Have you ever been discriminated against?

Each month our anonymous panel give us their responses to a question about their working lives. This time we’re asking about discrimination

The Shelf-Stacker

I work for a major supermarket in the Midlands and am also studying accountancy.

“An interesting question, coming at an interesting time for me.
Last week I was told I’m being made redundant from my job and by September I’ll no longer be a night-time shelf filler. I’m fortunate in that I already had an exit plan with my accountancy studies. However, now that has become a sharp reality, I face the fear of future discrimination. Will I be judged too old at 43 to start afresh in a sector I have zero experience in? Of course, any rejection letters will never state my age to be the reason but I’m under no illusions that this won’t be said behind closed doors. Maybe I won’t experience any discrimination and will be lucky.”

The Surveyor

I value land and property for clients who aim to redevelop them. I live and work in London.

“Sad to say I have.

The typical scenario: a room full of white males and me, distinctive only female at the table. Sometimes they just don’t shake hands with me, or look at me while they address the rest of the room!

Notably, many years ago I was leading on a rebuilding project. There were three of us at the meeting, the client – an elderly white man, my manager and me. The client did not look at me while talking. Part way through the meeting my manger asked me to leave the room for a few minutes. I was upset, wondering how I could have managed the difficult client better. When I returned my manager said (in front of the client) that he had asked the client to review his attitude and treat me with respect if he wanted our organisation to continue with the project. The client was barely civil, but he did engage, and we moved on. My manager told me afterwards that he was seething at how rudely I had been treated.

I was also discriminated when I came back from maternity leave to work part-time (three days a week). This manager said he struggled to find “easy” projects for me to work on (his words). He thought he was doing me a favour, but he was patronising me by assuming I had a part-time brain. Later when I was given a high profile case (from a more senior manager), the client complained repeatedly that such an important case shouldn’t be given to someone part-time, irrespective of my ability to manage my time well. The senior manager refused to take me off the case, and over time it became obvious that the client (a young Asian man) had problems with all the women he came across on the project.

Fortunately there are many more female surveyors now, of all backgrounds, and I think society has moved on a lot more too – but discrimination can take more subtle forms.

I have learnt that the support from great managers is really important for the morale of their staff. I’m here to do business, and working relationships are important. If you don’t like who I am, then maybe I can take my business elsewhere. Also I am more confident now in dealing with overt scenarios myself; a few years ago a similar meeting room situation occurred and having quietly verified with my colleagues that I was being ignored, I just laughingly called out something like – hello, over here – I’m the one you need to impress! That seemed to work.”

The Textile Designer

I specialise in the screen-printing process, printing and design for fashion and interiors. Living and working in London.

“I would be very surprised if there isn’t anyone who hasn’t felt discriminated against at some point in their life ! There have definitely been times where I wish I had been given a particular opportunity or been in the right situation at the right time. Strongly believing that I was the right person for that exact job, prize or chance. Left with those feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction is never easy to overcome, but when I look back at these moments now I realise that perhaps ‘it just wasn’t meant to be.”

The Technical Advisor

I work for the local government, in the environmental protection department. I live in Birmingham.

“Yes I did feel discriminated against but I consider myself lucky as it didn’t happen too often. Lucky – I know how wrong it sounds in this context. I really felt it when I was looking for my first proper job. Straight A student, good experience, excellent references – and a decidedly foreign name, the latter off-putting to prospective employers. I had to settle for a job well below my qualifications and work my way up. I feel my name cost me a couple of years. I proved my worth though, and now work for a great organisation. I got promoted straight after maternity leave and get offered exciting projects because I’m good at what I do. It’s how it should be, always and for everyone.”

The Holiday Park Manager

I manage a caravan park in North Wales.

“I thought that there were three main reasons why I faced discrimination while working: age, gender and the fact that I work for my parents.

Being the boss’ daughter, I always felt like I had to overcompensate at work. I was worried that people would presume that I’d gotten my job through nepotism as opposed to merit. I’m not going to lie, nepotism got me through the door, but we’re running a business here, so if I wasn’t a capable and hardworking person, I’d have only got as far as the front desk.

I’d always presumed that any snide comments were purely due to me being ‘the daughter’, however, as time has gone on I’ve noticed that it’s not my being ‘the daughter’ that people have an issue with, it’s the fact that I’m a 24 year-old female manager. For some reason, that one really blows some people’s minds.

Our company isn’t discriminatory at all, but customers and suppliers who we deal with aren’t so great. People speak directly to my male colleagues, even if I hold a senior role. I get asked to “put the kettle on love” while they are waiting to meet the manager (ahem… that would be me). I also constantly get asked if my boyfriend minds that I work long hours (that is absolutely none of your business). There’s also the oh so charming “I don’t want to offend you, but if you stay in this job, you’re going to be single for a long time young lady” (cue absolute silence).

So yes, sometimes I feel discriminated against, and sometimes it makes me angry. However, what I’ve learnt recently is that the discrimination which I thought I faced because I worked for my parents was actually all in my head, it was my problem. The truth though was so much darker. It’s just because I’m a girl. And that’s society’s problem.”

The Scientist

I am a scientist in the medical world living and working in London.

“I am a very resilient individual and rarely notice anything even if it was discriminatory. So although I would say I have not been discriminated against, it is possible that I chose to ignore it or didn’t notice. You may find this surprising, but in my field men still dominate and to try and reach the top levels of my profession require resilience and a certain amount of thick skin. I have certainly heard many unpleasant stories involving race, gender or sexuality in academia. Perhaps it is better to be oblivious at times…”

The Music Manager

I run a music production company, that makes music for films, TV and video games. I live and work in Glasgow.

“I’ve not had an issue with discrimination. But admittedly I have always been, if not the only female, then one of a handful, in the work place and I have a very “one of the guys” personality. Though my age and sex may have caused mild surprise in some situations (board meetings, industry events etc) it has been nothing more than this. I was once told by a lecturer that I had to be better than the guys to get the same recognition. This only served to fuel my fire to succeed and prove myself in a rather male dominated industry.”

The Charity Helpline Manager

I manage a telephone helpline, which is entirely staffed by volunteers. I live just outside London and work from home. My colleagues are based across the country.

“After 15 years working in the voluntary sector, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been discriminated against in a work situation.  Working in charities has it’s down sides (low pay, long hours, few perks!) but in the organisations I’ve been employed in I’ve never felt discriminated against due to my gender, age, position. In fact on some occasions I think I’ve actually been given opportunities I may not have had otherwise, for example, in my previous job I was offered a promotion just as I was going on maternity leave.  I was going to say ‘I feel lucky that I haven’t experienced discrimination’ but actually it’s not about luck – it’s simply how all organisations should work.”

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