I loved my career – it opened up my eyes to the lives of people I wouldn’t usually meet and it felt an incredibly privileged job where people share intimate stories with you and give you the sole access to share them with the world. There was never a dull moment and for someone with a low boredom threshold, this felt like the perfect career for me.
Then in my early 30s, I got pregnant, which I was thrilled about. I was told by my freelancer friends to ‘hide’ the bump when going for interviews.
I was told repeatedly: no-one wants to hire a pregnant woman in TV. So I took their advice, hid the bump and secured work until I was 36 weeks pregnant.
My big worry was how was I going to juggle motherhood and a freelance career in documentary production. Making documentaries is about being with the people, living their lives as they do – you rarely can choose when filming is appropriate for you; their lives determine your hours. And when you’re in the mix, those things don’t matter, but when you have a baby it’s so much harder.
Even if I wasn’t doing documentaries, other genres of TV production didn’t seem very supportive of working mums. I know loads of women in their 30s who silently disappeared when they had a baby and never came back to work in an industry in which they had spent a good decade of their lives.
What did they do?
Some of them became teachers or ran their own businesses or worked in the charity sector in a comms role. The massive female brain drain from TV doesn’t seem to bother the top echelons of the industry – there seem to be no initiatives at all from production companies and broadcasters to support mums who want to work.
Part of the problem is the freelance nature of the industry – you are very disposable when you are a freelancer and no employer has to show any commitment to you.
I knew in my heart of hearts that working in TV, with the constant networking that is required in your spare time and the unpredictable nature of the work, would not be compatible with me being a mum.
So I started browsing online while I was on my maternity leave, when my son was about six months old. I secured a job in comms in local government, which I did for about a year.
I then started to get itchy feet for something more challenging. I got pregnant around the same time as I was interviewing for agency roles. With pregnancy being so precarious until after the 12-week mark, we kept it a secret, just between my husband and myself.
I figured there was no harm interviewing for jobs – the pregnancy might not make it to the safe 12-week mark and/or I might not get the job.
Turns out, I got the job and had a 12-week scan in the same week. But surely no-one wants to hire a pregnant woman? Well, to my surprise, they did and were very flexible and supportive in their offer letter.
My positive recruitment experience, as well as the flexibility that is offered to me, has restored my faith in the world of work. I believe that you can do really good work and be committed to your work and be a great mum too.
It does feel like you are juggling several dozen balls in the air at the same time, and occasionally one might come close to dropping, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rakhee Rajani is a senior account manager at Stand Agency