Women at work

Marriage, pregnancy, children? The unfair questions asked of women job seekers in India

A bank in Chennai was this week forced to drop such questions from its recruitment form after the Bank Employees Association protested.

Companies and recruiters in India routinely ask prospective women employees questions about their marital status and maternity plans, yet the country has no laws or norms governing such discrimination.

While a small number of firms and recruiters also ask men similar questions, these are usually general queries about their families. Employers seem to reserve the pointed, and sometimes downright insensitive, questions for women.

“At two of the companies that interviewed me this year, I was asked openly whether I am married or whether I plan to get married in the near future,” said Aisha, a 28-year-old Mumbai resident who did not want to reveal her full name as she is still looking for a job.

Aisha has also come across a company in Mumbai that has a clear policy of not hiring women if they are pregnant, soon to be married, or planning to have children soon. “I don’t think male candidates are asked about their marriage plans, because in our culture it’s just understood that the woman is the one who moves to wherever her husband lives,” said Aisha.

This week, for example, Canara Bank was forced to remove such questions on its recruitment form after the Bank Employees' Federation of India protested against them.

For the past few months, candidates applying for jobs at the bank's branches in Chennai had been faced with a set of rather shocking questions on the recruitment form. The company reportedly wanted to know whether women candidates were pregnant and when they had their last period, and clearly stated that pregnancy would be a bar for immediate appointment.

The form also specified that people suffering from some kinds of ailments – including cancer, HIV and hypertension – would not be considered “fit" for employment.

But Indian law helps only women who are already employed. The Maternity Benefits Act of 1961 provides for 12 weeks of maternity leave for all employed women, and makes it illegal for an employer to dismiss or discharge a pregnant employee from service during the leave period.

Human resource executives acknowledge that concerns about pregnancy and marriage preoccupy employers when they hire, but they believe some of it is justified.

“Pregnancy is a health issue and any employer would think twice before taking on someone who would need to be on maternity leave soon after being hired,” said Ananth Srinivasan, the head of a human resources consultancy firm in Gurgaon.

Asking women about wedding plans may be discriminatory, but that, too, is common across the board, said Srinivasan. “Even women employers are reluctant to hire or promote someone who is going to get married if they feel it could affect the company’s work,” he said.

Some recruiters, however, insist that an employer’s interest in marriage and family is more innocuous than it may seem.

“While recruiting employees, I have asked both men and women about their families and children, because people with school-going children often have concerns about jobs that require frequent transfers,” said A Rabindranath, a director at Gurgaon-based management consulting firm Hay Group. “These were common questions a decade ago, but these days some people perceive it as being offensive.”

Is the issue really about a growing sensitivity to seemingly innocuous or legitimate recruitment criteria? Women who feel they have been passed over by recruiters because of their personal plans to marry or have children would not agree.

“As a practice, companies should ask women only those questions that they would also ask men, whether it is about marriage, children or child-care leave,” said Poonam Barua, founder-chairman of the New Delhi-based Forum for Women in Leadership, a national forum that works towards gender sensitivity in the Indian corporate world. “That is the only way to create a level playing field.”

 
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Can a colour encourage creativity and innovation?

The story behind the universally favoured colour - blue.

It was sought after by many artists. It was searched for in the skies and deep oceans. It was the colour blue. Found rarely as a pigment in nature, it was once more precious than gold. It was only after the discovery of a semi-precious rock, lapis lazuli, that Egyptians could extract this rare pigment.

For centuries, lapis lazuli was the only source of Ultramarine, a colour whose name translated to ‘beyond the sea’. The challenges associated with importing the stone made it exclusive to the Egyptian kingdom. The colour became commonly available only after the invention of a synthetic alternative known as ‘French Ultramarine’.

It’s no surprise that this rare colour that inspired artists in the 1900s, is still regarded as the as the colour of innovation in the 21st century. The story of discovery and creation of blue symbolizes attaining the unattainable.

It took scientists decades of trying to create the elusive ‘Blue Rose’. And the fascination with blue didn’t end there. When Sir John Herschel, the famous scientist and astronomer, tried to create copies of his notes; he discovered ‘Cyanotype’ or ‘Blueprints’, an invention that revolutionized architecture. The story of how a rugged, indigo fabric called ‘Denim’ became the choice for workmen in newly formed America and then a fashion sensation, is known to all. In each of these instances of breakthrough and innovation, the colour blue has had a significant influence.

In 2009, the University of British Columbia, conducted tests with 600 participants to see how cognitive performance varies when people see red or blue. While the red groups did better on recall and attention to detail, blue groups did better on tests requiring invention and imagination. The study proved that the colour blue boosts our ability to think creatively; reaffirming the notion that blue is the colour of innovation.

When we talk about innovation and exclusivity, the brand that takes us by surprise is NEXA. Since its inception, the brand has left no stone unturned to create excusive experiences for its audience. In the search for a colour that represents its spirit of innovation and communicates its determination to constantly evolve, NEXA created its own signature blue: NEXA Blue. The creation of a signature color was an endeavor to bring something exclusive and innovative to NEXA customers. This is the story of the creation, inspiration and passion behind NEXA:

Play

To know more about NEXA, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.