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Home | Got a Minute | Career advice | No. 114 – My ‘side step’ turned out to be a demotion. Where do I go from here?

No. 114 – My ‘side step’ turned out to be a demotion. Where do I go from here?

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5 July 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a painful demotion, a “diversity” initiative that ignores serious issues and finding work without referees.

I was recently demoted at a company I’ve worked at for 20 years. My salary was unchanged, however my ego has taken a battering. The change was sold as a “side step” but it’s clearly a demotion. My old job was given to a much younger and more popular colleague. What can I do to rebuild my self-esteem and reputation?

Demotions are tough, and I’m not surprised you are feeling a little bruised and battered. Demotions don’t always happen because of poor performance (although I can understand why you would jump to that conclusion). This change might have happened due to circumstances well outside your control, such as a team restructure, so it’s important to understand why this occurred, so you don’t spiral into negative self-doubt.

Can you seek specific feedback from your boss about why the change was made? Do you feel confident to tell your boss how the change has caused you to feel? Can you ask whether you will be considered for other roles that might come up in the future? You might also like to reframe this change as a way to consolidate your skills in a particular area, even asking for professional development opportunities to help you get highly skilled in a new way.

Finally, have you thought about whether this change may be the prompt you need to challenge yourself with a new company, or in a new industry? Twenty years is a long time for anyone to remain with the same employer so, depending on your circumstances, it may be a time to reflect on what the future might hold.

I’ve been working in call centres for decades and while HR leaders speak about “diversity”, their priority is supporting LGBTQIA individuals with no mention of cultural diversity. As someone who has been racially vilified for years – bosses have told me to change my name to “something more Australian” and referred to me as “the terrorist” – I’m feeling completely forgotten. I’m 45 and, lately, I’ve given up hope for my career. How many rejections can a person take?

What you have experienced is unacceptable. I contacted Lisa Annese, CEO of Diversity Council Australia (DCA) and she confirmed the experience you have had is similar to many others in your situation. She points out that the bias and discrimination you have faced has been amplified, not just being part of a marginalised group due to your cultural background, but also due to your age. Even without the additional issue of your age, DCA research confirms marginalised groups are more likely to be overlooked by employers, just as you have found.

While it sounds like you are struggling to find hope right now, especially with your current employer, it may be worth reviewing the list of DCA members to see whether there are other call centre operators or employers who are more likely to be serious about D&I initiatives and especially those with an intersectional approach.

I would also recommend using any Employee Assistance Program (EAP) support your employer offers, so you can seek support for your health and wellbeing during this challenging time. The sense of rejection and hopelessness you describe may benefit from speaking with either a psychologist through an EAP or Lifeline.

How do you deal with not having referees? I’ve been out of the workforce for five years and due to serious injury and carer responsibilities have become socially and economically isolated. I’m in my late 50s and have a permanent disability, but I’m finding even volunteer opportunities ask for referees.

I recommend you seek our specialist support to help you on your job hunt. You do have a number of factors that are going to make it tricky to get a job, with or without referees. There are many disability employment service providers available to people in your situation and I wonder whether they may be best placed to assist and will understand your situation and background. They will also be able to assist you in terms of overcoming the challenge of not having a referee. I think when you find an employer keen for you to join their team, they will understand the lack of referees when you explain your situation. Do be sure to seek assistance since I think that will be your best chance at finding the right job for you.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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