The Interview

It is not every day that I sit back and think about my 8 years in the industry. I am HR Professional and right now I am going through my fifth company. So in terms of the interview, I have seen and experienced a lot! And my experiences have only revealed the differential scales used to judge a woman candidate.

I started working long back and was blessed enough to be campus placed to one of the most prestigious Industrialist houses. But the interview, especially the final round with the MD of that giant of an organization was very perplexing for me. 

His first question to me was, “When do you plan to get married?”

Next: “ Do you have a boyfriend?”

Next: “What about your family, don’t they want you to get married?”

Next: “What is the approx. Age at which girls in your family got married?”

Next:” What about children? If you supposedly get married when do you think you would want to have children?”

Next: “Would you continue your job after marriage or after having kids? How about your family? If your in-laws don’t want then what do you do?” 

I spent like 30 minutes with that person and all he asked me was my marital plans. Among the 5 finalists, I was the only girl and when I inquired, none of the 4 guys with me had been asked anything remotely related to their marriage plans or children or anything else. 

And I was 23 years old back then!

I got the job, but this interview had left a lasting impression on me. It kind of had indirectly told me that if I chose to get married and have kids, I might negatively impact my career. 

I have faced numerous interviews in my life and it is just a handful of them that I can remember, where these very very personal and irrelevant questions were not asked. I had taken it for granted that it was the norm. 

I am an HR Professional and have taken numerous interviews and every time, I confess, I asked these same questions to the female aspirants who appeared in front of me. And every time it pinched me, but even then I did it and kept doing it! 

I got a stable job in between and forgot all about interviews. Finally, after a hiatus of 5 years when I was back job hunting, being married, in place of my experience, the intended recruiters seemed more interested in my family planning timeline! 

“When do you intend to start a family?” and “How long have you been married?” seemed to be the qualifier questions!

After facing two such interviews, I decided to finally put my foot down at the third! And life probably came full circle when I questioned the third recruiter on the why of such inquiries and was responded with, 

–“It’s just routine!” 

The recruiter was a woman!

In several western countries practicing equality and inclusion, asking questions on family, relationships, sexual orientations or personal preferences is illegal. India, however, stands without any such laws on interview biases, and hence “routine”.

We are all aware of the pay parity and the glass ceiling that exists between men and women in almost every profession. And apparently, as women, intentionally or unintentionally, we contribute to this mechanism.

When I started consulting for Start-Ups, I made it very clear during the interviews that if I come on board it would be to build a more Inclusive and Equal Opportunity culture and actually mean it. Currently, I am at my second stint and let me share how beautiful and fulfilling it was!

Working to build a Start-Up Culture or HR policies is not an easy task! You are practically given a putty that you would be shaping and this would actually be impacting not one but multiple lives as the startup continues to grow! It is a big responsibility to shoulder but I enjoyed it!

My vision was to look into beyond the “routine” and actually bring on board real talent! If that talent meant we are bringing on board someone who is 2 months pregnant and might go on maternity soon after joining, so be it! But once hired despite being pregnant, and if fully supported during her pregnancy, you would be amazed at how loyal and engaged an employee that lady would turn out to be! I can say this as I have seen it unfold. 

It was a gamble I took and it was pretty hard a game to play!

There were instances where the child or for the newly married, the family took preference over the job, and I had absconding ladies on my roll! Sometimes profuse apologies in the mail, sometimes nothing!

And new to consulting this seemed like a punch to the gut for me. My Client wanted firstly, to have no ladies, and if ladies would be hired then to ensure the “routine” is performed. 

I had objected!

The following weeks had found me drawing out an elaborate procedure for hiring. When you bring in a hiring procedure, that reflects inclusiveness, I had anticipated, with time results would be different.

But unfortunately our country grooms women, even educated and career-oriented women, to give more emphasis to the family! And even if it’s not the family, again, motherhood is an absolute game-changer for any woman! And given the insights that Men don’t ever live up to their part of being an equal partner when it came to raising a family, it is always the woman regardless of country, age, race or even the level of success being enjoyed by her in her career, it is always the woman who gives up her life! Suddenly she transforms into a mother and everything else is secondary.

We have read stories and watched movies about how women wither away in the name of raising children and a family. The concept may be changing now, but the underbelly remains.

The issue was not to just built up an inclusive process but to built a culture that showed support and actually meant it.

Keeping this in mind, I simply changed the approach. Now the focus was not to build an inclusive strategy to Hire but to start building an inclusive environment indoors. The path was not easy and we needed a lot of brainstorming, but we started with simple and silly things.

The first hit was made around the events planned.

Sports Day: Instead of making it a huge Cricket or Football centered day, we promoted table tennis and Badminton and made the flyer for Mixed Doubles teams. The response was overwhelming. We had no idea there were so many women interested in sports. And the feedback from both the men and women was positive. Especially the women were more than glad to be handed out something other than Musical Chair for a change! 

Fun Fridays: We organized events where the men were made to perform normal household chores usually done by women like folding bed-sheets, doing dishes, making tea and etc. and time. You would be surprised at how fast some of them did it! We had men who actually did household chores daily contrary to popular belief!

Miscellaneous: 

We held Appreciation days where the male colleagues were asked to point out something meaningful in their female colleagues, something that reflected their competence and vice versa! The feedback received was touching and respectful. And it increased team efficiency and synergy!

On serious notes, we brought in speakers for sensitization on more serious issues encompassing gender equality and success stories of women leaders who came back to work after a successful period of maternity. We had men who opened up about their wonderful spouses and partners and how together they worked their way through every day. 

We had family days, where we appreciated the significant others of both male and female employees in terms of the support they received.

It took time, but very slowly the change was visible. We could see it reflected in the surveys conducted. The jibes at female employees taking leaves or working from home were visibly reduced. And there was a sensitization within the workforce, regardless of gender. They were caring for each other and actually learning in to back that one employee who was not there for that day or that moment. A true Lean In! 

The outcomes I would say weren’t really an out and out success but it was an indicator that I was in the right direction. If you want to build an actual inclusive and diversity-based workforce, tailoring your hiring strategy was not the thing. The way to start was to first sensitize the internal customers. I have been on the path and I have to ruefully add that it would take I believe longer to actually bring about the change in the Interview questions hurled at women. But at least I can guarantee, the interviewer once sensitized would themselves be the change and omit the family planning discussions with prospective female candidates and speak more on relevant matters like her achievements and competences.

As let’s be honest with each other, Men and Women together build a family. It’s not just a man’s job or just a woman’s job! It is their job and it is unfair to penalize just one segment for the same.

About Author: My name is Abhinanda Bhattacharya. I am an HR by profession. I have had a flair for writing from a young age but have taken to the public forum very recently. I started with short Bengali stories and poems on Facebook pages. My stories received overwhelming response. I shifted to english with Momspresso blogs. Despite not being a mother, two of my blogs went viral. The response I have received is amazing with my first book of poems named Words being published on 16th January. I also one co-authored anthology named Semicolon being published on 27th January. I am looking forward to two more co-authored anthologies in the next 2 months. Over time I wish to continue more and come out with full-fledged publications. This is my first contribution to About Her where I have highlighted on my experiences at work. Hope you like what you read.

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