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Gender stereotyping in Indian recruitment advertising

Sunday, 8 June 2014 - 1:26pm IST | Agency: dna

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Recently, the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s (NCERT) department of women studies found some elements of gender stereotyping in NCERT textbooks. The analysis of 18 textbooks shows “men mainly in a variety of professions and women as homemakers, teachers, nurses and doctors”.

The report notes that “women are shown as teachers, cooks, doctors and nurses reflecting an extension of household work”. Men are “depicted in multiple professions, as pilot, artists, astronauts, magicians, rulers.”

According to the latest global gender gap index published by the World Economic Forum, India ranks 101 out of 136 countries. India’s rank for economic participation and opportunity is an appalling 124.

Gender stereotypes, like most stereotypes are the manifestation of the perceivers’ observation of a particular group indulging in a specific behaviour, activity over a period of time. Eventually, these stereotypes get re-enforced by cognitive and social mechanism. A large majority of stereotypes get inculcated in our psyche during our formative years from parents, teachers and the media.

The view that particular jobs are suitable for a particular gender is a notion that has been nurtured and perpetuated by cultures and further reinforced by media. The traditional “women belongs to hearth” stereotypical attitude has deep cultural roots. 

Gender equality in India has attracted considerable attention from scholars who have peered through sociological, economic lens about the underpinnings of the gender inequality in the nation where women are apotheosised as goddess (Natrajan, 2001). However, research on gender stereotyping is clearly lagging. (Khandelwal, 2002), studied organisations in India and found male managers are stereotyped as working in production, sales whereas women are stereotyped as working in ‘soft fields’ like HR, PR. (Punia, 2005) found that women have moved outside their traditional roles however, and that male managers were found ‘least satisfied’ when they had female bosses.

Sujoya Basu’s (Basu, 2008) Gender Stereotypes in Corporate India affirms that gender stereotypes relegate women to a secondary position in most Indian corporations. The Indian manager is a vehement proponent of the ‘think manager-think male’ ideology, more so than his international counterparts.

Gender stereotyping in recruitment is a vicious self-fulfilling circle. Discriminatory hiring practices send misleading signals to women about the kind of jobs they are suitable for, in turn dampening or muffling their aspirations. Women construct their identities through the lens of these gender stereotypes and willingly accept their disadvantaged place in the workforce. (Ridgeway, 1997)

Most people are not cognisant of the role played by mass media in perpetuating and reinforcing stereotypical notions in recruitment advertisement. Initially most academic research was done on recruitment ad campaigns of US companies, where regulations exist against gender discrimination in advertising. (Perry, 1993) asserted that keywords present in job advertising are considered evidence of hiring bias. Recruitment advertising exposes the real intentions an organisation has towards gender stereotyping and organisational segregation based on gender. An organisation might be very politically correct in their ad and PR campaigns but if their job advertisements don’t reflect that commitment to fair hiring practices, then all talk of giving equal opportunities and equality is just sham.

There have been few studies regarding gender stereotyping in Asia that have clearly demonstrated the prevalence of gender stereotyping in those nations. However, up until now there hasn’t been any research on gender stereotyping in recruitment in India.

So, to do something regarding that, I took classifieds ‘situations vacant’ section of a leading national daily on a Sunday in November 2012, December 2012 and January 2013, and did a detailed content analysis of the ads. A stereotyping index based on four variables viz; mention of gender, sex specific term, age and photograph (either required with application or the presence of a photograph along with the print advertisement) to code gender stereotyping in job recruitment ads.

Research confirmed 77% of the total ads that had a gender specific term recruited only females (Anand, 2013). Least gender stereotyping was observed in jobs that required specialised skills and technical education like IT, engineering and medicine.

Secretary/front office assistant, telecaller, sales(man) and manager claimed the top spot in gender stereotyping.

Gender stereotyping in recruitment ads for receptionists ranged from the benign ‘Receptionist only – Female’ to comments regarding age and attractiveness ‘beautiful and broad minded(F) office assistant and personal secretary’, ‘up to 25’ (Anand, 2013).

Receptionist has not just been relegated as a women’s only zone. Recruitment advertisements have objectified the kind of women recruiters prefer. Ads have portrayed receptionist as decorative pieces in the lobby, behind the front desk of corporate offices, young beautiful and easy on the eyes. 

A similar sort of story was depicted by the data on recruitment advertisements for telecaller and data entry operator position. Next to the ‘FEMALE TELECALLERS’ rubric was the image of a girl talking on the hands free. Now, even though there wasn’t any mention of the age or physical attributes, but the picture certainly said everything the recruiters wanted to convey. Sales and field jobs were earmarked as the boys-only section, with keywords like ‘field boys’ and ‘sales boys’. 

Teachers were clearly and fairly explicitly stereotyped as female, with titles like ‘ Wanted TGT-FRENCH’. Though only 52% of ads that solicited for a teacher or instructor indulged in stereotyping, yet, stereotyping was clearly directed towards women with not even a single advertisement for a male teacher for schools or institutions.

The findings of the study prove beyond doubt that gender stereotyping is being used as a tool for selection and expulsion by Indian employers. Recruitment is being used for advancing occupational segregation. Also, jobs like teaching, telecaller, etc., which have been stereotyped as females don’t just box females into a particular profession but also to some extent thwart opportunities for the opposite gender to go and join the same profession (Anand, 2013).

Recently, the revised companies act provisions for mandatory presence of at least one female among the board of directors of any company. However, measures like these will only bear fruit if some stern action is taken to curb gender stereotyping at the recruitment stage. Or else it will be just be shadow dressing.

* Anand, R. (2013). Gender Stereotyping in Indian recruitment advertisements : a content analysis. International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, 8(4), 306-322. 
* Basu, Sujoya. (2008). Gender Stereotypes in Corporate India : A Glimpse. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
* Khandelwal, P. (2002). Gender Stereotypes at Work : implications for Organisations. Indian Journal of Training and Development, 32(2), 72-83. 
* Natrajan, K. (2001). Gendering of early Indian philosophy : a study of Samkhyakarika. Economic and Political Weekly, 1, pp. 398-404. 
* Perry, P.M. (1993). Help-Wanted Ads can attract Lawsuits. Folio: The Magazine for Management, Vol. 22, pp. 33-34. 
* Punia, B.K. (2005). Emerging Gender Diversity And Male Stereotypes : The Changing Indian Business Scenario. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 41(2), 188-205. 
* Ridgeway, CL (1997). Interaction and the conservation of gender inequality : Considering employment. American Sociological Review, Vol. 62(62), pp. 218-235. 


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