to women on maternity leave. I know someone who was asked to re-apply for her own job when she returned (the employer wanted to keep her replacement). In another situation I can recall, the replacement was kept on and became the woman’s supervisor. I have a friend who is currently on leave from a job where she works on commission. Her employer is now raising prices to the point where she’s concerned that her clients won’t come back.
There’s often an underlying suspicion that the woman might decide not to come back. Lots of people do that. You might hear comments around the office along these lines. “Is she coming back”? or “Oh, you’re covering a mat leave? Well, maybe she won’t come back.” Your replacement might be hoping that you don’t come back so she can keep the job. Like the case of my acquaintance mentioned above, the company might want to keep the replacement.
I would love to hear from other women who have experienced similar problems after returning from maternity leave. It’s a difficult thing to deal with, especially when it didn’t occur to you that this could happen. It’s that same old problem of balancing work and family. It’s wonderful to be able to take a year to spend with your newborn. Is it worth risking your career for? I think most mothers would say it is, with varying degrees of certainty. That still doesn’t make it an easy choice.
It was a rough six months, but now that I’m finished at UW I can actually think about what I really want to do. I love to work at the intersection of design and development. I enjoy the complete process of designing and building a website, with all the quirky users and browsers and search engines to deal with.
Right now I’m doing some freelancing. I might continue down this path indefinitely. It has been our long-term plan to work on our own, and hopefully to become geographically independent. I also might consider full-time positions as they come up. I have the luxury of looking for the right job, rather than the one that happens to be there at the right time
Comments on this post are moderated. If you have a story about losing your job after returning from maternity leave, please comment!