A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

When we hope for equality

Posted by Pepper on January 10, 2012

I read a study somewhere that said about 68% of the employers in the world engage in “secret gender discrimination” at the time of hiring. The most common reason for having a strong preference for the male candidate is that they do not require maternity leave. Most women take a substantial amount of time off from work once they get pregnant, and them being granted maternity leave is a requirement by law in most places.

A part of me was enraged when I read this. How much more should women have to suffer? As if being raped, molested, discriminated against at home was not sufficient, they have to undergo such discrimination even at the work place? I spoke to Mint about this, and he asked me to think about it calmly. Accusing employers is easy, but does that in any way help the situation at hand? He made me think from the employer’s perspective. Imagine a hiring manager looking to fill the position of a ‘Team Lead’ for a very crucial and critical project. If he does hire a young, married female candidate, there is a good likelihood of her announcing her pregnancy within a few months and abandoning the project mid way. In a case like this, the employer might genuinely suffer huge loses in numerous ways. Do I blame him for thinking a male candidate is a safer choice? If he sees applications from both a male and a female candidate, both equally skilled people, would I blame him for wanting to chose the man? I wouldn’t. Yes, that does sound incredibly sexist, I know. However, every employer is concerned about the well being of his company, and whether we like it or not, the fact remains that because of biological reasons, women are at a disadvantage. Hiring them might hurt the business in some ways. Instead of pointlessly blaming the world for this inequality, maybe we should do everything within our power to make the professional set up more equal.

Add to this, as per the ‘Equal Opportunity Laws’, no employer is legally permitted to ask a woman personal questions like, “Are you married or pregnant?”, or “Are you considering having a baby anytime soon”?. As a result, they view every female candidate with certain biases. It is unfortunate. And the only way we can make this more even is by making ‘Paternity Leave’ a legal requirement, just the way ‘Maternity Leave’ is.

And why the hell not? Agreed, a mother, in the initial few months is not detachable because she is nursing the baby. The baby is physically dependent on her. But is that all it takes to nourish a baby? In fact, since the mother is already sore and sleep deprived with the endless cycles of breast feeding, it is only fair that the father is made to take on diaper changing and other sundry responsibilities. Why do we forget that the child is created by both, the man and the woman. The responsibility to raise the child lies on the parents, not the mother.

I have two friends who have recently had babies. Their days are spent cooing their little ones, changing diapers, rocking them, feeding them, entertaining them, it is tiring. They both have wonderful husbands who want to help, who want to do their bit for their child, but they are unable to because they are not granted any leave. As a result, they stay up all night, taking care of their infants, giving their tired wives some respite and some time to sleep, and they go back to work in the mornings, without getting much sleep themselves. How unfair is that?

And all this only because the society considers child raising to be solely a woman’s job. Apparently, a man’s job ends after shooting in some sperm.

How wonderful would it be if both the man and the woman got equal time off work to nurture their infant together? Unfortunately, the way I see it, even if they did introduce paternity leave, most men would consider it to be an extended holiday. The child’s responsibility would still lie with the mother. The average Indian man doesn’t think changing diapers is a part of his duty as a father. But there are a good number of men who consider their wives to be equal partners in a marriage, men who want to do their bit for their children, and they definitely deserve the chance. And only if we take the first step and instill the right ideas in the minds of the youth can we even hope for a better tomorrow. Most importantly, if paternity leave is made as common as maternity leave, employers and hiring managers would have one less reason to engage in gender discrimination.


39 Responses to “When we hope for equality”

  1. Sig said

    It’s an interesting dilemma – I remember reading about this a few years back and feeling the same sense of outrage that you are. Basically, women are getting punished for a biological part of them because it doesn’t ‘fit’ with a company’s goal of profiteering from their employees. The best (and happiest) workplaces as those that don’t look for ways to restrict, deprive or overlook women because they have or are thinking about children – they’re the ones that have the best work-life balance and understanding that work isn’t LIFE for their employees.

    I get the point about paternity leave – it’s still highly skewed in the favour of the mother and there is a long way before that changes – due to whole heap of factors including – financial (men still get paid more than women for doing the same job, so it makes more financial sense for the woman to stay at home even if the man might want to – plus the cost and availability of good quality childcare) and society’s thinking that childbearing/raising is solely the woman’s domain.

    Evs is lucky in the fact that he has a very flexible job and he wants to take time off if/when we have kids. It’s slowly getting there, but will take a while before it is truly equal.

