Another widespread practice among employers that prevents women from enjoying equal opportunity in the job market is discrimination based on marital status and family circumstances. Some employers specify marital status in vacancy announcements. More pervasive, however, is employers’ questioning of women in job interviews and on job applications about their age, marital status, family situation, family plans, husband’s employment, and husband’s salary (See Appendix). Some, although not all, of the information is necessary for employers to know in advance of hiring women, in order to comply with Ukrainian labor code prohibitions on employing women with small children or disabled children in certain types of work. Thus, while these questions potentially have legal legitimacy and are not prima facie evidence of discrimination, employers routinely use information gathered in application to discriminate against women in job hiring. Family information necessary for tax and benefits purposes should be collected only after the hiring process is complete to prevent pre-hire discrimination based on such factors.
Human Rights Watch interviewed women who described being told by prospective employers that they would not be hired because they were young enough to be having children or already had young children. Employers attempted to justify discrimination against young women by claiming that they would be “too expensive” in terms of the maternity and family benefits guaranteed to women under Ukrainian law. Employers also claimed an added business cost because women may take days off to care for sick children. These perceptions held even when women did not have children or demonstrated adequate childcare options. Women who already had older children, however, reported a greater willingness among employers to hire them. The clear reluctance among employers, especially private employers, to provide women with the maternity and other benefits afforded them under law has forced many women to select work in the public sector, where wages are lower, but social benefits are more consistently delivered.
Human Rights Watch research found some job advertising that specified the marital status for women candidates. In April 2003, Proponuiu Robotu included a vacancy announcement from a private firm for supermarket sales staff, with the requirements: “over 27, married women.”178 An advertisement in Premer 2000 listed a preference for “women 25-45… housewives.”179 Nadia N., who currently works as a cashier, called about a vacancy advertised by a private firm and was asked immediately, “Are you married?” When she replied “no,” the employer said that he was not interested. “To this day I don’t understand what that was about,” Nadia N. said.180
Human Rights Watch interviewed women who stated that discrimination based on marital status and family circumstance occurred most frequently in the interview process. Similarly, Katia K. told Human Rights Watch of several interviews over a six-year period in which her marital status and family circumstances played a prominent role in employers’ willingness to hire her. In each case, her family status, first as unmarried, later as married with no children, and then as married with a young child, figured negatively in the eyes of employers. Soon after graduating from university with a degree in sociology in 1997 Katia K. went to an interview with the director at a private firm in Lviv for a position as an office manager. Although this position was not in her field of specialization, she hoped to find reasonably paid work while concurrently pursuing a graduate degree in economic theory. During the interview with the director, he asked if she was married, and Katia K. replied, “no.” To this he replied, “You’re not married now, but you’ll get married and have a child, take maternity leave, then have to take care of the child. That’s all very expensive for us.”181 Because the director seemed so firm in his convictions, she felt it “useless to say anything in response,” and began to look for jobs elsewhere.182
Soon thereafter, a friend told Katia K. of a temporary vacancy opening for a secretary at a state agency in Lviv. She interviewed with the director, who told her, “It would be best for us to hire a woman who is married and already has a child.”183 However, she was hired into a temporary position and eventually received a transfer to the information technology department. After three years in this department, she again began a job search. By this time, Katia K. was married and believed this would change prospective employers’ willingness to hire her. Yet, during an interview for an economist position with the representative office of an international cosmetics firm, the employer asked about her marital status and told her, “You’re married and soon you will want to have a child, you will have to stay at home, and what happens if the child gets sick?”184 The employer did not ask Katia K. if she had other options for childcare. She was not hired for this position.
