28/09/2015 08:59 BST | Updated 25/09/2016 06:12 BST

Solved! The Mystery of the Disappearing Women

For years now, women have been disappearing. And while many theories for the mystery have been debated, it wasn't until very recently that it has been solved.

So where have we all disappeared to? According to research published in July by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, every year 54,000 of us are forced out of our jobs by unsympathetic employers after maternity leave.

And while this number may be surprising to some, to me it makes complete sense. Because I was one of those women.

As I recently confessed on my own website, two months after a perfect appraisal I was called into a sudden meeting by my managers and given 24 hours to leave my job or, as I was warned, they'd 'have me out' on a disciplinary.

So why, if so many women are 'disappearing' in this manner do we not already know about it? Surely a scandal of this magnitude would make the news? Someone would blow the whistle on it!

The problem is the way that it's done. I am sure that many, if not all, of those 54,000 women a year, like me, feel that it's only happening to them - and are ashamed they've been singled out. Perhaps, like me, they were advised against taking their case to tribunal because it would cost too much and be too stressful. Or maybe they knew, as I did, they'd be unemployable as a result. (Who would willingly hire someone who had sued a previous employer?)

Back door exits such as mine are also usually shrouded in the threat of an NDA (I was told that the meeting in which I was sacked was 'without prejudice', which meant I couldn't refer to it in a tribunal). This ensures that you can't tell people what actually happened, robbing you first of a job, and then of your ability to share your story.

The culmination of this, plus the shame of admitting that you have allowed yourself to be the victim of such behaviour, means that women privately hide their experience from the rest of the world. We may confide in our closest friends and family, but to the rest of the world we construct an acceptable story to hide our shame.

So what now? For years, the media and experts have been trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing woman. They've blamed exorbitant childcare costs, lack of flexible employment opportunities, and even women's own reluctance to put themselves forward for ambitious roles. And maybe these factors HAVE played a part in our withdrawal from senior roles. But now we know a different, much darker truth; we don't walk away voluntarily - many of us are quietly and unceremoniously shoved out the back door and told to shut up.

Personally I hope that this new research will bring the issue out into the open and spark real, positive change. But I am realistic; attitudes don't evolve that fast.

Instead, I'm afraid that it's still down to us to protect ourselves and ensure we're treated fairly. So here are a few things I recommend you do to avoid a similar fate to me (and 53,999 other women every year):

• Ask for flexible working when you apply for a job (according to Timewise Recruitment, 9/10 employers would offer it for the right candidate).

• When negotiating flexible working, ensure you have clear performance goals both you and your employer can measure.

• Make it clear to your employer you still want to be considered for promotions and important projects.

• Ensure your team understands your working arrangements and that you remain as committed as them.

• If you suspect you are being bullied out of your job, get advice early from ACAS.

• If this has happened to you, add your story to Pregnant Then Screwed.

Hopefully, by highlighting this issue and sparking open debate we can eventually stop maternal bullying being HR's dirty little secret. But even if blogs like this make just one woman feel like she's not alone, then it's worth it.

And maybe, just maybe, by the time our daughters are our age they won't suddenly disappear from the workforce like us!

Hannah Martin is co-founder of the Talented Ladies Club.