  2. Preethi said

    Very true Pepper. Here in Singapore, the employer is allowed to know the marital status and I was even asked if I was planning for a baby soon (in 6 months time). It was very embarassing giving out these details to a complete stranger. As far as I know, in order to procure the job, most of the women do not give the right answers as well.

    • Pepper said

      They’re allowed to ask that? I am surprised. You’re right. Most women do not answer honestly and that only makes the employer more biased towards every female candidate.

  3. SK said

    Hmmm, as a new mom, i recently learnt that men do have the option of taking off. It’s called bonding leave, for upto 12 weeks. In CA half of it is paid. it can be taken upto 1 yr after the baby is born. Any parent can take it, father ,mother, when you adopt too. From what I understand maternity leave is not so you can spend time with the baby or to feed her. It’s more for themother to heal. She is physically incapacitated to work for upto 6-8 weeks after delivery. If your friends are in CA do ask them why they didn’t take it.
    Regarding equal role in parenthood, I agree! Ideal equality would be once the deed is done either of them can carry the offspring, it willbea surprise! Hah that would stop rape and abuse. I have thought alongthesamelines many times.

    Another point to ponder. I think men are at a disadvantage too, bcos they are forced to work to support their family, unlike women. Men HAVE to have a job to be considered worthy of marriage, and they cannot slack off and take time off to find their passion like women have the freedom to! Poor them right? Two sides of a coin!

    Oh, regard equal role in

    • Pepper said

      I am happy to note CA has that option. Not many places do.
      You’re right. The real purpose of maternity leave is to give women some time to heal. However, the leave is rarely used for its actual purpose. When new mothers stay home, their day involves tasks that are a lot more laborious than what they would have been had they been in front of their desk in office. A women mainly uses her leave to take care of her baby, not herself. It is just said that men don’t get as much time to do the same.

      Of course, men are at a big disadvantage because the society forces them to have have a job.

  4. R's Mom said

    Interesting thought…I know of companies which give 15 days paternity leave…but honestly Pepper, I think the whole concept of paternity leave may as well be lost on the Indian man exactly the way you said it, they would look at it as a long holiday thats all….I wish more men would help..infact even RD…till the time my MIL was around, he would hardly help with R, now that we are alone, he does equal work…is it in the upbringing?

    • Pepper said

      It is the social condition at work, more than anything else I think. At least RD does his bit when his parents are not around, most men don’t and it gets on my nerves.

  5. He..HE..This is a cool concept.Paternity leave for guys as well..Well said..And a sane solution to the woes of the modern mother..

  6. RS said

    I loved this post Pepper. If even the father is given paternity leave then I think some amount of this discrimination will come down. But then again I’ve heard issues like – he is not the one who is pregnant and goes through health issues through 9months – so why does he need 12 weeks of paternity and blah… Agreed on that point – but still once the baby is born definitely a father (who is interested ofcourse) will be doing his share of the work.

    Back again to your last para – how many such men ARE there who even want to take the paternity leave to be with the wife and kid? – I know of one who didnt take the option of the 5 days of paternity here and chose to sit at home and relax rather than offer help.

    Also, I dont think the number of days of paternity is not a law here yet-coz I know of companies who dont even give 3 days of such leave and I know of some which gives 2 weeks of paternity leave…

    • Pepper said

      I know most men won’t do much even if they did get the benefit of paternity leave. But atleast its a start. We as a society are sending across a message that says a father has a role to play in the development of his child. Maybe some day we will succeed in bringing about some change? I am just being hopeful.

  7. Good and thoughtful advice. I never thought on these lines. Thank you for opening up a new avenue of thought for me. 🙂

  8. vethal said

    When my baby was born, my F-I-L used to shout “baby did susu” “baby did kakka”. Those were days when I felt like shouting back if cleaning kakka/susu needed a PHD which only MIL/mom possessed. Unfortunately baby boys are treated very differently in many parts of India (esp Interior towns) …boys always think cleaning toilets/diapers is womens duty … we can fret /fume but somethings will take a VERY VERY long time to change !!!

    • Pepper said

      It will take a long time to change. Even in big cities, the attitude is not too different. I can imagine how bad it must be in the interiors. All we can do at this stage is hope, and spread as much awareness in these matters as we can.

