Guest comment: The maternity merry-go-round

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Children and banking careers don't mix, according to one anonymous female banker.

As the mother of two children I've had two periods of maternity leave in quick succession. In some ways it must have been a logistical nightmare finding cover - I was away for six months, back at work for nine or 10, and then away again for another six.

Have I been unfairly treated as a result of taking time off? I can categorically say that I haven't been. I received a bonus that was pro-rated to take account of my time in the office and when I returned to work a few months ago I was promoted to manager of my business sector.

What makes me different to women who claim to have been discriminated against after taking maternity leave? There were several things in my favour. I have an excellent relationship with my boss, which made all the difference; I also have tolerant, understanding colleagues; and I had already proven myself.

However, now that I'm back at work and have two demanding children under three years old, I can see that life isn't going to be quite as simple as it was. I'm already finding it hard to work at the same pace, and it's difficult to shake the sensation that some people, at least, are waiting for me to trip up.

My days have become a continual juggling act as I try to balance the needs of work and the children. It's now difficult for me to make more than two trips abroad each month and I have to be out of the office each day at 6.30pm to pick the children up. This isn't great in investment banking, where you can't watch the clock if you want to get noticed and employees are rewarded for staying (very) late.

As a result, I'm no longer competing on a level playing field with the men in my organisation. My bosses already assume (correctly) that I'm less available, and put fewer opportunities my way. Even if you are holding down the same job as a man and father, you are suddenly classified as a 'mother' and seen differently.

Investment banking is a very male business. It's a competitive environment, in which the pressures from management and from clients can be immense. Attitudes are definitely changing for the better and there are more and more women reaching management positions. However, too often this is at the cost of their private lives.

If I wanted to progress quickly, I could. But I would have to sacrifice seeing my children during the week. Instead, I'm thinking of going part-time for a few months, and the risk to my career could be considerable.

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