by Abby Bayford @Abby­_Bayford
In March 2022, my life changed in the most wonderful way. After years of infertility, I had a successful round of IVF and found out I was pregnant. I had yearned for this for many years and my mind became preoccupied with thoughts about the wonderful surprises ahead.

The surprise I hadn't considered, however, was the financial penalty imposed on pregnant women who wish to progress their career.

My career is important to me. It is part of who I am, and it often got me through the dark days of infertility. I always wanted to be a teacher and have had many wonderful opportunities since joining the profession 15 years ago. I was at a stage where I wanted to consider what was next for me in my career but I put it on the back burner when I found out I was pregnant. The idea of taking on a new role and becoming a mother seemed incompatible.

Then in June I saw my dream role advertised: an Executive Director of the Greenwood Academies Trust Institute of Teaching (GAT).

I felt excited and gutted at the same time.

I wanted both: to be a mother and to have my dream job, which should be entirely attainable for every woman. But it felt impossible.

I talked it through with family and friends but felt like I was hitting a dead end. I was advised to focus on my pregnancy and not go through any big changes because having a baby would be enough! Of course, my baby would be my priority, and I also wanted to apply for the job. I wished the role had been advertised a year later because I felt if I did apply and was successful, I'd be letting my new employer down by leaving to go on maternity. I couldn't imagine how it would work because I had no direct experience of seeing women move into new roles and then go on maternity in the first year. I also thought that even if I applied, I probably wouldn't be successful as soon as I declared my pregnancy. I've heard horror stories about women who have not been appointed because they were at 'childbearing age' so the fact I was pregnant felt like a massive disadvantage.

Despite all my concerns, I couldn't shake the excitement for the role and, after much hesitation, applied.

I also convinced myself my application wouldn't progress once they found out I was pregnant, but I felt better for applying.

Later that week I had lunch with a friend who works in HR and told her. She was delighted for me, but I was crushed when she informed me that if I changed employer whilst pregnant, I wouldn't be entitled to statutory maternity pay. The best I could hope for was a maternity allowance. I wouldn't say statutory maternity pay is generous, but the maternity allowance is almost impossible to survive on!

I started to do the maths and wondered if we could make it work but couldn't help feeling angry as this role felt perfect for me.

I didn't want to choose between being able to afford to care for my baby and the dream job. I decided I was not prepared to suffer this financial penalty, but I wasn't prepared to give up.

I wrote to Greenwood Academies Trust and made them aware I was pregnant. I told them this did not change my enthusiasm for the role and asked about their maternity policy and any financial implications if I was successful.

I had to trust there would be no maternity bias applied to my application.

Over to Wayne…

Wayne Norrie, CEO of Greenwood Academies Trust @WayneNorrie

Greenwood Academies Trust (GAT) is a family of 37 special, primary and secondary schools based in the East Midlands and East of England. To provide the best experiences for our 18,000 children and young people we need to improve tour support for professional development. To help achieve this goal we decided to create the GAT Institute of Teaching. I knew the Institute needed exceptional leadership so I launched our advertisement campaign and crossed my fingers that there would be somebody out there with the talent, skills, and desire to be our first Executive Director.

When Abby contacted me to find out more about the role, she shared with me the exciting news about her pregnancy and asked what the financial implication for her would be if she was successful and appointed to GAT during her pregnancy.

I must admit, to my shame, I didn't know. Nobody had ever asked me that question before, so I had to find out the answer…

I immediately reviewed our maternity guidance and discovered that there was a significant financial disadvantage to colleagues who joined us whilst pregnant. This did not seem fair to me. I discussed our maternity guidance with an employment solicitor. He advised me there was no legal reason why we couldn't waive the requirement for a new colleague to be employed by us for a set period of time in order to receive occupational maternity benefits. Once I found this out there was no stopping me!

I initially spoke to the Chair and Vice-Chair of our Trust Board who agreed with me that we should change this discriminatory policy to ensure colleagues who join us whilst pregnant are not penalised. I am pleased, but not surprised, to say the entire Trust Board agreed, unanimously, to an immediate change of policy across the Trust.

When it came to the shortlisting process, I didn't declare to the panel that one of the candidates was 18 weeks pregnant; it was irrelevant. When Abby was shortlisted, I agreed with her I would tell the selection panels on the morning of the interviews that she was pregnant (as it would be pretty obvious when she entered the room!)

I am delighted Abby was successfully appointed as our new Executive Director (against an incredibly strong field) and takes up her new post with us in September.

I am also delighted that we have changed our maternity guidance moving forward which now ensures that any new colleague is not financially penalised for joining GAT whilst pregnant.

I am looking forward to seeing the impact of Abby's leadership across the Trust, having seen her outstanding leadership of the ATT Institute, as we continue to provide the best experiences across GAT for every child, in every setting, every day.

Back to Abby

The steps GAT took to ensure I wouldn't be financially penalised now means I can start my new role in September and afford to take the time I need to look after my little girl when she's here (yes, it's a girl!). I'm also delighted that changes to their maternity policy mean any woman who is pregnant and wishes to pursue a career at GAT will not be financially penalised.

When I announced my promotion on Twitter, I was sad to receive messages from women who had been discriminated against because they were pregnant. I heard stories such as a woman who'd had an offer of employment retracted when she told her new employer she was pregnant, a woman who didn't apply for her dream job because she couldn't afford to take the financial hit and a woman who was struggling to survive on the maternity allowance because she changed employer. I can't help but be filled with despair that women are still having to choose between advancing their career and having children.

I feel incredibly lucky that GAT's inclusive approach ensured that being pregnant was not a barrier to me taking the next step in my career.

There will be other great Trusts like GAT working hard to end maternity bias and I hope one day this becomes the norm across our sector.

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