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A little over 2 years ago when I was about to be promoted, the one tasked with informing me about it asked me a question.
Do you have any plans?
What’s special about this question you ask? Well, look at the question again and you’ll know.
Do you have any plans of getting pregnant in the near future because we don’t want to waste a promotion on a woman going the family way? If you are planning to be pregnant, we rather give it to the man in the team.
Yes, this was what the question stood for and I was asked this at least 5 times by one person during that period. In the midst of work conversations and during coffee breaks too. Even though I was also asked if I’ll be able to handle the ‘work’ that comes with the position, ‘manage’ the team and other ‘pertinent questions’, this one was something that seemed to be the most important.
Would I get pregnant and ruin another man’s chance of rising up the ladder?
Of course, at that time I had no plans and I said no. But now when I understand the prejudice women face at the workplace better, I really wish I had given a better reply. You know something like it’s none of your business. But I didn’t so that’s that.
A few months after that I did get pregnant but I worked all through my pregnancy, until the day my water broke. I was as committed to my job pregnant as I would have been otherwise.
Now let’s look at the questions asked to my husband before he was promoted. Oh, but there were none. He wasn’t asked anything either with respect to his work or his plans of becoming a father.
Truth is, and a 2011 McKinsey report will corroborate that, men are promoted based on potential while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. Sheryl Sandberg also mentions this in her book Lean In. But that’s not the point I want to make here even if that’s an important point. The point is why is it okay to ask such personal questions to a woman?
During interviews before being hired or meetings before being promoted, why does a woman’s marital status or her plans for motherhood become a deciding factor? By all means, judge us based on our qualifications and past work experience but why poke your noses in our personal lives?
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If women would not be able to manage work and home after becoming mothers then there would hardly be any working women left beyond a certain age. But that’s not the case, is it? News flash: Women are better multitaskers and maternity leave is not a vacation. So, frankly, those questions just show the interviewer in poor light.
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Some may justify it as appropriate because you are investing in a resource. But I beg to differ. If you are worried about long-term commitment from the woman, ask her that. Tell her this job or role requires a long term commitment and if she is willing to give that. But then you still can’t be sure of the answer she gives just as you can’t be sure if the male employee you hire instead of her won’t die of a heart attack in the middle of an important project? Apart from it being invasive, inappropriate and prejudiced, it is ridiculously juvenile to ask really.
So next time you interview a woman for a position, don’t ask her if she is married. Don’t ask her if she has children. Don’t ask her if she plans to have children. Don’t ask her of she takes birth control pills. Don’t unless you ask male candidates questions like – Do you have plans of becoming a father? Do you intend to impregnate your wife? Yes, because he might be affected by his wife’s pregnancy or a newborn child just as much as a woman might.
A person who fills a position should be competent and capable. Evaluate a candidate based on that. Don’t cross those lines which you have socially been conditioned to, knowingly or unknowingly. It is unacceptable, discriminatory and akin to women being penalised for having the ability to be pregnant or choosing to be so.
This post is part of the #FeministMondays series (previously called #IAmAFeminist series) on the blog. Inspired by a TEDx talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists, I intend to talk about the need for feminism through my posts, posts on my experience and observation as a female. I intend to talk about issues concerning women.
Join me and let’s work towards a world of gender parity. Remember, each voice counts. Tell me your story.