Looking for translation positions at private firms, Olga O. found an opening for a translator/interpreter with knowledge of Spanish. She came to the interview, knowing that she met all of the requirements as they were advertised. She did not get the job. Later, a friend who also knew the director of the company told Olga O. that the director had explained, “Why should I take her? She just got married, and in a year she’ll leave for maternity.”185 Sveta S. also reported an incident in which the director of a private firm looked at her application and immediately commented, “Oh, a young woman [devushka]!” and told her, “Your situation [as unmarried] is a drawback. Eventually, you will have a child, and you will go on leave.”186 Sveta S. did not pursue this job, as she was offered a position as a research assistant to a professor. Halyna H. described an almost identical situation when she interviewed for a secretarial job for a firm working in the energy market in February 2003. The director asked if she was married. Halyna H. told Human Rights Watch that she answered no, yet the employer “made a point of saying: you will start work, and then you will get married and you will leave us, won’t you?” Halyna H. was not hired for this job.187
Some employers ask specifically about women’s plans for children, rather than make general assumptions. Marina M. looked for jobs in marketing, and on two separate occasions, interviewers asked specific questions about her family plans. “In both cases, they asked whether I would have children or not [and] my opinion on marriage,” she told Human Rights Watch.188 Some employers, if convinced that a woman will not have children during the first years of her employment, are willing to hire a young, unmarried woman. Tania T., a linguist by training, told Human Rights Watch that when she applied for an office manager job in a private company, the employer asked, “whether I planned on having a child within two or three years.” Tania T. answered no to the question. She was hired for the job and worked in her position for two years before leaving to pursue a graduate degree.189
Katia K., who described facing discrimination both as an unmarried woman and as a married woman without children (see above), also encountered employers who discriminated against her as a young mother pursuing a career. While working in a marketing firm, Katia K. took maternity leave after giving birth to a daughter in June 2002, but her employer did not consistently pay her maternity benefits on time. With this unexpected and disappointing development, Katia K. again began to search for a different job in March 2003 and saw a highly paid opening for an office manager in a bank. “I felt a serious personal conflict, since the salary was good, but it’s not the kind of work I wanted to do,” she said. “At first I thought, ‘an office manager is not that interesting, not creative.’ But then I thought, ‘my child is growing and I need to take care of him.’”190
During the interview, the director first asked her questions regarding her current work and why she sought to change jobs. Not long into the interview, however, “He switched to the theme and questions about children,” Katia K. told Human Rights Watch.191 The bank director asked if she was married, whether she had children, and the age of any children. When she replied, that she had a ten-month-old child, the director asked, “But why aren’t you on maternity leave?” Katia K. explained that she took the standard 140-day maternity leave, but then felt the need to return to work to help support her family.192 The director considered this, “very Western [po-zapadnomy],” and said, “I think that a woman should stay at home until the child is two years old.” He considered the fact that Katia K.’s retired mother helps take care of the child, “inappropriate,” although Katia K. felt, “This is totally normal in our country.” 193
The director also inquired about Katia K.’s husband, his employment, and his salary. To Katia K., this line of questioning seemed to imply that “if my husband had a serious job, then I wouldn’t be looking for work in a bank. It struck me that this question was probably illegal. But in any case, it was personal. And extraneous.”194 Katia K. felt that “the fact that this director didn’t like women to work while their children are very young was the main theme of the whole interview.”195 “I absolutely didn’t anticipate this in an interview,” she told Human Rights Watch.196 Katia K. was not hired for this job but continues to work in the marketing firm hoping to eventually receive her still unpaid maternity benefits. After so many denials of employment based on her family circumstances, she feels discouraged from seeking other employment. “In the majority of circumstances, the same things will keep happening to me,” she said. “In all interviews it will be the same [discrimination because of my family circumstances].”
In searching for a position equivalent in salary and potential career advancement to what she would have enjoyed working in the central bank (see above), Nadia N.’s job search led her to apply for jobs in large, private firms. She selected positions in management, as an economist, and, when searches at these levels proved unsuccessful, as an administrative assistant. She told Human Rights Watch that throughout the job search, “I would be asked, ‘Are you married? Do you have a small child?’ It was always the case that they asked me about these issues. In job applications there are questions about marriage, children, and the age of children.”197 When employers disapproved of this aspect of her personal life, Nadia N. would respond by, “explaining extensively that I have a nanny, the child’s grandmother can care for her when I am working.”198 In another case she was told explicitly, “We need a reliable person who won’t be distracted by family.”199 Nadia N. understood this to mean that “they preferred an older woman, married, with an older child.”200 “In the end,” Nadia N. said, “The only things I could find were jobs as a salesperson or a cashier.” She currently works in a supermarket as a cashier, where she works fifteen hours a day, is rarely granted days off, and has seen many young men with less experience advance to higher positions within the company.
