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Expert Answers: Blocked from moving up in Equity Sales

I’m a female associate with two years’ experience working in Equity Sales. My immediate boss is a very nice man, but overworked and snowed under, so we’re always very busy. I’ve seen similarly qualified and experienced male associate peers move ahead, assigned to bigger, more lucrative sectors, but I seem stuck in a relatively small sector with not much chance of being noticed or promoted.

I’m highly qualified, I’m told I’m good at my job – and hope I’m not a shrinking violet when it comes to getting myself out there. I don’t think my immediate boss is the problem – the head of Equity Sales is a man not much liked in the department, who seems to pay lip service to the idea of diversity, but only ever seems to give the boys the big breaks. I’d be glad of advice to get me ahead.

This week’s expert is Roger Tynan, Employment Partner at Campbell Hooper Solicitors:

From what you say, it does sound as though you are being discriminated against. The UK sex discrimination legislation is clear; it is unlawful to treat a woman less favourably than a man by denying her opportunities for promotion.

I think you’re being too generous in your assessment of your boss. Nice man or not, he has a responsibility to you and an obligation to ensure that the company you work for is genuinely an equal opportunities employer.

Have you spoken with him about your career aspirations and enlisted his support to enable your plans to be realised? It’s worth speaking to him, if only to make sure that there are no previously undisclosed performance issues which might explain your lack of progress. You may want to document your conversation in an email as evidence should you need it at a later date.

Most people who bring discrimination claims will say that it is a lonely difficult road. Sadly it is too often the case that private sector employees who complain of discrimination often end up leaving the organisation they work for (albeit with a financial settlement). I believe few regret their decision.

If you can’t achieve progress with the support of your immediate boss, you should consider pursuing a formal grievance. Check your company’s grievance procedure and equal opportunities policy.

If possible find out more about the qualifications and experience of the male associates in order to be able to demonstrate that you are not being treated equally with male comparators. The law gives you the right to serve a questionnaire in order to find out more information as to the reasons for your treatment and to secure information on the company’s policy on promotion, as well as the attributes of those who have progressed faster than you have.

You do not have to resign your employment to bring a Tribunal claim of sex discrimination and have legal protection against victimisation should you allege discrimination against your employer.

There is generally a 3 month time limit for bringing claims, though this is extended if you file a grievance in time. The time limits are a complex area of law and you are best taking legal advice to ensure that you don’t lose your right to bring a claim if matters can’t be resolved informally.

Many household insurance policies include legal expenses insurance to cover this type of dispute, so it’s worth checking your policy.