When she joined the company in 2016, Olwen Renowden noticed there were no female economists at the most senior level (grade 6), despite a headcount of more than 114 economists.
In February 2017, two grade 6 posts were advertised and Renowden applied for both. The tribunal heard she was the only candidate who had previously been employed at this grade and had experience at macro-economics employers, such as the Bank of England and the IMF.
But she was rejected for both posts – without being offered an interview – and the jobs were given to male candidates with significantly less experience.
When Renowden asked for feedback, she was told to contact HR.
According to her union, Prospect, a third post was then created, with the ONS claiming it was to create opportunity for male candidates who had passed the grade 6 promotion board. No provision was made for female candidates in the same circumstances.
Renowden raised a grievance and subsequent appeal which were not upheld, before resigning from the ONS in August 2018.
Her case was heard at an employment tribunal in Cardiff, which agreed “favouritism” existed towards male staff and that those who should have addressed the problem failed to do so, concluding that “the approach to gender balance…pointed towards a culture where discrimination and, in particular, sex discrimination, is not properly understood by those who are required to ensure its elimination”.
It went on to add that it was “reasonable to infer that the culture of the respondent is one where advantage and favouritism to males is not recognised as potentially discriminatory”.
The tribunal ruled in favour of Renowden’s claims of direct sex discrimination and the ONS was ordered to pay compensation and interest.
She said: “I believe this case illustrates an important reason why progress on diversity is so slow. There could have been five women (or more) on this claim, but only I was a member of a trade union, and had the support to make it possible.
“I thank my brave colleagues for the courage it took to speak up during the investigation, and wish to acknowledge all of them, and especially Prospect, for making this possible.
“I hope we can use this result to make a real difference given there are over 1400 economists in government, and our profession is too influential to only represent the few.”
Jane Copley, Prospect legal officer, said: “We are pleased with this result, not least because this has a much wider impact than just on the individual and we hope this sends a strong message to employers that lip-service in respect of gender balance will not be tolerated and they can expect to be challenged on it”.
A spokesman for the ONS said: “The ONS values the contributions of all its people and is continually working to support everyone in progressing their careers. We are considering the ruling in this case very carefully”.