An increasing number of working women in the country are taking offence against questions that smack of gender bias during a job interview.
Any working mother will vouch for the fact that questions ranging from marital status to whether they have kids, who looks after them and when they are planning to have kids are quite common during a job interview.
"I had gone for my first job interview a year after the birth of my daughter. The interviewer asked me if I had a kid and when I replied in the affirmative, she asked if I was ready to take up this high-pressure job, if I would be able to give it commitment and enough time. Initially I tried convincing her but when that didn't work I asked her if she was holding it against me that I was a mother. I just wonder if any male has ever been asked this question," says Megha Panda, 30, software professional based in Hyderabad.
The National Institute of Advanced Studies conducted a study, `Work, Culture and Sociality in the Indian IT industry: A Sociological Study' in 2006 to document the social and cultural transformations that have been set in motion by the rapid growth of the Information Technology (IT) and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) industries in the country. It points to gender discrimination at the hiring stage.
According to the study, "Even at the hiring stage there is some evidence that married women with children are discriminated against: an HR manager at a multinational software centre said that during the job interview they asked married women how they would
manage their domestic responsibilities, whether there is a support system at home and so on. Similarly, we came to know of at least one company that systematically laid off pregnant women during a downturn."
The report further says: "HR managers believe that women are likely to quit after they get married or have children. Although they deny that there is any discrimination, one informant said there are fewer women in the industry because women are not seen as a `long-term investment', so recruiters prefer males."
In the west, this is called `maternal profiling'. Many US states prohibit personal questions during a job interview. There are some firms like Fedex and Infosys, which have a policy to not ask personal questions during an interview.
Placement agencies and recruiters are familiar with the trend. "Normally, this is not likely to happen in big corporate houses but smaller organizations are not all that organized and if your work profile is critical to the working of the organization, then they will ask questions about your personal life. For instance, if it is a call centre job or any junior level job, nobody will ask. However, suppose the position is of manager level, they will ask these questions," says Srujal Chaudhary of Ahmedabad-based Havoc consultants, which deals mainly with middle-level and senior-level placements.
However, there are many who feel that women should not be offended by personal questions during a job interview. "In the Indian scenario, generally after marriage, a woman has a house to take care of and it is assumed that the attention she was giving to her job or career will become less. It is with this perspective that they ask questions about a person's plans and try to gauge her commitment to the job. Attrition levels are so high nowadays that they have to do this," says Sumeet Singh, Corporate Communications Manager at Naukri.com. Sumeet has a three-year old daughter.
Many women complain that it becomes increasingly difficult to get a job commensurate with one's qualifications and experience once they have children. This seems to be a universal phenomenon. "There was an instance where the job interviewer asked me if my mother-in-law, who was looking after my daughter, had any health problems. I also wonder if after seven years of working experience I have to prove myself as a professional. Don't the credentials on the CV count for anything just because I am a mother now? There is no doubt that recruiters are biased about hiring working mothers," says an agitated Manisha Singh, 30, a media professional based in New Delhi, who has a year-old daughter.
While it certainly reeks of discrimination when women candidates are questioned about domestic responsibilities, the other side of the argument is that it is mostly mothers who take care of their children and child-related emergencies at home. In some cases, the dual responsibility of looking after home-child and the office front is so overwhelming that many women quit their jobs or willingly take up a less demanding assignment. In this scenario, it is logical for employers to worry about the commitment that a mother of a young child will bring to her job.
It does, however, pose a genuine challenge to those fighting gender discrimination because the situation is a complex one. It calls for a sensitive handling of the issue. There are demands in some quarters that appropriate legislation will be required to protect the interests of mothers who are looking for a job.