As a woman, I have seen all my male colleagues go on the best courses. Is this an equal opportunities issue?

This could be an issue of inequality and discrimination. You should attempt to establish the facts. For example:

  • When did they go and why?
  • How many of your male colleagues attended?
  • Was it related to their responsibilities at work?
  • Did you apply to go on the same courses, and were you refused permission?
  • Have you not been offered the same opportunities?
  • Have female colleagues been allowed to attend these programmes?

If the answers to these questions point to the possibility that you are being treated less favourably because of your sex, then you may well have a case against your employer for unlawful discrimination. Discuss the issue with your manager and explain how you feel, and what you believe should happen. An informal approach is usually best before tackling the issue more formally. There may be a genuine explanation, unrelated to your gender, that your manager will be able to clear up.

Acas has put together guidance on Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the Workplace (PDF, 164KB).

Your employer should have a formal equal opportunities policy in place. Have a look at what commitments your employer has made in the policy as regards training and promotion opportunities. Training policies may also contain similar commitments. Your employer should be held to its promises.

This issue is often linked to time off for pregnancy and childbirth, and to decisions to return to work part-time on returning to maternity leave. The Equality and Human Rights Commission did some important research over 2014-15 that produced some truly shocking outcomes on this issue. You can read about the research on their website. Half of the women questioned reported a negative impact on opportunities, job status or job security linked to pregnancy and childbirth.

Often employers are not even aware that their approach to issues such as training or career progression is discriminatory. Much discrimination at work is hidden and unintentional. Unions are expert at tackling this kind of issue, so rather than contemplating tribunal proceedings, which are high-risk, stressful and rarely produce the outcome you are hoping for, you should consider asking for help from your union in taking a collective approach to try to improve the situation for all your female colleagues.

If female colleagues are routinely treated less favourably in the allocation of training, you are unlikely to be the only person at your workplace feeling this way, and there will be a clear business case for change, which your employer should understand.

You can also find useful materials on the website of specialist campaigning charities such as Maternity Action.

Another option to consider is Acas in-work mediation. This service is different from conciliation, as it is designed to help managers and workers sort out their differences in work, using Acas as an impartial mediator. The service is voluntary. There is more information about in-work mediation on the Acas website. There is also a joint Acas/TUC guide to mediation (PDF).

If, after taking advice, you remain sure that the right way forward for you is to take your case to an employment tribunal, be aware that before issuing any tribunal claim you must first submit an Acas Early Conciliation Notification Form. You can find out more about Acas early conciliation here. Acas early conciliation is free of charge. The Early Conciliation Notification Form must be submitted to Acas within the three-month time limit for bringing the claim.

Time limits are strictly enforced in the employment tribunal. If you miss the time limit for bringing your claim, the tribunal is unlikely to agree to hear it.

See our section on Enforcing your Rights for more information about bringing a tribunal claim, including information on Acas early conciliation.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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