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Asking personal interview questions to female candidates is common and seen as ‘normal’, although they are neither useful nor fair.
As a woman navigating the workforce you still come across situations where gender matters; starting with the interview questions that are posed by companies. Some of these questions seem really ‘innocent’ but they create gender imbalances in the hiring process.
Questions that tend towards personal choices and decisions serve as demotivating factors for female job aspirants as it tips the balance against them, whether asked knowingly or otherwise.
Most women at work find themselves repeatedly facing personal questions during job interviews. Sometimes the interviewer seems to be keener on the personal situation of the female applicant than her qualifications. There is almost no limit to the age group of women who are at the receiving end of this gender discrimination. Some recent conversations with peers led me to ponder on this issue further; here are some of their stories with names changed on request.
Carol* a 29 year old was planning to re-joining the workforce after a career break she took in order to start her family. Once she felt ready to get back to her career she was thrown away by some of the questions that were repeatedly posed to her. Even though she was qualified and had great references from the companies she had worked at in the past, her interviews tended to fester around her child care plans. Some even suggested that she should not look for work till her baby was 3 years old. Personal decisions and issues have no place in a job interview as they lead to discriminatory practises and are also great demotivating factors.
Akanksha*, a mother of two school going children was interested in pursuing a job posting abroad, for which she was qualified. During the interview process, she was asked questions regarding her kids, her child care plans, etc. She was finally rejected for the post on the premise that she is needed at home with her kids. While it is a company’s prerogative to judge her based on her past work and the skills she possesses, surely her personal life and life choices for her children and herself are her own business?
While it is a company’s prerogative to judge her based on her past work and the skills she possesses, surely her personal life and life choices for her children and herself are her own business?
Kirtana* was a fresh MBA entrant into the workforce. She was selected on the basis of a rigorous summer training assignment but was stumped when she was asked by the company’s Head of Human Resources about her marriage plans. The premise was that since she was ‘of marriageable age’, she would marry and quit the company in the near future. Furthermore she was sensitized to not quitting the company before a period of two years citing marriage as a reason. On the other hand her male peers were not asked any such questions. The company at the time had an attrition of 40% and had a predominately male workforce. So clearly women marrying and quitting was not their primary reason for attrition.
The company at the time had an attrition of 40% and had a predominately male workforce. So clearly women marrying and quitting was not their primary reason for attrition.
Sanjana* was hugely demotivated by questions from prospective employers about what her husband did for a living. After asking her about her past work and qualifications, her interviewer and prospective employer started delving into her husband’s job and qualifications thus benchmarking her standard of living. It started getting uncomfortable when the conversation tended to whether her newly married husband would let her continue to work and what her home priorities would be like.
These questions that inquire about marital status, child rearing plans, child care and age are all considered illegal question in the US and a few other Western countries as it is seen that it leads to gender discrimination. Some international companies that do not want to lose out on bright, hardworking women from their work force, train interviewers on appropriate and inappropriate questions that can be asked during the interview process.
A survey by a law firm Slater and Gordon showed that 40% of the 500 managers they surveyed would prefer to hire a man than a woman between the ages of 20 and 30 or in other words, child-bearing age. A third of the managers also felt that women were not as effective in their jobs after they came back from maternity leave. Some managers admitted that they would try to meander away from the “costs” incurred by maternity leave by hiring male candidates.
There are strong anti-discriminatory laws for female applicants governed by both federal and state laws in the US. Examples of illegal questions include:
(To know more about illegal questions and anti-discriminatory laws in the US, read here.)
Many of these questions are routinely asked in job interviews to female applicants in India as interviewers consider them ‘normal’ or have not been sensitized otherwise. It is high time that companies in India avoid questions that lead to discriminatory hiring or firing decisions based on gender, race, religion and disabilities to have an inclusive culture.
On the other hand women who are faced with these questions in their job interviews should know that they are not obliged to answer these questions. Some of these questions might come up as small talk but during a hiring process, it can lead to discriminatory decisions.
I would suggest that women try to not disclose personal information in their interviews and emails or conversations during the interview process. If faced with such questions, you could either ask the relevance of the question to the position or state firmly that these questions are uncomfortable for you as they are personal and volunteer information of relevance such as your work record or qualifications instead.
In India the workforce is only recently seeing the entry of women as two generations ago the reality of women in India was different. Hence a lot of attitudinal changes are highly due in India when it comes to levelling the playing field for women.
*Names changed on request.
Concept image via Shutterstock
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