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Is the plight of sex discrimination an issue of lack of training?

Is the plight of sex discrimination an issue of lack of training?

Managers are often promoted because they are excelling in their role. It may be argued that excelling within a role does not automatically make you an excellent leader. In fact, when managers are promoted without correct training and development being provided, it may be argued that issues of people management are compounded.

In numerous cases recently reported, discrimination based on sex and an unfair dismissal claim could possibly have been avoided had effective management training and Human Resources training been provided.

In one such case, a female economist for the Office of National Statistics has been awarded a £19,000 sum after being denied promotion due to her sex.

Olwen Renowden brought claim against the ONS stating that she had not been interviewed for a senior economist role at the government organisation based on the fact that she was a woman. Despite 20-years’ experience and having previously worked at the grade for which the interviews were being conducted, Renowden was rejected on two occasions without being given an explanation as to why.

The Employment Tribunal in Cardiff heard that both roles were given to younger men who had not previously had any experience at ‘grade six’ roles and who had no specialist knowledge in macro-economics. A third role was subsequently created, which was also given to a male employee. This third role was filled by a man with less than six-years’ experience, in comparison to her 20-years. When asking for feedback as to why her application had been unsuccessful, instead of providing an opportunity for learning and personal development, Ronowden was simply told to contact HR.

Renowden resigned in 2018, bringing forth an Employment Tribunal claim against her previous employer. During hearing in January 2019, Employment Judge Wayne Beard said that there was favouritism towards male staff and that the gender balance was ‘not properly understood.’

The ruling of the tribunal, published last week, found that an improper process led to male employees receiving temporary promotions via an informal process which provided more opportunities for male than female employees. The ONS agreed that the gender balance within the organisation was ‘out of kilter.’

Equal Opportunities

Perhaps more salient here is the informality of the promotion process. Arguably due to a lack of knowledge, employees in many organisations are given opportunities that are not provided to all. All opportunities must be offered with a fair and just process, providing equal opportunities to all employees. What is vital is to have a due process and to be able to provide detailed feedback based upon a specific list of criteria. If an applicant falls short of these criteria, the interviewer must be able to provide feedback as to why one applicant was deemed more appropriate than another. In this situation, best practice would also provide a development plan for the unsuccessful applicant with an opportunity for continuous professional development and a timeline for progression. To be rejected for a role and then not to be told why leaves questions open in the mind of the applicant.

Responding to the outcome of the judgement, Renowden stated that at least five other female colleagues would also be able to bring similar claims against the ONS, but their lack of trade association membership removed their support to make claims possible.

Sue Ferns, senior deputy general secretary of Prospect, the union that supported the claim, concluded that: “this case reveals a shocking lack of diversity among economists at ONS and what seems like the deliberate overlooking of female candidates in favour of men.” In a statement, the ONS said: “THE ONS values the contributions of all its people and is continually working to support everyone in progressing their careers. We are considering the ruling in this case very carefully.”

Although the overall HR strategy of an organisation may set out clear guidelines, if managers have not been provided with appropriate training and development and knowledge of the fair promotion process, issues can and do arise.

If you would like an overview of your recruitment practices or feel that you may fall short in your policies, please contact our employment team. To speak to member of the team in Market Harborough please call 01858 445 480, to speak to a member of the based in Leicester please call 0116 212 1000. Alternatively, you can complete our online contact form.


This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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