by ELARA MEHTA
Rose Alley, March 2016 —
No, this isn’t some parody about Kim Jong-Un and nor will this be banned – although it’s a belief that any controversy is great for publicity! However, this is about my absolute dislike for interviews after being subject to -and subjecting a few- to the rigmarole of finding a means to pay the various bills.
I got my first corporate job at the age of 23 and thus started an affair with the monotony of daily grind and the cycle of paying rent and bills and meeting basics to survive. It sounds rather heavy just writing it down but that’s the honest fact – we have been factory produced for servitude to the economy.
Thus, slavery starts right after college as we desperately hunt for a job to fulfil this need to be socially acceptable and have dreams of being part of the 1% of richest someday. This dream is hostage to those sitting across the table asking you “So, Elara! Tell me about yourself?” which translates to “impress me so I can feel great about hiring you”.
Sometimes, the interviewer is knowledgeable and personable (and not yet jaded) to be an interesting conversation which actually leaves the interviewee with a sense of accomplishment. There are times though, and this is more common, that an interview leaves you seething and kick a lamppost.
What really frustrates me is that as a woman, I constantly face prejudice and bias during interview/selection process. The very first interview experience resulted in the HR manager asking me, “Elara, Why should I hire you considering you are 23 and will get married soon and quit?“. As a young ,arrogant and slightly brash 23 year old, my reply to him was a good 8-9 minute long tirade on how women are not raised as milch cow for the purpose of domestic chores and breeding. Surprisingly, I got that job.
The next time, I wasn’t so lucky. I went through 4-5 rounds of interviews at this company for a position of a Business Development associate back in 2008 and was never more sure of getting the job ,until the final round with the Lady heading HR.
She asked me the usual questions which are asked like: “so tell me about yourself?” “Why do you want to join this company?” and the holy grail for all interviewers “are you married?” and “do you plan to get married soon?” I left the meeting a bit annoyed at such questions and wondered why it’s important to understand anyone’s marital status. How is that important to the job description.
When a few days passed and the calls stopped, I realized that I wasn’t selected. I did want to understand why and asked for feedback. Eventually, the man reporting to the HR manager informed me that they did not go ahead with me because of my single status. Apparently, this was a client/customer facing Business Development role and they had a experience with an earlier single girl who flirted or got married to a client -something along those lines.
So, I decided to ask around to understand if other women have faced any similar circumstances. There were quiet a few who were subjected to such bigotry.
It was a revelation to hear some of the unimaginably ridiculous questions people have asked women. A well accomplished teacher was asked to recite a popular vedic chant during an MBA interview by the professor. Apparently, vedic chants were part of her Masters!! Her ordeal did not end there as the professor went on to comment to her father: ” why bother wasting MBA on a Girl“.
An old school friend was also sitting for her MBA entrance and the interviewer looked at her passport size photo on the application and exclaimed: “have you considered a career in modeling?” She now works at one of the Big Four accounting firms.
Another successful and confident entrepreneur was asked “how do you function on the days you have your period?” In my opinion, those who ask this question should start bleeding for five days a month and then derive the answer.
Marital status continues to be the most popular method of gauging a woman’s job competency. Most of the women had been asked if they are married and if not do they plan to get married anytime soon or if they plan to work after marriage – this is basically asked in India a lot to understand if the woman candidate will be an attrition risk or someone who will claim maternity benefits within a short while – both of which is counterproductive for the company.
Many will argue that these questions are needed to understand the commitment of a candidate considering the company will invest in their career too. But, does that justify the bias? Are men asked questions about their marital status or asked how they manage to work when they are planning to have children or how they will work if they had a prostrate problem?
According to an article in HuffPost, when it comes to the impact on women’s psyches, how do the subtler, more pervasive experiences of sexism compare to the more intense and sexually violent, albeit rarer, forms of gendered harassment at work? In a new study, researchers from the University of Melbourne explored this question.
After analyzing data from the 73,877 workers, the researchers found that sexist work environments negatively affected women’s occupational well-being (duh?). But here’s where it got interesting – the more common, less intense forms of gender harassment (like office cultures where sexist jokes are tolerated) “appeared as detrimental for women’s occupational well-being” as the less frequent, high-intensity incidents (like sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention). The takeaway from this study was ,If employers recognize the detrimental effects of the more subdued, pervasive sexism, women may be motivated to make formal complaints and organization-wide actions can be taken.
The 2013 book The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men, and Our Economy amasses a suite of research to show that office sexism still exists.Training and gender sensitization plays an important role in eliminating gender bias. As will men and women in power who will speak up against sexism and discrimination.