english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England

In Conclusion, My 2018 (Part 2)


Sewing Machine

Having blogged a round-up of my sewing activity, I also wanted to write a little about my experience at work over the last year.

I wrote briefly before about being asked to ‘act up’ to a more senior role at work during 2017. During that time, my workload was obscene, and I was expected to make decisions on the direction of my team within the context of the whole organisation, whilst being wholly excluded from my department’s management team and their plans, and with no support (and a lot of hindrance) from the same management team to implement improvements or reduce my workload. The final straw for me was receiving an email from an external consultant who had been employed without my knowledge to ‘mentor’ me in the role, and had started in post while I was on a training course. This person had been given authority for all decisions on the direction of my team which had previously sat with me, and in my first meeting with them I was assigned a long list of menial tasks. This was when I decided to stop ‘acting up’. This person was a man, and he was included in the department’s management team and decision making process from the start.

I wasn’t yet ready to leave the organisation; I loved my colleagues, and I thought that if I went back to my old job I would be happy working there. A couple of months later my department made a job offer for the same role as mine at a significantly higher salary (approximately 20% difference). It was then I realised that, despite being the longest serving member of the team, taking on some of the most difficult work, and having recently been personally asked to ‘act up’ and manage my peers, I was actually one of the lowest paid staff in my peer group (the vast majority of whom were men). The salary different was significant, and it was highly unlikely (based on the internal scheme for pay increase) that I would ever be able to achieve a comparable salary. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that my department was in the throes of an obsession with external consultants, all male, who were paid almost double my salary for the same work.

Sewing Machine

Obviously, I challenged this. Initially internally within the department, and then via the formal organisational route. Unfortunately my grievance didn’t have a hope. I was assigned a Chair to review my case whose impartiality I highly doubted and challenged in advance of my hearing, requesting an alternative. I was informed that an alternative wasn’t possible, and told that my fears were unfounded. I walked into a hearing (accompanied by a good friend) intending to highlight an issue of fairness, and was made to feel like I was on trial.

My action of raising the grievance was described to me as being ‘unethical’, and the focus was never on fair pay, but on discrediting me and distributing blame. It was a very sad and demotivating experience. There was one small positive to come out of the meeting, which was that I was granted three years of back pay, but on a technicality as opposed to being associated with an admission of unfairness. I bought myself a new sewing machine (a Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0) with some of the money, as a way of creating a positive out of something negative, and to celebrate my willingness to challenge, however unsuccessfully.

Sewing Machine

I retreated a bit further from the management team, and projects which would require working closely with them, after the grievance, but it was seeing friends treated equally unfairly during a restructure over the summer which confirmed to me that I needed to leave. On the day that the restructure was announced I stated my intention to leave, and three months later I handed my notice in to join a new employer.

Now that I have some distance from my previous employer I wanted to write about my experience, since when I briefly mentioned it on Instagram I had many people tell me they have been through, or are currently going through, similar experiences. I know not everyone is in a position where they feel they are able to challenge unfairness. Gender pay gaps (and other issues of unfairness) persist because of organisations which belittle and vilify anyone who challenges the status quo, and people will put up with an awful lot to continue working alongside people they care about (I did, for a long time). I hope you live and work in environments where you feel safe enough and respected enough to challenge, and if not, I hope you are able to move on in the new year, to somewhere where you can be respected for being yourself.


Author: Charlotte

Sewist, crafter & blogger, based in Birmingham, England. I'm spending the year growing and gathering to create natural dyes and enhance my sewing projects. Find me at www.englishgirlathome.com

18 thoughts on “In Conclusion, My 2018 (Part 2)

  1. Congrats to you for challenging the status quo— not enough people do, and so many women never realize how unfairly they have been treated. It takes real courage. Glad you spent a bit taking care of yourself, and I hope the change is better on the long run for you!

  2. That is so crappy. I really hope that your new job brings you a lot more joy and recognition of who you are. Happy new year.

  3. What a horrible experience Charlotte. Well done for standing up for yourself, and also for getting out with dignity when you had tried to make things better but they hadn’t been prepared to change. Please don’t let it knock your confidence – I for one was in awe of your organisational and leadership skills at the Sew Weekender, and hope that your new employer will demonstrate the respect that you deserve in 2019.

  4. Having been in a broadly similar work situation I understand how stressful such situations can be, and sometimes walking away is the only option. But it’s sad that people are forced to do that for the sake of their sanity. Many employers these days simply don’t realise that their staff are often their best asset. Charlotte, I do hope you’ve been able to put this awful situation behind you, and that 2019 is a much better year.

    For anyone reading this who is in a similar position, if you are not in a trade union it’s worth joining if it’s an option. I had been in the union for years & often wondered what I got for my money, but when faced with restructuring which would have meant that 4 out of 5 people in my team would be demoted (despite also being expected to take on an impossible amount of extra work), it was my local union rep who fought alongside me until management backed down. I apologise if I sound like a walking advert for trade unions, but ultimately that was the difference between likely demotion and retaining the status quo.

    • Hi Helen, thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree regarding the importance of being a member of a Union – although I didn’t involve them personally in this instance, I am a union member and probably should have. I hope your current work environment is a positive one and best wishes for 2019. Charlotte x

  5. Wow. Well done for taking it up with them and trying to change the system. I’m sorry you had to go through that; it’s beyond frustrating to be given all the responsibility but none of the autonomy or financial benefits that should come with it. So many organisations have all the right policies in place but don’t lift a finger to sort out what’s actually going on under the HR department’s noses. I left a job eleven years ago where I was consistently cr*pped on and it was such a relief to know I never had to go back there. I hope you’re enjoying your new role and that you’re properly appreciated and rewarded in it.

  6. I confronted a crappy work situation that had been going on for a year and turned nastier in December. I’m hoping it stops at this stage but not looking forward to returning in the new year. The whole thing has been draining. Well done you for going through the hearing and sticking out the 3 months notice! All the best for 2019.

    • Hi Colette, I’m really sorry to hear that – and hope the return to work wasn’t too terrible, that things do improve and/or you’re able to move on. Best of wishes for a good 2019 xx

  7. Hi Charlotte, good for you for making a stand even if it was not successfully concluded in your favour. Incremental stands can make change but check out the Guardian today on Anonymous re pay discrimination. Another’s pain at coming to terms with a monetary value below their worth. It will not necessarily comfort but indicates that there may be a shift going on and you are part of that. Good work and it is good to ‘hear your voice’ again in your blog and videos. I always looked forward to seeing your new blogs etc and am hoping to see more this coming year. No pressure then….

    • Hi Josephine, thank you so much for your comment and for the recommendation – I did read the article on the day, although it has taken me until now to reply! I’m hoping to get back to a bit more regular blogging/vlogging routine – we’ll see how it goes! Charlotte x

  8. you give me hope for challenging difficult work circumstances! i’m going through difficulties at work, that though they are different to what you’ve faced, are leading me to be more bold in challenging decisions and work that is being decided for me.

  9. Pingback: Holidays Snaps & Meandering Thoughts | english girl at home

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