What happens after you call #MeToo?
Workplace discrimination is finally being talked about and change is afoot. Now, as part of Marie Claire’s #NotMyJob campaign in partnership with the Fawcett Society, pushing for genuine equality in the workplace, we speak to two women who called out their employers for workplace discrimination to find out how they did it.
‘I refused to be paid less than my male colleagues’
Amy Arnold, 28, is a procurement systems lead from Suffolk
‘My colleagues and I were in the office chatting about our Christmas bonuses, when the penny dropped. Working in procurement for an electrical utility company, I was the only woman in my department. The guys were talking about how much they earned and, despite one of them being awarded a smaller bonus as a percentage of his salary, his cheque was still larger than mine. I got my calculator out, did some quick maths and felt stunned. He was earning £10,000 a year more than I was for doing the same job. My initial feeling was disappointment – I felt as though I wasn’t worth as much as they were, and it was a huge knock to my confidence, especially as most of the men I worked with were a lot less experienced than me. I had been in the industry for six years, with three years in this particular role. I raised the issue in 2015 with my head of department by arranging a face-to-face meeting to say I was aware of the pay gap and would be leaving if it wasn’t sorted. They said all the right things and made promises, but nothing was followed up. I was told I needed to hit certain targets in order to raise my salary, so I worked hard to achieve those over the next 18 months, but the goalposts kept moving.
‘It wasn’t until 2016, when a man I was mentoring got the promotion I also applied for that I got angry. After talking to my union, I decided to take the company to a tribunal, and three traumatic years later, I was awarded a £24,000 payout for sex discrimination and victimisation. My department head admitted before the tribunal that he found my equal-pay complaints frustrating, which would have put many women off escalating their case. My union representatives didn’t try to persuade me not to go to tribunal, but they said if I did, people in the industry would know and it wouldn’t help me in the long run. But they supported me when I decided to go ahead, even when my relationships at work grew strained.
‘Walking back into the office after the verdict felt like any normal day to me because I had continued to work there throughout the case. I wanted to raise the subject with the man who had hired me to say, “It’s over, and I want to have a professional relationship”, but he refused to acknowledge that it had happened. However, a number of female colleagues came up to me, wanting to talk about it, and I still get numerous messages from women on LinkedIn saying that I’ve inspired them to do the same. Many people would have left the company after being treated that way − I didn’t receive a pay rise, as the court ruled my employer wasn’t required to give me one − but I never considered resigning.
‘My advice to others is to be prepared as it can be a long and painful process, and it’s not always lucrative – I lost more in missed promotions than I won in damages. But I did this to give other women the confidence to stand up for themselves, too.’
‘I called out my employer for maternity discrimination’
Bina Hale, 36, is a head of recruitment, from Buckinghamshire
‘When I went on maternity leave in July 2016, I was working for the largest international law firm in the world. The day I was due to return to work, they told me not to go to my office in Milton Keynes, but to travel to the head office in London. After I arrived, I was informed that my job was under redundancy consultation and not to come back to work. I couldn’t say goodbye to anyone or collect anything from my desk – it was as if I’d just disappeared.
‘My immediate response was anger and frustration. My employers claimed I was being considered for redundancy because I’d been marked down for being unprofessional, although they couldn’t name specific incidents. In court, when the judge asked to see notes of meetings where the company had decided I should be considered for redundancy, they said the papers had been destroyed because they were moving towards a paperless system. The firm had been nominated for an award because of some work I’d done before going on leave, and in court I was described as “brilliant” by a senior partner.
‘I quickly realised I was the only person in our office in a company of 2,500 employees across 50 countries – other than my female boss – to have a baby. When the redundancy consultation process kicks in, you can challenge it, which I did. I’m lucky that I could afford to take the case to court, but I know many women can’t. Although the fee for bringing a maternity discrimination case has now been abolished, a claimant won’t necessarily have their legal fees covered, even if they win. That said, an individual can take an employer to court and represent themselves, without charge. Organisations like Maternity Action are a great resource for those who want reassurance and advice.
‘In court, it came out that my employers had mishandled my case by not telling me until the end of my leave that I was being considered for redundancy. Nonetheless, the self-doubt doesn’t go away, and my mental health and confidence, at a time when I had a new baby, were both affected. Since my case came out in public, I’ve had 500 women contact me at various levels across a range of jobs who have suffered with maternal discrimination. Only one per cent of these cases end up at a tribunal because people are fearful they’ll have hefty legal fees, as well as the worry you’ll be labelled as a troublemaker and never get another job. Regardless of those concerns, which kept me awake at night, I knew I couldn’t let my firm get away with it. I’m still waiting to hear what my payout will be, but to be publicly vindicated has already offered some small comfort, as has talking about it. I had to stand up – if I’d walked away it would have destroyed me.’
Interviews by Helen Nianias and Charlotte Philby
Discrimination: What to do if it’s happening to you
Cyril Adjei is a barrister and specialist in employment and discrimination law at Old Square Chambers in London
- Be sure that your male counterpart is outearning you. Some employers prohibit salary disclosures, but providing your reason for asking (and your colleague’s reason for telling you) is due to a concern about possible discrimination, it would be illegal to discipline either of you.
- If you had a male predecessor, you can ask HR what they were earning, as the law permits you to compare yourself with a former male colleague.
- There is strength in numbers – if there are other women doing your job who are in the same boat, join forces. This will make it more difficult for an employer to ignore the issue. And if one member of your group is in a union, the union can ask for information on her behalf, which all members of the group can use.
- Next, you can ask for a pay increase – either informally with your line manager, or formally by raising a written grievance. Some companies have their own grievance procedures; if they don’t, a letter or email will suffice (you can find a template on marieclaire.co.uk). Your employer must respond formally to your concerns once they’ve been investigated.
- Claims for equal pay can be complex, so it may be worth seeking legal advice from the outset.
Adrian Scotland is managing partner at Judge Sykes Frixou in London, specialising in workplace discrimination and other employment-related disputes
- Act quickly. There are strict time limits for pursuing claims.
- Seek professional advice from a specialist employment solicitor, such as Acas, the Equality Advisory & Support Service, or your trade union.
- Try to deal with the matter informally by speaking to your line manager first and keep an email chain.
- If that doesn’t work, or you feel uncomfortable contacting your manager, raise a formal written grievance. A template and guidance can be found on the Marie Claire website.
- If matters are not resolved, you may need to issue a claim in an employment tribunal. Seek legal advice first as misconceived claims can lead to you paying the legal costs.
- Check your home insurance policy, as it may cover employment claims.
Trade Unions: How can they help?
Carolyn Simpson, Regional Women’s and Equalities Officer for Unite The Union, the largest trade union in the UK and Ireland, explains.
‘At Unite The Union, we challenge the law by taking landmark cases to court, such as the one in 2015/16 which secured the inclusion of voluntary overtime, call-out payments, and travel time in the calculation of holiday pay for workers. In fact, between January 2015 and December 2017, we secured over £39 million in damages for our members in almost 3000 cases. What’s more, our members received 100% of the damages awarded unlike ‘high street’ firms who claim ‘no claim, no fee’ but, if damages are awarded will take up to 25% of the money from the claimant. In addition to personal injury claims, we have also secured over £4 million for our members through Tribunal proceedings – such as equal pay claims.
My advice would be to go to the Trades Union Congress website where you will find every trade union listed, together with what industries or sectors they represent. Here you can then choose which one is best for you if you decide you’d like to join.’