Numerous professional women in various sectors have described experiences where they were turned down from interviews despite having requisite qualifications, simply because the employers felt that women are not suitable for the job
Many companies in Bangladesh, in particular those who employ high skill workers, are unwilling to recruit women, often openly advertising their discrimination when looking for employees.
Numerous professional women in various sectors have described experiences where they were turned down from interviews despite having requisite qualifications, simply because the employers felt that women are not suitable for the job.
For university graduates in Bangladesh, employment is already quite difficult to find. Two out of five unemployed persons are graduates, which is disproportionately high considering they make up less than five percent of the total workforce.
This reporter spoke to a number of young female professionals, who described having this experience.
Tanjilut Tasnuba, currently an assistant general manager for Brac, recalled an event in which she thought she had the job after she gave a stellar interview at an international development organization.
“I didn't actually apply for the position, they invited me. I had a good conversation with them and I felt I gave quite satisfactory answers,” she said.
“However, when I didn't get any response, I called the person who had invited me, and he said I was very good, but the position demands quite a lot of negotiation with government officials and others. Being a young lady, it might get difficult for me to handle them or they may try to take advantage,” she recalled.
How big is the problem?
A scrutiny of hiring advertisements posted a top job listings site in Bangladesh, over a period of 10 non-consecutive days, revealed that on average almost half the jobs posted are restricted for women.
Accounting, IT and various engineering jobs were the biggest offenders in this set of listings.
Of the 5,258 jobs that were scrutinized, 2,415, or 45% of the jobs were restricted to men. In IT, it was 66 of the 77 job postings, and in engineering it was 258 of the 443 postings.
When contacted, four of the five companies that made such job postings turned down a request for comment.
At one real estate firm that was looking for a male architect in a manager position, an official spoke on condition of being unnamed.
“This job requires that the manager go to various project locations and stay there, like say in Barisal. We do not have the facilities to accommodate a woman there. Even men do not want to go for such a job,” the official said.
No legal grounds?
Sarah Farzana Haque, who works at the Law Division of IFIC Bank, said she was confounded when she tried to apply for some legal positions at reputed companies on the job site and was unable to do so, because the employers had restricted female users from the applications.
“I wondered what sort of rule this is. I studied law, I can practice in court. This job is no harder than that,” she said.
“This whole thing is a manifestation of our social narrow-mindedness. The constitution, which is our highest law, forbids this sort of discrimination,” she said.
The right to non-discrimination is indeed enshrined in the constitution. However, there is no legal framework to ensure blind recruitment or non-discrimination.
Is security the main concern?
Some employers admit that they are reluctant to admit women into their workforce because their safety is an additional issue.
Many employers said in out-of-station work and jobs that demand late hours, they are reluctant to hire women because of safety concerns. The concerns are present on the side of female employees and their families as well.
Minarul Islam, a human resource professional who was formerly the head of HR at Augmedix, an IT-based company in Dhaka, said he was proud of the way the firm had worked to get women in the fold.
His team had to jump through hoops to get female employees to work for their night-long shifts, Minar said.
“When we recruited our first batch, we went in the company vehicles and met the girls’ parents to assure them that this was safe,” he said.
Professor Dr Umme Kulsum Novera of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), who has worked as a civil engineer for almost three decades, is optimistic about progress.
In 1993, when she joined a real estate company, she became the first female structural engineer there.
“The MD told me, you are my test case, if you do well, I will take more girls,” she said.
“So one day my colleagues and I go to this project in Mohakhali. It is a big hole in the ground and the foundation has been laid. We are matching the work with our design.
“Suddenly one of my colleagues says, Novera, look! I look up and see thousands of people gathered around the edge, watching. They had never seen a girl working on a construction site before,” the professor recalled.
Women have come a long way since then, with many female structural engineers employed industry-wide, Prof Novera said.
Families have to encourage women a little as well, she said.
“If a girl is asked, are you married, which I have heard people ask at many interview boards, she should say - that is not a criteria. You should see if I can work,” the professor said.