  9. It seems unfair because the “normal” in our society is from the men’s perspective. Because, it is considered “normal” to give the same output at work when there is a baby at home. But, if taking baby-vacation was considered the normal, then the employers would not think twice about hiring women. I think as you said, we need to change this normal. Make the dads take paternal vacation. Even if it means an extended vacation for them. At least they will contribute something at home. (I am talking about stereotypical fathers who generally do not help at home 😉 ). That will at least create equality at work.
    I know one of my groupmates took a 3 week “taking-care-of-new-baby” vacation recently. Which is a good thing. There should be more such examples and for longer periods.

    • Pepper said

      Yes that was my point, even if they do not make significant contributions at home, atleast it will create more equality at work. So happy to know your colleague did that. We really need more such examples.

  10. Ashwathy said

    There was an article saying some companies in India are looking at mother-friendly options at work for women. For example, having a creche at work, or providing flexi-time options and things like that. This is to make sure they are providing more options to women and not losing out on good talent. Wish more companies followed that example.

    It also depends on the nature of work for example. For a work that requires the team to be with a customer or client physically, then this is not so easy. And with companies looking at profit with the easy way out, it’s little wonder that women bear the brunt of it. Also many companies are not willing to employ women who took a break to be with their kids.

    Paternity leave lasts for all of 7 days in most organizations, or less. Maternity leave is nothing less than 3 months. So even if paternity leave is enforced, I don’t think it makes a huge difference. It is the mind-set that has to change…..and made more gender sensitive…

    • Pepper said

      I was talking about having standardized laws, where men and women get EQUAL amount of leave once they have a baby. Wonder if we will live to see that day.

  11. I was once in my Principal’s room at school, running an errand and I overheard a conversation he had with the Vice-Principal. They had to urgently recruit a new teacher – and the choice was between a newly married woman and a 40-something year old lady. My VP openly said, ‘Lets hire the 40 year old, sir. This other lady will immediately ask for maternity leave in a few months’. My mouth almost dropped open.

    • Pepper said

      My mouth wouldn’t drop open. This is very common. Happens everywhere. I am gone past the shocked stage. Now I keep thinking of ways in which we can bring about some change.

  12. Anusha said

    Kudos for this post …..You bring out each aspect of any issue with so much clarity ….a subject that is much neglected specially in the HR practices followed in India,gender discrimination comes into picture at each and every stage of a woman’s career,it might go unnoticed because of some so called obvious reasons….

  13. How i wish!!!! 😦 😦 😦 they shud introduce paternity leaves – atleast a month…i think sme cos now are giving 15 days leave…i hope ths trend will slowly move to a 3 month period 😛 wishful thoughts u can say 😀 loved the way u described their responsibility 😉

    • Pepper said

      I strongly think a man and a woman should get equal amount of time off work. A 2 week paternity leave serves no purpose, other than giving the man a break from his daily office work. Women will still get discriminated against, because they need to be given a longer leave.

  14. Kartikay said

    Any solutions on how to counter this bias?

    Technically, even “years of work experience” can be considered a bias: more number of years doesn’t mean quality of work. But how does one counter this bias?

    • Pepper said

      There are innumerable biases that are hard to counter. When I wrote this post, Mint told me, even if they do bring about paternity leave, there is a chance that employers might discriminate between married and unmarried candidates. He is right. There is no end to it really.
      But gender discrimination is something I feel very strongly about. It’s because women are treated very shabbily in every sphere of life. It’s terrible when it happens even at the work place. So it is very important to tackle this one. How exactly we should go about it, I still don’t know.

      • Kartikay said

        You know, I work in a company with paternity leave (and yes, I’m in India. Shocker!). It’s good to see men taking off 2-3 weeks when their kid is born, and it’s also sad NOT to see some men taking their time off when it’s required.

        Like you said, there is not end to it! There are a lot of biases behind purchasing as well, and those are exploited by the madmen of the world. The thing is that they’re not disproving any bias, they’re just selectively highlighting them.

        I hope some solution is found!

  15. Pepper, you manage to hit the nail exactly on the head perfectly.
    If only companies that boast of being employee friendly also realize that this is part of the expectation or the “package” that men expect from them, things will turn around. At the company I worked for earlier, I believe maternity leave was for over 80 days and paternity leave a meagre 5. Also there are some places-major international banks that offer only a SINGLE day off for the father of the child.
    So if major corporations,international ones at that, do not do paternity leaves , as in atleast bring in the concept to Indian shores, it is quite unlikely that an archaic out and out Indian firm is going to take to it easily.
    Until then, we can hope as always and of course we will have many a wanting to help young dad spending many a sleepless nights.

