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Employer Asked About My Family Plans: A Case Study

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 3 Jun 2012 | comments*Discuss
Presentation Work Promotion Gender

The issue of gender discrimination is an ever-evolving situation in the world of employment. There is the official legal standpoint and then there is the ‘real life’ version of what can actually happen at interviews and in the workplace. While some people may be legally entitled to sue for gender discrimination, what can often happen is that they just don’t mention it, for fear of being labelled a trouble maker, or they just leave the company.

Kirsty Sharp, 28, was faced with this difficult working rights dilemma when she was offered a promotion at the recruitment agency where she had worked for two years.

“This recruitment agency was the second company I had worked at since graduation, having completed my recruitment training at a leading recruitment company," Kirsty said. "I joined the company as a senior recruitment consultant and had developed an excellent client base with a very profitable temporary and permanent desk.”

Kirsty enjoyed her job and was particularly good at it, having a reputation as a ‘biller’, meaning that she consistently made placements and brought in a high amount of commission in to the company each month. While this does not make any legal difference to the rights and wrongs of Gender Discrimination, or indeed any type of discrimination, it does help to build up a picture of the circumstances that Kirsty found herself in and the potential repercussions.

High Earner

The high level of placements that Kirsty made meant that she was earning a considerable wage. Although she had a decent basic salary of around £27,000, her commission was easily doubling that amount. However, this meant that she needed to stay with the company for at least three months after her placements started so that she would gain the commission.

After Kirsty had worked at the agency for two years, she had to make a presentation to show where she saw her career developing and what her ideas were for continued success.

“I was full of ideas for the next year – I wrote a really clean presentation with detailed plans of how I was going to bring in new business, with a great strategy for appealing to high end businesses that didn’t quibble about paying high fees, Kirsty explained. "I also showed how I was going to gain some great candidates through networking and headhunting. All in all, I was really pleased with myself! I knew that the presentation was practical and achievable – which would bring in great revenue for the agency and earn excellent commission for me!”

Stony Faces after the Presentation

However, rather than being impressed with Kirsty’s presentation and giving her the promotion she deserved, the end of the presentation was met with stony faces. Having been in a meeting with two of the directors, Kirsty was sure that they would respond well to her ideas.

She explained, “I was really taken aback. They started by saying ‘congratulations on your engagement’, which was strange because I hadn’t made a big deal of it at work as I like to keep my professional life and personal life separate. They didn’t even mention my ideas – they just went on to ask when I was planning to get married and what ‘my hopes were for the future’. I carried on talking about my presentation and reiterated my professional plans for the future, but they just said ‘what are your family plans for the future? I felt really uncomfortable. When I said that I didn’t know, the director said thank you for my time and that they would get back to me.”

Kirsty was not offered a promotion at this point, although the directors said they would ‘bear her in mind for the future’, so Kirsty decided to start looking for another job. While Kirsty felt that she would have a case for gender discrimination, she preferred to move to another company rather than go through the stress of a court case.

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