Gender and Genz: Equity Hiring - Op Ed
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
“We’re used to winning, but so is everyone else around us.”
I’ll never forget the introductory statement given by Prof. Amitabha Tripati in our first lecture at IIT Delhi. The statement is true. When we try for something, we generally get it, whether it would be topping 4th grade, getting a good rank at SOF Olympiads, and obviously, getting into IIT. I’m not saying we’re lucky, there’s a mountain of hard work and passionate commitment behind our achievements, but until we get our first “chaugi”, or our first loss in poltu, we’re not used to seeing a plethora of commitment gone to waste. And obviously, the “chaugi” was because of the professor, and the poltu loss was because “dusra candidate seniors ke saath phoonkta hai.” And while poor grades and Election losses can often be compensated for, failing to secure internships and jobs, arguably the biggest thing that puts IITs apart, are slightly tougher to digest. And of course, even here, there has to be a reason why we fail. And of course, that reason is that these companies have approached hiring with a specific bias in their mind.
The topic of the reservation is always the elephant in the room at IIT. In a Humanities course I recently studied, our professor asked us to speak out about reservation. After 5 minutes of pin-drop silence, one student braved herself to speak out her views. What followed was 55 minutes of intense discussion both supporting and against reservation.
Personally, while I see the need and benefits of reservation, I believe it is unfair to those who aren’t benefiting from it. When you are taught that the world is a rat race, your reaction to all problems is to try and be the best, because you know that the best will win the race. So, in a race to secure the prestigious day 1 internship, you know that objectively the best CVs get shortlisted, and the one who’s code passes maximum test cases should get selected. When you don’t, it’s natural to feel sad and resentful at the process.
Now, does a preference exist when companies come for training and placements? I personally believe it exists in some companies, not in others. I can think of 2 reasons why this preference exists -
Mismatched Supply - Demand. As is the case in any market, as the supply increases, the tougher it is for each product to be sold. The reason it’s tougher for engineers to get into IIMs isn’t because IIMs do not like engineers, it’s simply because the number of engineers applying for IIMs is too much. The supply of male students for internships/jobs is around 90% while that of female students is 10%. May it be for diversity or any other reason, even if a company wants at least 25% females (let alone 50-50), there will be a need for some preference in hiring (assuming that the average talent of males and females is equal). Now ideally, after the sex ratio of IIT improves, this preference should cease to exist. Why is the sex ratio so bad? Let’s come to our 2nd point.
Upliftment - Even if there is a preference in hiring, according to my experience, core and advisory fields are male-dominated. And as I do not believe that males are inherently more adept in these fields, the only reason for this dominance is the society and in general, the excessive struggles that females do still face. While I won’t go deeply into this, it would be foolish for us to notice that even while it might be equally easy for females to fill in their CVs (also arguable considering the low ratio of females occupying top tier PORs), there are a plethora of struggles that are still being faced - right from preferences being shown through the family, to casual sexism and objectification faced in the society and also while in IIT.
Even with these reasons, from a male perspective, these are the issues I see in the process and the outcomes of hiring today -
Expectations ≠ Reality.
Imagine us not knowing that reservation exists in IITs. Let’s say you get an AIR of 8000. Knowing that IITs have 10000 seats, you are overjoyed, you think you’ve aced JEE Advanced and you’re happy. Suddenly, you realize that only 5000 of these seats were open for you. This is where resentment kicks in more, this is where the anger comes. A counter to this may be that this confirms the complaints of a bias. Well, I’d say that you don’t feel bad about your achievement until someone devalues it. If an award is being given to one female and one male student, it’s not going to leave anyone dejected and feeling betrayed by the system. And when no one is dejected, no one is going to call out on an achievement. Transparency is something which is important and should be there, in order to readjust expectations, which could affect overall planning towards internships/alternatives as well.
Cascading effect of Interns on Placements.
Now let’s accept that there is a need for giving preferences to uplift a section of the society which is facing greater struggles. The first preference is given during selection in IITs through JEE Advanced. Then during training, this preference is given again. Now, these students who have already been given this preference and now have the best college and the best firms on their CV, are once again given this push while sitting for placements. This cascading effect creates an aura of an additional platform which may not be needed in the first place. Now, the male population does not receive these platforms. And while our lives may be easier and our struggles easier to overcome, the struggle of landing a top internship/job gets tougher and tougher as our direct competitors are given this platform. And one something you want keeps drifting out of reach for no fault of your own, it is natural to feel cheated by the system.
Even if we understand the reasons and the problems surrounding this process, we still arrive at a mess. Because no one can answer the question - What do we do about this?
Well, asking transparency from companies in their procedures for hiring could be a good start. But at the end of the day, the only way any issue of reservation is solved is when the given platform is removed. And the only correct time to remove this platform is when there is no need for this platform any more.
Statements like “HRs are tharki” or “girls should raise their voice against this preference” aren’t helping. An interviewer is not sitting on the other side of the table wanting to be seduced by a 20 years old interviewee. Trying to state your point by sexualising this process is the easiest thing to do, but also the most pointless. Objectifying the decisions made by companies won’t ever get them listening to you, as all objectification does is it dismisses the underlying point as one coming from a sexist, misogynistic person, and given the amount of objectification already existing in the world, no one can be blamed for avoiding conversations which are unnecessarily inserting it. And of course, in this rat race, no one is going to resist a gentle push on the way to the finish line. Expecting that is like expecting every rich person to give up their riches.
We’re all taught to run away from a place that seems unsafe. If you want someone to hear your complaints and someone to engage in a discussion, let’s create a space free from judgement and devaluation. Because in the end, we all want to finish the same race, you’ll slip too if you try to sabotage the tracks.