Anastasia A. recounted similar interview experiences when she applied for a job as a personal assistant with a private company not long after her daughter was born. During the interview she was required to fill out an application that requested information about her marriage status and her children. The employer immediately asked, “You have such a young child, how can you work? Children get ill, and you will have to take time off.”201 Anastasia A. argued that she has a baby sitter and that childcare was not a problem for her. She did not get the job.
Many employers in Ukraine seem to be more willing to hire women who already have older children based on assumptions about women’s family commitments. During the interview for her current job with a state agency, Aleksandra A. was asked about her marital status and whether she had any children or not. She told them that she was married with a fifteen-year-old son. They were pleased about this and said, “Great, you are not young so you aren’t going to get married and leave.”202 Aleksandra A. believes, however, that “If I made the decision to have another child, then I would have to leave. But I really believe that’s a personal decision; it’s not to be influenced by your employer.”203 She recognizes that “one guiding factor for them [her employer] has to be a limit based on childbearing years. One of the criteria for being hired is [to be] of an age where [getting pregnant] is not such a risk.”204 When Snezhana S., a chemical engineer, spoke to a potential employer and told them that she had a three-year-old child, they responded, “It’s good for us that you have a child and that you won’t take maternity leave.”205 She was considered for the opening, but the employer didn’t hire her because of scheduling problems associated with her decision to pursue a second degree.
Lilia L., an employee of a Ukrainian women’s NGO described a situation in which representatives of a bank approached her two years ago for assistance in identifying a candidate for an office manager/assistant to the director. The bank offered a monthly salary of 1,400 hryvna (U.S.$266), which is considered quite high, given that the average monthly salary for an office manager would range from 300-700 hryvna (U.S.$57-$133). According to Lilia L., “the bank had a lot of requirements, knowledge, skills, education and appearance.”206 Lilia L. helped identify some qualified candidates and the bank hired a young woman. Soon thereafter, the human resources manager again approached Lilia L. and explained that they again needed to search for a candidate, since the woman hired two years previously had married and become pregnant. The human resources manager specified, “This time we need [a woman who is] married with children.”207 Lilia L. asked about education, languages, and other requirements and was told, “The most important feature is that she be married with kids. [We are] interested that the new woman not take maternity leave.”208 When Lilia L. questioned these selection criteria, the human resources manager denied that he was engaged in discrimination, describing it rather as “narrowing the field.” Ultimately, Lilia L. helped identify potential candidates. She knew that she had contributed to discrimination, but felt that she would do more harm by not helping someone land this “very good job.”209
The bank position indeed went to a woman with children, Natalia N. Natalia N. told Human Rights Watch that during the interview at the bank, she was asked about her work experience, her reasons for leaving her previous job, as well as her family status and the ages of her children. They also asked detailed questions about her husband’s work and his salary. She thought they asked these questions in order to “evaluate how much salary they could reasonably pay” her.210 During the first weeks of work, the woman whom Natalia N. had been hired to replace returned to the bank, after a brief stay in the hospital. Only in her fifth month of pregnancy, the woman had not taken maternity leave, but only a brief sick leave. The director had replaced her without telling her.211
Marital and Family Status and Women’s Employment Choices
Employers’ attitudes regarding maternity and family responsibilities demonstrated in the interview process not only inhibit women’s access to well-compensated jobs but also limit women’s choices about where they will seek work. Human Rights Watch research showed that the practice of discriminating against women in the hiring process based on marital status and family circumstances occurred in both the public and private sectors. However, these practices were more prevalent in the private sector as a result of poor oversight and weak regulation of private enterprises by government authorities responsible for ensuring equal opportunity in employment. Private sector employers routinely fail to provide benefits, in particular maternity and family benefits, a practice that disproportionately affects women. Employers’ practices of discriminating in hiring and failing to provide employee benefits combined with the state’s unwillingness to redress these violations means that women are acutely vulnerable in private companies. Because women perceive themselves to be ultimately responsible for the well being of the family, and protections related to maternity and family are only guaranteed to women, basic social benefits are a concern to them when seeking employment. Many women interviewed by Human Rights Watch, opt for work in the low-wage public sector,212 where discriminatory hiring practices are less pronounced and maternity benefits are more reliably delivered.
