In the landscape of Indian employment, gender biases and discrimination against female job seekers persist, despite increasing awareness about diversity and inclusion. A recent trend among some employers, including prominent financial institutions, involves probing female candidates about their family plans, particularly regarding pregnancy and marital status. This practice, although potentially illegal in several countries, is becoming more common in India due to tighter job markets, smaller team sizes, and concerns about productivity and costs.
Increased Scrutiny And Discrimination Against Female Jobseekers
In India’s employment landscape, the recruitment of female candidates is undergoing increased scrutiny, marked by an unsettling trend where employers tactfully delve into personal matters, crossing boundaries that would be deemed discriminatory and illegal in several other countries. This trend involves indirect yet pointed inquiries about a candidate’s plans concerning pregnancy and family planning. Regrettably, these inquiries often stem from the perspective of perceiving these life choices as potential disruptions to workplace productivity.
Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairperson of Rothschild & Co India, highlighted this prevalent discrimination against married women without children. She pointed out that many companies harbour concerns about the prospect of an imminent maternity break, viewing it as a potential detriment to their operational efficiency. Kidwai stated, “There is typically discrimination against women who are married and haven’t had a kid, and many companies fear that they may go into a maternity break soon after onboarding.” This fear of interruptions due to maternity leaves has led to biased treatment of married women without children during the hiring process.
Impact On Women’s Participation In The Workforce
The discriminatory practices prevalent in the hiring process stand as a formidable obstacle in the pursuit of bolstering female representation within the workforce. Despite efforts by many multinational corporations (MNCs) to avoid directly posing such questions, the intense competitiveness of the current job market has amplified existing biases against women seeking employment opportunities. Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President of Avtar group, emphasizes the crucial role of leaders in acknowledging that such inquiries infringe upon an individual’s rights and perpetuate stereotypes. Rajesh stresses, “It is important for leaders to be aware that asking questions like one’s childbearing or marriage plans is an infringement of the individual.” These intrusive queries not only violate personal boundaries but also reinforce outdated societal norms, hindering efforts toward gender inclusivity in workplaces.
“Need a commitment from you…you cannot get pregnant in the next 2-3 years,” conveyed the HR head of one of the nation’s leading asset management firms to a 34-year-old female job applicant during an interview. “Reflect on this… Once you have reached a decision, return to us.”
Moreover, this bias doesn’t just affect entry-level positions but extends its influence to higher-tier roles that involve extensive travel or demanding schedules. Jyoti Bowen Nath, Managing Partner at Claricent Partners, highlights that this bias shapes hiring decisions even for senior positions. Nath notes, “In India, women are more likely than men to be asked about childcare and family responsibilities, and this does influence hiring decisions.” The perpetuation of such biases in hiring practices not only obstructs female career progression but also limits their opportunities in roles that require dedication and commitment, creating additional barriers to achieving gender parity within organizations.
Balancing Business Needs And Gender Diversity
Amidst the defense of the practice of probing female candidates about their family plans under the pretext of potential disruptions and costs linked to extended maternity leaves, a shift is perceptible within progressive companies. While some advocate for this line of questioning, citing concerns about the impact on business operations when an employee takes prolonged maternity leave shortly after joining, there is a growing acknowledgment among forward-thinking enterprises regarding the compelling business rationale for embracing gender diversity.
Aditya Narayan Mishra, CEO of Ciel HR Services, sheds light on this evolving perspective within businesses. Mishra articulates, “In the current business climate, companies are stressing a tight hiring process to choose the ‘right’ candidate, considering potential disruptions… This scrutiny has led to increasing bias against women.” Mishra’s insight reflects the delicate balance companies are striving to strike between acknowledging potential disruptions caused by life events such as maternity leaves and refraining from intrusive and discriminatory questioning during the hiring phase. Progressive companies are navigating these complexities with an evolving understanding of the importance of gender diversity, recognizing its positive impacts on innovation, productivity, and overall business performance.
The prevalent discrimination against female job seekers in India, particularly regarding inquiries into personal matters like family planning, poses a significant challenge to achieving gender diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Despite the evolving landscape and efforts by progressive companies to address these biases, the need for sensitization among leaders and organizations remains crucial to ensure fair hiring practices and promote a more inclusive workplace culture.
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