By Fatma AlKhaja (@fay_alkhaja)
As a woman in a semi-preserved culture, getting a call for an interview is difficult. If that is hard, have you ever considered how hard the actual interview would be?
I have been to many interviews and unfortunately, the minute I walk into the interview room, for most, I am still judged by my local attire (the abaya and sheila). I have read articles about how women are dominating the workforce and educational zone (The pen, the book, and a boss in an abaya by Sultan Al Qassimi). However, it is still a challenge to go through an interview without any constraints. At an interview, the Emirati woman candidate is looked at differently than men when it comes to questions. In most cases, women are always seen as a potential threat.
I remember in the early days (around 2004), I had a job interview; my first actually. I walked in with confidence and a smile and the first question the interviewee asked me was: ‘when you have children, will you leave your job?’ I looked at him firmly and told him that I was not even married, yet, he insisted on my response. I walked out feeling ‘weird’ for being asked such a question. I also kept going back in my mind trying to remember what I had answered, but it was blank.
Fast-forward this scenario to a couple of years later and others asked the same questions. All of the questions were revolving around my commitment to the job. I was always in scenarios like this: “if I was to get married or bare a child, would I still be with them?” I was seen as a potential threat to their costs. A lot had in mind that I was a woman who only wanted to kill some time or make money and have it saved in my savings account before my prince charming came by and swept me off my feet.
In every other country, asking such questions is considered illegal, yet here, a lot of companies, being local or multinational get away asking them without being penalized. USAToday covered this topic in 2001. Harvard Business School has a page on their website covering illegal interview questions. The Washington Post published an article in 2003, “38 Illegal, Sensitive, and Stupid Interview Questions…and How to Respond,” such a topic has been covered over and over in international countries, yet here, we are repeatedly asked illegal questions.
There are a lot of women out there that ‘need’ a job rather than ‘want’. They are providers for their families, children, household, or simply, they want to be financially independent. I applaud to all women who proved others wrong and were able to get this done while getting married, and baring their 3rd child.
I am a firm believer in company’s organizational structure and practices. I am not here to judge the way they run their business, however, as a woman; one must speak out in order for others to consider their situation. Each individual comes with her own set of needs and wants. It is an organization’s job to assess that in a professional way. I believe it is more profound for an organization to be clever about the way they ask their questions to get their answers rather than blasting an interview candidate with a direct question.
At first, I had thought that only few organizations were like that, but then I realized that most of them were asking the same thing. Is it always going to be the same for single women? Newlywed? Or married to be? Etc. If you are single, the potential of getting married is a threat. If you are married, the potential of getting pregnant is a threat. Post all of those interviews, I found myself trying to always justify and explain myself in interviews by ensuring that I am committed and not planning to leave. I am not only here to stay, I am here to stay for good, and be part of the family.
Fatma (Fay), Emirati girl, with an experience in Corporate Communications and CSR. She is passionate about anything that is traditional and Emirati. In her free time she loves to watch Japanese anime, read manga, and play videogames. Spas are not the only thing that relaxes her, but cooking as well.
Fay’s columns observe work-life experiences and balance. A lot of her articles are based on first-hand personal experiences and issues she has seen or been part of. She loves to observe her surroundings, and watch how people handle different situations they’ve been put in.Also, she is trying to balance the art of staying positive at work and helping her peers understand that not everything should be a problem. With her writings she hopes to make a difference and make people more observant of the little problems in life, or work that hasn’t escalated to a catastrophe. It’s the little things that matters.