I had a great job as managing director of a publishing company within the Aga Khan network. My position kept me busy, and I spent little time at home, usually leaving at 7am and rarely returning before 9 or 10pm. Social pleasures consisted of working lunches with business colleagues, or drinks after work. There were assignments to far-flung places, problems to solve and people who needed me.
Now, aged 43, I find myself single and unemployed. The possibilities of husband and family gradually passed me by as I worked my way up the ladder, and I really did not mind because I had an exciting career. Now there is an enormous vacuum, and I don't quite know what my life has been about.
People often say to me, 'Oh, it's easier for you - you don't have a family to worry about.' Sometimes I wish I did. The unemployed lone career woman faces a different set of problems. I don't know how to be a housewife; I have few friends in the local community; my old colleagues are scattered far and wide, and are busy anyway. I can sometimes go several days at a time without seeing anybody. I miss my office, my secretary, my colleagues and my boss. I miss my pals on the 07.57 to Waterloo.
My 'career clothes' have hardly been touched this year and I am tired of wearing jeans. I now understand why women who don't work tend to dress up at the weekend while working women dress down.
With a reasonable redundancy sum and plenty of consultancy work, my immediate problem is not, as it is for so many, how to survive financially (not yet, anyway). The challenge is how to survive mentally, cut adrift from the management responsibilities that provided my self-respect. For me, consultancy work is not enough - to live and work alone is not a recipe for living.
I never used to dread Mondays; now I do. My daily routine is to rise early and spend a couple of hours at my desk sorting out networking routines and job applications before I start on my freelance work. I have long since learnt that most of the bad news comes by post while any good news is likely to come by telephone.
The problem is the rest of the day. I wait for the telephone to ring with the good news - maybe an interview being lined up, a friend with a suggestion of someone else to contact, a bit more consultancy work, anything to make me feel wanted again. When six o'clock arrives and the phone hasn't rung, depression can set in. The only way to beat it is to figure out the next line of attack.
Trying to find the right job is hard work. A few recruitment professionals have been encouraging, but some have bizarre attitudes. I told one that there was a possibility of working in Kenya, but that I wasn't too keen. His reply was: 'Why don't you go? What about all those lovely young black boys?' This same man told me at least six times in half an hour that he had nothing against professional women.
Networking, something all 'redundees' are encouraged to do, unfortunately exposes many women to sexual harassment, which is not restricted to the workplace.
The problems facing professional women, married or single, are very different from those confronting men, be it self-respect, acute loneliness, or being taken seriously. A network of support would help those who have been made redundant to develop tactics to find the right job again. It also would act as a source of understanding while the search went on. Women, unemployed or not, who would be interested in forming such a group should contact me through the features department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 4DB.Reuse content