Donna Patterson shares her experience on navigating workplace discrimination and where you can get support.

Donna Patterson spoke at TEDxLondonWomen earlier this year about her experience taking one of the UK’s largest supermarkets on in an employment tribunal, representing herself – and winning. She learnt how to navigate an employment tribunal and the ins and outs of the UK equality law – and then went on to found her own company, Let’s Talk Work, to help others fight for their employment rights. 

We asked Donna – what someone can do if they’re worried about or experienced workplace discrimination? And where do they start? 

Below Donna shares her perspective and provides some useful resources. Thank you to Donna for sharing these words.

Donna Patterson on the TEDxLondonWomen Stage 2023. Photo credit: Karla Gowlett

Why we don’t always spot workplace discrimination

Workplace discrimination is regularly misunderstood by everyone – we often don’t realise what or how discrimination presents itself. What’s worse is that a lot of employers appear to not realise either, which is why bad behaviour often goes unnoticed. 

Toxic work environments can make it seem like the issue is with you. Women can especially feel they are ‘being difficult’ when they are subjected to discrimination. 

In my talk, I shared that 77%, 3 in 4 women experience workplace discrimination, but only 1% bring a tribunal claim. Women regularly blame themselves in the face of discrimination – that we’ve lost competency or can’t have it all – but none of that is true. The real issue is outdated practices and behaviours in many organisations. 

Speak to people you trust about what you are experiencing, they can help validate you. If you’re not sure you understand what is or isn’t workplace discrimination, the resources below can help you identify discriminatory behaviour and explain your rights to you.

Seek out advice

If you believe you have experienced workplace discrimination, or need help understanding your experience, seek out advice. 

Here are some free resources I used:

Citizens Advice Bureau – offers a wealth of free, legal advice

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) – an independent, public body that provides free and impartial advice to employers & employees.

Working Families – the UK’s national charity for working parents and carers – delivers clear, accessible and practical legal advice to working parents, especially those who are most vulnerable and who may not ordinarily be able to access legal advice.

Pregnant then screwed – a charity supporting parents with discrimination issues in particular for those who are pregnant or on maternity leave. 

Advice Now – an independent, not-for-profit website that provides accurate, practical information on rights and the law in England and Wales

Also check for smaller, local charities that provide free employment law advice in that area. For those living in Birmingham, contact Birmingham People’s Centre.

Move swiftly and carefully

Timing is very important and you should not delay in submitting a claim to the employment tribunal. 

The deadline is three months from the last act of discrimination. Submitting your claim can be done concurrently to your attempts to resolve your situation informally at work.

Wide shot of Donna, white woman with green top and blonde hair, on red dot carpet speaking on the stage to an audience in darkness.
Donna Patterson speaks at TEDxLondonWomen in 2023. Photo credit: Karla Gowlett.

Learn more about employment tribunals – and how it relates to your situation

The main question I get asked is about my experience is – what was it like cross examining former colleagues and coming face to face with them in court? I wrote an article for those wanting to know exactly what happened during my 5 day hearing:

What an Employment Tribunal hearing is really like?

Of course, an employment tribunal is not something everyone is able to undertake. When considering an employment tribunal, here are some things to consider: the risk for you (and your family), whether it’s worth it and the potential emotional or mental implications if you do not try to pursue a tribunal.

Nurture your support network

Whatever happens, your support network is vital. 

At work, try to find a colleague who you can confide in. You can ask them to attend meetings, take notes for you and generally act as moral support. 

Outside of work, plan your self care/coping strategies. There will be some highs and lows throughout the process and it helps to have strategies and people to support you. I found music a powerful way to keep me motivated and feeling powerful. Give my playlist a listen.

I also listened to podcasts like Viv Groskop’s podcast How to Own the Room and started acupuncture. I found surrounding myself with inspirational people and ideas helped motivate me; from learning from organisations like Pregnant Then Screwed and Upfront to reading and following people like Laura Bates and Michelle Obama.

Know you are not alone

During my tribunal, I regularly told myself I was more than capable to do this. I tried to be proud of what I was doing; making a stand so that others need not go through what I experienced. 

One of the reasons I set up Let’s Talk Work was because it’s rare to meet people in your everyday life who have undertaken an employment tribunal. I wanted to create a support service to share my knowledge with those going through a difficult time at work, to help make them feel less alone and know they have options to take action. 

I hope my TEDxLondonWomen talk also reminds everyone that many people experience workplace discrimination, that you’re not alone and that by speaking up we can change workplaces to better support everyone.

Our huge thanks go to Donna for sharing her experience and perspective about workplace discrimination. Watch and share Donna’s talk to hear her story in full!

Please note: the information and opinions shared in the above article do not constitute any form of legal advice. This article is general in nature, sharing information relating to the law and legal practice. As always, seek out specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances before you make any decisions. 

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