It was the summer of 1999. I had just graduated and, like thousands of my counterparts, was looking for a job. The job market was not thriving but neither was it in decline. Armed with an MBA degree and a can-do attitude I was pretty confident I’d land a job at one of my preferred companies fairly soon.
I walked in to one of my first job interviews, wearing the all-white outfit I’d set aside for just such events. I met with the CEO directly. It was a small multinational and I was very familiar with the company and its products.
The interview started well. I remember smiling, relaxing, and getting into my groove as I answered work-related questions while sitting across from the CEO. I remember saying no to the tea offered. The conversation soon turned to work-life balance issues. I was not so sure-footed anymore. After all, I was just 23 years old, unmarried, no kids, not even engaged. I was wholly focused on my career and getting a job.
So you’ll understand my confusion when the CEO asked me what will happen to my job once I get married. He went on to insinuate that not only will I leave my career but become a stay at home mom within a few years. And the reason he was so sure I would do all of this is because he knew my grandfather. The CEO – a man of considerable age – smirked as he informed me that he was well-acquainted with my grandfather’s outlook on getting girls married early to become housewives.
Looking back at that moment 14 years ago, I can say that I probably should have reacted with outrage. Or maybe I should have calmly snubbed him and poured his own tea on his balding head. Or perhaps I should have simply walked out with my dignity intact.
But as it were, I told him he was wrong. On many counts. He was wrong to assume anything at all about me. Wrong to think I was a puppet. Wrong to have judged me so one-dimensionally. And wrong to have made up his mind before he’d even met me. I realized that the only reason I was even called in to this interview was so he could say on paper that he’d interviewed me.
But this man had decided long before he met me that he would not be hiring me.
It’s a lesson that stayed with me. I am now married, have 2 kids, run my own content marketing firm along with several niche websites in development and am slowly making my way on the circuit as a speaker and trainer.
I think that any business is wise to question the brain drain that happens when female employees leave to pursue a family life. But how they address that question tells a lot about their respect for individuals and their views on equality.
HR departments listen up! A simpler, non-biased way to approach the subject is to simply inquire about the incumbent’s career aspirations 5-, 10-, 20- years down the road. If she answers you with a sparkle in her eye about her plans, you can bet that this is a woman who will try her damndest in whatever capacity she assumes. Just like her male counterparts.
I am aware that women leaving their jobs after marriage/kids is a very real issue for companies who spend time and money in training and aligning them. But how is it any different from a man leaving for better prospects elsewhere, or falling sick and being unable to work, or any one of the thousands of reasons people leave a job?
To differentiate and disrespect women for their career or family choices is unfair, unfortunate and shows a marked lack of character.
An HR manager would be remiss in not asking the obvious – what happens when …? But the way to approach this subject is not to assume the worst. It’s by giving the woman or man a chance to answer earnestly and give them the benefit of the doubt. Who knows, with the right attitude, they may even value your company enough to one day become die-hard loyal employees.
Have you ever had a biased experience working in the corporate sector? Man or woman, have you ever been discriminated against? Do share your story in the comments below!
p.s. Shortly after the above episode, I did indeed land a job with a reputed company – the Pakistan arm of Deloitte & Touche – where I worked alongside conservative bearded men who refused to make eye contact (haha) but that is another story altogether 🙂