Trigger Warning: This post contains graphic description of a traumatic incident towards the end.
As a woman, you constantly have to negotiate your way in patriarchal spaces due to the ubiquity of sexism. You are initiated into a society that figuratively and literally denies institutional sexism while indulging in it.
The presence of women at workplaces defying gender roles and transcending the unidimensional identity assigned to them, needless to say, makes many uncomfortable. After all, how do you carry out oppression when the oppressed refuse to comply?
Oppressive structures, however, do try. And since the institutions exclusively cater to straight men, the oppressed are denied redressal.
Talking exclusively about hiring discrimination, women have to navigate around mindless sexism and male entitlement when they make a choice to work. They have to face degradation at work in several forms which are grossly offensive and outrageous in the least.
We put a call out and several women reached out to us with stories of discrimination they personally had to endure or witnessed first hand. Institutional sexism in corporate offices is rampant, and they are not only complicit, but they actively perpetuate it.
There are several studies conducted which prove that corporate spaces make it difficult for women, and especially pregnant women to work and some of them had to leave the job or look for job elsewhere because they couldn’t continue with the company.
1 in 2 mothers reported experiencing discrimination in their workplace at some point during their pregnancy.
Smriti* reached out to us through Instagram. Her relative rejected a candidate for the most outrageous and ridiculous of reasons. “My relative rejected the job application of a woman who was wearing a hijab. He claimed he wouldn’t want to work with some with someone he cannot see”. This sexist, islamophobic and ridiculous statement is outrageous and unacceptable.
Sanya and Shweta both pointed out that in their offices, the managers made it a habit to ask women when they would be getting married and reasoned that question saying they did not want to hire anyone who would be getting married and leave soon. Do they ask similar questions from male candidates? Of course, they don’t.
Not only does this question imply that they think the man is the primary breadwinner, it also implies a woman’s place is eventually at home. For all the progress we have made, we still find it challenging to leave the caveman theory behind. They make it actively difficult with such derogatory questions for women to work. They purposefully instill ‘impostor syndrome’ in women.
In 2012, only an abysmal 28% of the female working age population was part of the labour force as opposed to 82% of the male working population.
Anya mentioned a generic conversation she witnessed in her office. These conversations and casual sexism in offices are commonplace. “The managers in my company were talking about their preference for male candidates over female candidates. They said that women should be purposefully hired at lower levels than men, as men are less fussy when it comes to travel”.
Let us address this – it is men who threaten the mobility of women. If women are reluctant, it’s because of the ubiquity of sexual assault. Also, to assume and generalise that all women’s behaviour pattern is the same is the very definition of sexism.
Also Read: A Crash Course on Workplace Gender Biases
Poly also reached out with her upsetting story of how she lost out on a promotion with nothing but institutional sexism to blame for. “I was denied a 3-year contract if promoted to MD in my company solely on the assumption that I was 27 and so about to get married soon”. There is systemic discrimination against married women and women of a ‘marriageable age’. Reinforcing regressive gender roles anyone?
Kali who reached out to us on Facebook talks about her experience of witnessing a brutal kind of sexism. She shared her friend’s experience at the company she worked for. “She was pregnant at the time of the job and enquired the HR manager(also a woman) if she can get a three-month maternity leave. She was told that either she can leave the job or abort her pregnancy”.
This is, to say the least – shocking. How do corporations get away with this kind of obnoxious behaviour and no consequences? This is a direct violation of certain rights. Kali rightly pointed out how women can be complicit in perpetuating institutional sexism too, and this is a textbook case of internalized sexism.
There are several studies which highlight commonplace discrimination against pregnant women. The discrimination in some cases can also be in violation of certain legal rights, but it is so commonplace that that deflates the seriousness of such discrimination.
Rhea reached out to us through Instagram. She detailed her harrowing experience of an internship interview with a sexist manager.
“I applied for an internship at a famous website for Indian restaurant search and delivery service. I had applied to be a part of the operations team and they gave me sales. When I questioned him why was I given sales and not operations, he said its a guy’s job and very demanding. I told him my classmate, who happened to be a girl, got the internship in the operations team a few days back. He said irrelevant to the fact she was hired, she won’t be sent much on the field. Turns out, she was interviewed by a less sexist guy.”
People have normalized sexism, and are clearly very comfortable stating their sexist beliefs. Since institutions exclusively cater to men, they make it actively difficult for women to get institutional redressal. That’s why so many are reluctant to come forward with their complaints against sexism because there is a real chance their experience won’t be given legitimacy.
Divya recounted her tale of discrimination in the development sector. She said that a colleague asked for a long leave as she was getting married. When the HR team was discussing it, they expressed their reluctance to extend her the leave as they were sure she would soon get pregnant and ask for more days off.
For all the progress we have made, we still find it challenging to leave the caveman theory behind.
Kritika was asked on day 1 of her job when she was planning to have a second child. She was told by her manager that she was only here for a year as the manager was sure she would soon get busy with her childrens’ studies.
In fact, the corporate sector systemically excludes older married women. Several women recounted that organisations exclusively hired younger women and even self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ organizations were culpable of this practice. How is this not reinforcing regressive gender roles? How is this not actively halting progress?
Isha, another woman who reached out to us on Instagram shared a disturbing incident that took place in her office.
“Even when they hire younger women they are generally inclined towards hiring women who are traditionally good looking. And the office put a lot of pressure on one woman who was pregnant. She was told maternity leave rules are framed by the central government and not the state government. The woman had to work through her pregnancy and was denied maternity leave. The stress got to her and she delivered a stillborn child. It was heartbreaking. They also outrightly deny paternity leave to men as well.
Isha also stated several instances where women who were dark-skinned were denied the job opportunity. She emphasised on the fact that conventionally good looking women were given precedence over those who were not, irrespective of qualifications. The women who were conventionally good-looking may or may not be more qualified, that was considered irrelevant.
So far, women can be denied job opportunities if they wear a hijab, if they are dark-skinned, if they are pregnant, if they are of a ‘marriageable age’ and if they are older. Women can be denied job opportunities solely by the factor of being a woman – period.
The only silver lining of this situation we have initiated a conversation and organised a figurative resistance. And resistances can be powerful.
SHEROES helps measure how friendly companies are towards women. More than 10,000 women have shared their views on how the hiring experience was and how hiring discrimination affected their careers. Some of the companies reviewed as women-friendly by the SHEROES community are Sapient, Evalueserve and Pricewaterhouse Coopers. Share your experience to help a fellow woman find #HerDreamWorkplace.
Featured Image Credit: Times Of India
*All the names have been changed to protect people’s identity.