Here is a checklist for companies on how not to interview female candidates



When 34-year-old Shivani Bose was being interviewed for a VP – marketing (South Asia) role at a financial services firm two months ago, she was expecting a standard set of questions about the industry and her skills.

Instead, the HR manager primarily asked Bose about her marital status, plans to have children, how she would be able to manage work and personal life since her job required a lot of travel. This was not the first time Bose has been asked such personal questions.

“My simple point is how should my marital status or plans to have children be relevant to the job role? Three other male candidates interviewed for the same role. Were they asked the same question? I don’t think so,” she says.

Despite gender sensitisation and diversity being the top agenda across India Inc, interviewers and HR managers seem to be oblivious to what is appropriate and inappropriate while interviewing women candidates.

A slew of posts on social media also point to the same direction. An advertising copywriter and his wife interviewed for the same ad firm. While he was asked about his work experience and past projects, she was additionally asked about her family, household duties and whether she will be able to ‘handle’ long working hours.

“Since it was a virtual interview, we were able to hear the questions asked to each other. It was shocking for me that she was being grilled on work-life balance. It felt as if the interviewers were highly doubtful about her professional abilities merely because she is a mother to a 3-year-old child,” said Prashant Sable.

Banker Malathi Shankar faced a panel of three four interviewers in Chennai for an asset management position in 2020. Shankar, who is 35-years-old, was asked why she wasn’t married yet and whether she plans to get married in the next 12-15 months.

“My marital status is none of anyone’s concern. But that is almost the third or fourth question that is asked, exclusively to women,” she added.

In the entertainment industry, including films, television and modelling as well as in aviation (pilot, air hostess), women often have contractual obligations against marriage or having children. Violation of a contract could mean that their services would be terminated. Now this is being stretched to the corporate world as well.

Disallowing marriage or pregnancy could be challenged in court. So, HR managers take the subtle route to cross question interviewees on their family plans.

Hiring consultants said that this practice is much more common in the past two years since the laws were tweaked to allow 26 weeks maternity leave.

This means that women in the 25-35 years age group will be subtly asked during the interviews about their plans to get married and have children. Men, of course, are exempt.

“I was planning a shift job when I was just three weeks pregnant. I thought it was only fair that I should inform the prospective employers of my pregnancy. But all the companies I interviewed for expressed unwillingness to hire me during my pregnancy and even advised that I should re-apply after the child is about two years old,” said Zainam Siddiqui, a 29-year-old software professional from Kolkata.

While the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 states that companies cannot terminate employees during pregnancy, this law does not make any explicit mention of refusal to hire women on the basis of pregnancy.

Unconscious biases exist despite gender diversity and inclusion being a board agenda among companies. The least that could be done is to change the way women are interviewed. What is important is whether her skills are relevant to the job, not whether she is married or likely to become a mother soon.