“Yaar tu ladki hai, teri toh job/ intern lag hi jayegi“ – sounds familiar right? Before your preconceived notion of how this-will-just-be-some-feminist-rant kicks in and you stop reading further, let me quickly clarify – I’ll try and make it as logical as possible.
It is a well-known fact that female representation in the workforce is abysmally low - a trend easily evident in the corporate world as well. Lack of female role models, pay-gap debates are very much real. When this situation is analyzed from the corporate lens, improving the sex ratio makes sense and this often takes up the form of targeted recruitment. Corporates also leverage the positive impact of diverse perspectives at the workplace and a more inclusive reputation highlighted as part of their social responsibility. Thus, the corporates usually have a strong logical backing whenever they come to campus with a seemingly ‘female-preference’ outlook.
This corporate trend then percolates down to a campus-like IITD. Due to a low sex ratio, when corporates come with an agenda of meeting their internal targets, it’s absolutely likely that the statistics favour women candidates over their male counterparts. While I agree that women get a preference, I still don’t see how around 100 women can be held responsible for reducing the chances of the 700 male candidates. In fact, out of these 100, at least 15-20 (if not more) would be as suited as their male counterparts as a sole result of the profiles they have built. Additionally, one very often overlooks the fact that there are multiple societal challenges that most women still go through before and after becoming a part of the IITD community – familial prejudices against sending women for pursuing streams/ careers viewed as male-centric for starters.
If we now look at the male community - it is not unreasonable for them to resent female counterparts that got a preference over them. Seeing someone get an advantage despite their resume/ experience not being as great as your own can be frustrating. But having said that, it is important to realize that indulging in belittling women and their achievements, spreading narratives/ content that targets women as well as passing sexist statements is also not justified. While I agree that recruitment might not be unbiased, I very strongly feel that narratives that discredit women and their efforts are so overdone that more often than not, they are narratives that act as an excuse to justify one’s own failure.
This ‘psychological conditioning’ further manifests as a detrimental challenge in the female community. When women are repeatedly told that all their accomplishments are primarily credited to them being females, it acts as a severe blow to a women’s self-confidence and her ability to trust herself to perform well only based on her skillset. The so-called ‘placement/ intern meme’ groups don’t help the situation either. Hearing your worth being de-valued by your own peer group – by both men and women these days – merely cements your conditioning.
It is thus a complex social situation, where every stakeholder is trying to adjust, realign and find the best solution. We may have not found the best solution yet, but it still does not give anyone the freeway to act detrimentally towards a social segment.
Some Intriguing Questions
Q) Girls in IIT come from a much greater level of privilege than the girl child the reservation policy hopes to help. This brings into question the merit of giving them reservation even though they, by and large, have come from a setting at par with the boys in terms of facilities available for training. Don’t you think preferential hiring from IITs then serves only the companies - as they get to look woke with their diversity figures?
Maitreya: All reservations help those who are already privileged most in that reserved category. Caste-based reservation is also most beneficial to high income families, who’s children also have had access to similar facilities as those of the general caste. This doesn’t mean there is no benefit to it. Two benefits I see are
More girls in IIT means more top engineers, leading to more role models for a young girl to look up to.
A major issue (even in high income families) is the small internal bias some parents could have towards boys. Basically, if they have 2 children, they are more likely to send the boy to coaching classes for JEE rather than the girl, based on the precedence that engineering is a male dominated field. I have personally seen more parents willing to opt for JEE coaching for their daughter given that it now has become slightly easier to get into a top college.
Mallika: While most girls in IIT come from a privileged background, there are also those that come from less privileged communities. However, the merit of giving reservation gets diluted when it is leveraged by the privileged community. Preferential hiring does help some of the under-privileged, but I agree to the fact that in its current form, the system is mainly serving the companies.
Q) It’s been acknowledged in both articles that companies prefer hiring women for social responsibility brownie points. Don’t you think that encouraging this kind of corporate culture is unethical and unfair, because it devalues both the female candidate who got chosen as well as the male candidate who didn’t ?
Maitreya: No. It doesn’t devalue. Posts on social media about the process devalue the candidate. Certain awards are specifically given to two people, a boy and a girl. No one feels bad when they win an award and when a girl wins the award.
A company can come with 10 offers, saying 4 are for females. The only thing that can/should be criticized is the company’s metric, and not the aptitude of the candidates who got placed there.
Mallika: I agree that this concept is unfair and does devalue skills of selected women and rejected men. Yet, from a practicality and convenience perspective, corporates will always prefer to earn the brownie points than attempting to create an ideal world.
Q) Getting rejected only because of his gender might take a toll on the guy’s mental health and confidence. Shouldn’t companies straight out just ask boys to not even compete for jobs with preferential hiring ?
Maitreya: No. It’s not like it’s impossible to get into these firms. The number of boys in most firms are significantly more than the number of girls. But yes, it has now become tougher for boys to get a job at firms which have preferential hiring and I believe they should be aware of this. (Not even sure why companies which take 50% girls and 50% boys should tell boys not to compete only. Defeats the purpose)
Mallika: Repercussions on mental health and confidence would be true in case of any rejection. I feel that preferential hiring is only part of the problem, and rejections cannot be credited solely to the same. While there would be cases where this might be the key reason, but if we look at the bigger picture, 100 women cannot be held responsible for 700 rejections. For the few who actually lose jobs due to preferential hiring, I agree that the situation is unfair and unfortunate.
Q) Would you prefer a system of placements where the CV does not show the candidate's name, caste and gender ? and Why ?
Maitreiya: Tough to answer. I think this depends on the firm’s selection criteria. If a firm is coming