  16. Tanishka said

    Maternity leave is just one reason but there are a lot of other reasons too, like

    1) Men assume that women are not flexible enough to work till late hours because they need to take care of the daily chores too
    2) It is difficult to send a woman to send for client visits (again assumed), so if the job requires travelling its better to choose man
    3) A lot of recruiters think that men are better at handling pressure than women
    4) Their are a lot of hitches in hiring an unmarried girl because their is always a possibility that she might get married and relocate because again when a girl gets married it is for sure that she we would only relocate, after guys can’t do it…

    People just make their own assumptions and end up discriminating… Its really sad but it does happens…

  17. Nikita said

    Its like one never ending discussion topic. I work in a great firm, which is very good for women be it flexi hours, wfh arrangemet or if required they make any sort of other arrangement so we work seamlessely and also maintain work life balance. So much so that at times jealous male collegues call our firm to be biased for women. They are if i am using the right term, equal opportunity employers. Atleast i have never seen any sort of obvious discrimination happening.

    Despite all this, i kept my wedding news under wraps untill the last minute. Apart from my manager & immediate team, everynody else was informed only a day before my wedding leave was due. Its just that, I thought that the attidute gets changed, once they hear that somebody marriage got fixed; they will tag the other person to be more casual towards work,a usual phone call would be considered distraction and talks like now she is always on phone, messaging always etc starts making rounds and unfortunately I feel this happens more towards women,as primarily we are not considered the bread earners and with us getting married, its like the sole purpose of earning money gets diluted as someone else would be earning for us. Important projects & reponsibilites not given for that period because man nahi lagega and other baseless assumptions are made.

    I dont say i have seen this in my organisation, but all this defintely cropped up in my head. May be becasue of what i usually see around specially in Indian work culture. Even i myself is not far from this attidude; recently i have been having some tough time with one of my collegues and only yesterday i realized she is expecting her second baby, i saw the baby bump. And unconsciously i tagged her recent cribby behaviour, mood swings to her pregnancy. I dont know how can any firm can handle this, but we cant deny the biological differnces between men & women.

    But on a short term basis i do see your solution of giving paternity leave to expecting/new dads making a differnce somewhere.

  18. An old timer who shut her blog said

    Yes, actually when you look at it from neutral perspective, almost all employers would choose men in place of women because of the reason you mentioned. Also because women leave on time coz they have their duties at home too. And most men just want to come home to a clean floor, fresh sheets, wonderful food and a smiling wife. Even though that wife is working too. Many men won’t share household chores coz of which women run home in the evening. Due to which they are victimized at workplace. It’s not only the child care that has to be shared between partners, but everything else too. How many husbands think of cooking a meal and cleaning the house while waiting for the wife to come home? Many things have to change, and mostly in the minds of people.

  19. Sigh! this topic hits home. my company gives 6 months paid leave for maternity. The minute a woman declares she is pregnant, you will still her performance rating is impacted which results in a lower hike and bonus, While i understand a manager has limited budgets for hikes and bonus and if two people are equally good, he would rather give the hike and the bonus to the one who isn’t on a “6 month holiday” – the unfairness of it all really hackles me!

    I think the idea of giving both parents a mat/pat break is a great idea – it will really help for the men to bond with their babies, ease the stress on the mothers and of course a by product like you said is less gender discrimination. But we all know that that is not going to happen but one can dream can’t we :”?

  20. Aparna said

    Good post. I had a similar take on this, from social policy and welfare angle, which I wrote about 6-7 months ago. You may like to have a look: http://advaithandyukta.blogspot.com/2011/07/men-women-and-work.html

  21. rambler said

    I think I have experienced what you are talking about.women being discriminated because of the maternity perspective. Its actually sad.
    I was pleasantly surprised with one of my colleague, who came up to me when we were planning a project and let me know that it might be a bad idea to plan something for her in a few months. I usually don’t ask reasons, and didnt in this case as well. What i wanted to bring up is, even after all this discrimination many women are so concerned about their work.

    I don’t agree with the thought of fatherhood being a long holiday. I agree there is a lot of physical and emotional turmoil a mother has to go through. I think there is a major upheaval in a new father’s mind too.

    • Pepper said

      There definitely is upheaval in a new father’s mind. And I wasn’t the one who called fatherhood an extended holiday. But it doesn’t change the fact that most fathers do treat their paternity leave as one. Very few fathers do all that they really should 🙂

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