Hiring women: just a token gesture?

Hiring women: just a token gesture?

BIASED EMPLOYMENT

Hiring women: just a token gesture?

One quickly-rising-to-the-top manager who was part of a sports events company was kicked about a new event that his company was given charge of. Of course, it involved a lot of legwork, including running around bureaucrats and politicians to ensure adequate and speedy permissions, besides smart manoeuvring.

His boss asked him to hire a marketing subordinate with immediate effect to help around with the job. When he asked about the job description, the boss retorted, “Well, that doesn’t matter. It’s just a secretary who will go around the offices with you. Make sure she is a woman and that she’s good looking. But don’t just pick any random girl, she has to be a marketing grad; it makes the right impression.”

Thinking it through

Yes, we want women in the workforce. And yes, we want them to be qualified. But what work will they do? Well, that’s another story altogether. From various quarters of corporate India, you hear stories about women being hired as a token gesture and ending up doing work which is not in sync with their skills. Pune-based data scientist Shrutika Poyrekar says it’s an unspoken, hurtful truth in the IT world. “Coders can’t be women. Period. You won’t believe how many ‘educated’, ‘intelligent’, ‘forward-thinking’ guys have said this openly! They think girls get hired just because it’s a mandatory government requirement, else they can’t really code,” she says, the exasperation reverberating in her voice.

“I have heard this so many times — women are meant for HR, marketing and writing roles. It’s a clear assumption and outright disgusting. So, even while female coders are hired because it gives a company employment diversity, I have had friends who have ended up in testing or UI (user interface), which is just not what they’ve trained for,” says Shrutika.

Anita Kuriokose got hired as the group HR head in an engineering procurement construction company about 3 years ago. “They were rather old-school in their thinking, but I still had a free hand in executing my business till the CEO, who hired me was at the helm.” With his retirement, came in a new head who disrespected women and had no qualms in making a mockery of female workers at office. “He never had the guts to chuck me out but he stripped me off my responsibilities. I would not be told of new hires or resignations. On the face of it, he would say that I am the one handling everything, but I would actually be doing the secretarial job of sending welcome and relieving letters. I was just a token head, mechanically following instructions in spite of owning a degree and a fancy post. But I needed the job, so I lived it out,” she rues.

When she was expecting a baby and working till the final month, her boss would saddle her with immense work expecting her to whine. “I somehow used to manage it, even if I was struggling and then he would come and say, ‘You won’t be able to do it. Don’t do so much work’.”It’s a depressingly familiar terrain.

Recently, the international payments company PayPal was attacked for organising an all-male panel discussion. The topic? Gender equality and inclusion in the workplace! Currently in Australia, the #panelpledge campaign is being supported by male speakers boycotting similar all-male discussion panels. The refrain is that there are enough women experts willing to talk on any subject than are being made out to be. And that it should not remain a perfunctory gesture because women have a lot to contribute.

But the awkward part is that while governments and social changers across the world have sensed the need for a more equal workforce and are working towards more female
inclusion, they have yet to embrace it completely. Anjali Gulati, CEO and founder of Back To The Front, a vertical that aims at bringing women back into the workforce, says, “It is obvious that the intent is there, but the journey is still on and it’s an arduous one.”

Busting myths

The first hurdle is breaking the myth that women can’t take on a task. “It’s ridiculous to hear the sort of questions women face in interviews — will you be able to give this job your time, (if she is a mum) how will you handle things back home — I mean, if she’s stepping into the job market, she has a backup at home, right?” she says with a shrug. Ironically, it becomes worse with flexible working options, states Anjali. “Even after stating that it is a flexible option, women’s work timings are under scrutiny.”

Anjali’s latest initiative is to ensure that when women are hired, especially after a sabbatical, their pay cheque shouldn’t bear the brunt. “Under the guise of social responsibility and giving women an opportunity to return to the workplace after a break, companies end up paying them peanuts — it’s really less than what they would pay an intern.” The company is now batting for women’s salary to be commensurate to their last drawn salary, to their skill set and to their education. “It’s an unconscious bias. People think something will be better than nothing for these women,” she says.

Sneha Bhattacharjee is a ‘veteran’ of this war. She’s seen enough job changes and bid sweet goodbyes to be the poster girl for female tokenism. For this senior journalist, now a freelance writer and blogger, the downslide in the corporate world began when she took a break as a mum. “When I was ready to step out again, I got hired by a company who wanted to use my perspective as a mum. When I ran into some logistics issues, they gave me a work from home option after a lot of deliberation. But soon enough, I was labelled incompetent and against company ethics. They sued me for plagiarism when I quit!”

After that, Sneha was hired for an established company’s startup arm with a much lower salary than what she would command as they said they couldn’t afford it. “They said I wouldn’t have to work 9 hours but I ended up doing that. Still, there were allegations that I was working lesser than the others. In fact, I would go overboard and work more
because I was apprehensive about being perceived so.” Sneha left the job and after some months, was hired by an all-female crew to handle their marketing content.

“This was part-time, so it was good for me. Within 3 weeks, they said that my work was not up to the mark. Obviously that wasn’t the case; they are currently looking for a full-time person,” she shares.

If the interview hurdle is crossed, the salary is an impediment and if at all women successfully manage to wade through, it’s the profile that does them in. Usually, it’s taken for granted that the woman will be gratified about the position, chuck her aspirations aside and thank her stars that she is in the job market.
But that’s not really the case. Shrutika retorts with an anecdote from her fraternity. “There was this batchmate who was made a fabulous offer by a company. It seemed to be a good job and she would have probably taken it except that the HR told her that she’s being hired because she is a woman and they have to fill the quota. This girl got so
annoyed with the thought that she refused to take it up. My question is why should gender even be considered while hiring?”

She’s right. Maybe it’s time we looked beyond the parameter of gender when it comes to hiring someone. Aren’t we are all humans first?

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