Q: I am a part-time social worker and single mother of two young children. I have been practising for 12 years now and have always received glowing reviews. However, I have been continually overlooked when it comes to promotion in favour of less experienced, full-time colleagues with no family responsibilities. It feels as though I am being discriminated against – what can I do?
A: Firstly, well done on your 12-year career as a social worker. In terms of your question, a good first step would be to have an informal meeting with your managers to shed some light on why you’ve not been promoted. Check back through any feedback you might have had from these interviews and be prepared to explore this in more detail. Are there any examples you can identify of colleagues working part-time who have reached senior positions? If so, find out how they’ve done this, including what support their managers may have provided to help them achieve promotion.
Many people might be anxious about going to a meeting with their managers, especially if they feel like they have been sidelined for promotion. If you’re feeling uncomfortable then a good idea would be to ask your branch trade union rep to come with you.
A trade union rep would also be able to talk through your experiences more in-depth, and help you develop a more personalised plan of action. Many Unison branches also have an equality rep, who may be aware of other people in your workplace experiencing similar difficulties. If so, they can consider an equality audit to make sure working parents and part-timers are not being treated unfairly, and work with the employer on an action plan to put this right. It would be useful to reflect on your experiences of the application process for promotions and whether there were things you felt put you at a disadvantage as a part-time worker.
A branch equality rep would also be able to help you consider your legal rights. You are protected by regulations that aim to ensure part-time workers do not receive less favourable treatment than full-timers. While it is impossible to say whether you have a case without more details, you are also protected by sex discrimination legislation.
Once you have talked the details of your situation through with someone who has good knowledge of the laws protecting you, you can consider if you have a case for unfair treatment. But the most important thing first is to try to resolve the situation with your managers, using your branch rep or shop steward for support if needed.
Helga Pile (pictured) is Unison national officer for social care
I have a degree in psychology as well as a CQSW and, in 1984, completed a postgraduate diploma in applied social studies. I worked as a generic social worker for a few years after qualification but then moved into IT. I’m now interested in moving into psychotherapy using cognitive therapy techniques, and wondered what the best way was to go about this. I’m considering voluntary work for The Samaritans or Mind before applying for a diploma course in CT, but wondered if there was any route back into practising as a social worker in order to regain experience instead? John Ingledew