After finishing university, I drifted for a while. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of a career, whether to continue in education, go travelling etc. I signed up to a few recruitment agencies, sent half-hearted job applications and speculative CV’s. Job hunting can be daunting when you leave university, all the expectation of that degree finally paying off weighs heavy and the pressure is exacerbated when you don’t really know what you want to do for a living.
One particular experience in my search for a job (that I was hoping would lead to a meaningful career) is notable even after all these years; it was an interview arranged for me by a recruitment agency for a job that wasn’t in the field that I had studied, nor was it something I particularly wanted but it was a job and I needed something to tide me over while I worked out what I was going to do with my life.
I researched the role and the company which was a small, family-run clothing firm. They were looking for an office administrator to process invoices, arrange for orders to be shipped out and as the role progressed, get involved in bringing in new customers and securing orders. I had been told that the person I needed to ask for was called Bal. Ahaa, a fellow BrAsian I thought.
Bal explained how the business had been started by her parents; her Mum sewed clothes in a back bedroom of their family home while her father handled the orders and finances. Her brothers had not shown an interest in following in the parents’ footsteps, so she took over the running of the business. Her drive and initiative clearly showed as she spoke with passion about how she wanted to progress and expand the business – she was no Stella McCartney, but she knew what she was doing and where she wanted to go. I began to feel fairly confident as the interview progressed, I felt that I answered the interview questions thoroughly, gave detailed examples of my achievements and secretly thought that my BrAsian status would give me the edge on other candidates.
And then this happened:
Bal asked me if my parents were planning to get me ‘married off’ anytime soon. She explained that she didn’t want to appoint someone who would then have to leave the job because they got married and were moving to another part of the country so if I was getting married any time soon, I should let her know and she would have to consider another applicant. Yes, another BrAsian woman actually asked me this.
I was furious, but all I managed was to reply in the negative. (See previous post about my inability to respond spontaneously with witty or cutting remarks). How dare she (I glowered internally). There is no way she would have asked a white candidate that question; how could she in one swoop, stereotype all young British Asian women in an all-encompassing generalisation where the sum of their goals in life was marriage. And an arranged one at that.
Bal was married; she had alluded to a husband earlier in our meeting and wore a very traditional Indian gold wedding ring set. Had she not had an arranged marriage and therefore felt superior to the rest of us who in her mind would be consigned to that fate? I came to the conclusion that as she still lived in the area she had grown up in, either her husband had moved from where he lived to join her after they married, or she had married locally. Or, she had married an Indian-Indian and brought him over; so her assumption that I would have to move away after getting married wasn’t manifested from her own experiences.
Any which way you look at it, her remark wasn’t justified. Throughout the course of the interview, I hadn’t once hinted that the job would only be short-term for me, a stop-gap until something better came along so what had possessed her to ask such a culturally, not to mention racially (imagine if a white boss had asked that question of an Asian applicant) loaded question? I had a white friend at the time who was also job-hunting and concealing from potential employers that she was only planning on staying for a few months in order to save enough money to go travelling around Australia but she would not have been subjected to such a question.
The woman at the recruitment agency called me later in the day to see how the interview had gone and asked if I would be interested in taking the job if Bal called me back. I said no and relayed the incident to her and told her that the question about marriage had been highly inappropriate, but all she established from that was that the role wasn’t for me.
Thankfully, that was the one and only time I had been judged on my background in a job interview rather than my abilities but I think what made the whole episode striking for me was that the person doing the judging had been a fellow BrAsian.
As always, I welcome the experiences and perspectives of my readers; let me know if you have been asked an improper question relating to your race/ethnicity/culture in a job interview? How did you handle it, did you take the matter any further by raising a complaint for example? Have you ever been negatively stereotyped by a fellow BrAsian, what happened, what was your reaction?