In all my grand 5 years of employment, I’ve heard several appaling things about women in paid jobs from men and women alike. Some of them startlingly prejudicial and some understandably. While I’ve had at least a few tens of arguments about such casually (also assumed to be harmlessly) prejudicial remarks against women, I’ve hardly written about it before. Listing some conversations I’ve had in the past (of course they are my recollections from memory and give it as much weightage as you will when you hear an anecdote). Now, you tell me what you think, yes?
Women are just not good enough for our company
This is one of the most common ones I hear (Is it simply a coincidence that I hear them more often in startups?). Some tend to be subtle about it – they talk of how few women there are or how their only woman employee is in HR or how they are all beer lovers or some such. But this one conversation I had with an enterprenuer I met was interesting.
The Enterprenuer (TE): Ha! The only woman we have here is the HR manager. All my other employees are men.
Ranjani K (RK): Why is that, you reckon?
TE: Oh, the women don’t even pass the interview here.
RK: Wow! Really, why?
TE: Oh we do some hardcore work here. Hardcore engineering work. Women don’t cut it. Also, we hire from the ‘big wigs’ of the world and there are really very few good women to choose from.
RK: Oh, are you saying, even the women from the ‘big wigs’ aren’t good enough?
TE: Yes. Sort of. Even the ‘big wigs’ hire women because they are mandated by law to do so. And when we become big enough, we’ll hire women to deal with the law. For now, I need people who can get work done.
RK: Women don’t get work done?
TE: In fact, we work a six-day week here. And most women don’t even call back when they hear it. We have no time for emotional issues here. Just pure work.
Are you married?
Every time I go for an interview, I am asked if I am married. I often snap and try to evade that question. But sometimes I also do play along. Here are two conversations I had about marriage with an interviewer.
Interviewer1: Are you planning to get married?
RK: What in my CV tells you I am not already married?
I1: Oh, you recently passed out from college and I assumed you wouldn’t be married. I’m so sorry. Are you?
RK: Is that relevant to the position you are hiring me for?
I1: Often, women join our company and leave in a few months saying they are marrying someone who lives in another city. I can’t go through this process again. So, if you are planning to do that, you’d better tell us know.
RK: I see.
I1: So, are you married? Do you have plans?
RK: I’m sorry. I am not going to talk about it. I presume I’ve given you enough already to make a hiring decision. I’ll wait for you to call.
Now, the second one is far more interesting. At least in the interview above, I was asked questions about my work and this came at the fag end. In the interview that follows, this is the 2nd or the 3rd question I had to answer.
Interviewer2: Are you from Bangalore?
RK: Yes, I am.
I2: Are you married?
RK: Haha, why do you ask?
I2: No no. Please don’t mistake me. It is not that I won’t hire you if you are married. We have plenty of married women working here. But you see, married women tend to take too much leave and I need someone who can do good work here. That is why I asked. Even if you are married, it is fine. But I just need to know.
RK: (deciding to play along/ or just wanting to get it over with/ by now lost hope of evading that question) No. I am not married.
I2: I see. So, you live with your parents? Are they looking for a man for you to marry?
RK: (That is it. I am not coming back even if they paid me the moon and then some)
Women are a hassle
While in all the instances I am quoting here, the underlying logic is that women are a hassle to work with, this one is special in a few ways. This is a friend of mine from a company that is known for its female-friendly initiatives.
Friend1: (while talking about his project) We’ve finally decided not to hire any women in the team. That’ll solve half the problems.
RK: (taken aback) pray tell why.
F1: You see hiring a woman into a project like ours is a lot of hassle. If she works late evenings, the company has to arrange transport and ensure her safety. For her to work late, we’ll need to get permission from boss’s boss’s boss in writing every single day she works late. On top of all this, our project manager already has a (bogus, he insists) sexual harassment case from a woman who was earlier in the team. We can’t deal with anymore trouble. So, we’ve decided not to hire any women.
RK: You aren’t seeing any bias in that?
F1: What do you mean bias? I am doing what’s best for my project, that’s all!
Women don’t work nightshifts
This is extremely common among IT/ BPO companies where the entire team is expected to take turns and work nighshifts once a month or two. Stories of women first accepting to do nightshifts because they need the job/ project and later refusing is very common. When asked for reasons for refusing, the responses are almost always female-centric.
My mother-in-law doesn’t want me to work night shifts
I am looking to get pregnant and night shifts aren’t helping
I have a young child to take care of and so I can’t do night shifts
While the reasons here may be legitimate (and in fact one does not need to explain why they wouldn’t do something), it’s disheartening that there is an implicit intention to take advantage of female friendly policies by the women. If this led to the eventual firing of the female team member for going back on her contract, we have a legal (at least logical) issue to deal with. But what this often seems to lead to is the hiring managers not wanting to go through the trouble of accommodating women at all.
I am not including the clearly sexist “she must be screwing someone to get those promotions” or “she’s too pretty for her own good” because there is no gray area in them. We know sexism when we see that. But in each of the above cases, the issues a little more institutional. For instance,
Women are just not good enough for our company – If the talent pool of women is just not big enough (or deep enough with no pun intended), is it the responsibility of the individual organisations to hire (what’s seen as) less than competant women and train them?
Are you married? – If you see every woman you’ve hired leave your company on marriage and no man who does that, is your prejudice still wrong?
Women are a hassle – if the employees of a company see the female-friendly policies as hassle, should the company get rid of them to have a level playing field? If they do remove such policies, it is really a level playing field?
Women don’t work night shifts – A lot of women don’t like to work night shifts (in fact, a lot of men also don’t like to if they had a choice). But because few women find it in their benefit to take advantage of policies, can we allow the hiring managers to become biased? By being biased, are they just saving their own backs?
I’m in no way substantiating any bias here (please point out to me if anything I’ve said comes across as that) or blaming women for their own problems. In fact, I aim to do exactly the opposite. I am calling out to practices that I see as discriminatory, most of which don’t really come up in interview conversations unless you go out there and invite people to it. (A good friend of mine has her marital status, date of birth, place of birth etc. on the right hand top corner of her CV – you see she invites none of the questions I seem to have invited).
But most of these biases seem to come with an explanation of their own. People who ask these questions seem to think they are justified in asking them. I am not sure I can rubbish all of this without consideration. So, here I am considering it is all.