Although in its research Human Rights Watch did not seek to document fully the non-provision of social benefits, we did find that public and, in particular, private employers routinely violated women’s rights and the law. According to one private employer, her company would only guarantee a woman’s job if she took a maternity leave of eight weeks or less. “If she wishes to take the maximum number of days, three years, her job will not be guaranteed,” she told Human Rights Watch.213 After being denied several jobs based on her marital status and family situation, as described above, Katia K. finally began working for a marketing firm. Her employer granted her a maternity leave, but failed to pay her full salary guaranteed by law for seventy days before and fifty-six days after childbirth. “There is nothing I can do,” she says. “[My employer] promises and promises [to pay]. I never would have worked here had I known there would be these [problems].”214
As a result of such practices, many women look to the public sector for employment. Upon graduating from university with a degree in psychology, Yulia Y. did not consider a private sector job, having seen the experience of others. “I didn’t want to work in the commercial sector until I gave birth,” she said. “First of all, it is very difficult to protect your rights [in the private sector]… [often] there are no maternity benefits. In the government you get your full salary in the first four months [of maternity leave], but when it comes to the commercial sector [this is not always the case].”215 “At least here [in my government job] it is clear that I will get 180 hryvna [U.S.$36] a month.”216 Yulia Y. is currently on maternity leave, but will consider other options, including graduate school or work with a commercial company, after her leave is over.
In her state job as a clinical psychologist, Nina N. recognizes that “although [her] salary isn’t always paid on time, there are more social guarantees, paid vacations, and paid sick days.”217 Her experience with an advertising agency in the private sector taught her not to take such guarantees for granted. “In a private firm, there are no vacations, no sick days, no maternity leave.”218 After working for three years as a manager of a small shop in the private sector, Veronika V. returned to the hospital where she had worked previously. Although she could “earn a lot more” in the private sector, and felt that “in terms of pay, business is really the best option,” the hospital provided actual social protections and more stability.219
Olena O., who has been working in a state agency since her former private sector employer went bankrupt in 1994 expressed a similar sentiment. She said that when she lost her job, the state sector was “appealing” because “there is not firing for maternity leave, and there are many more social service guarantees.”220 She notices that “lots of young women take work in state sectors for this reason.”221 For Tania T., the discrepancies in practices between state and private companies are so great that the two sectors appear to function in totally different legal frameworks. She told Human Rights Watch that she “did not know” that laws regarding maternity leave “applied to private companies as well [as state institutions].”222
Although public sector employers provide basic benefits to employees more consistently than most private sector employers do, some women working in the state sector also found that may not be guaranteed. In April 2002, a state kindergarten hired Ella E. while she was pregnant and just a few months before she went on maternity leave. She told Human Rights Watch that she felt fortunate to have this job because without it, “I would not have any money or protection.”223 However, Ella E.’s employer is encouraging her to return to work after a year and a half on maternity leave. “They won’t promise that a position will be available to me at the end of my [three-year] maternity leave. They are pressuring me to return now, to take the job they have available.”224
178 Proponuiu Robotu, p. 93.
179 Premer 2000, p. 123.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with Nadia N., Kharkiv, April 12, 2003.
181 Human Rights Watch interview with Katia K., Lviv, April 15, 2003.
185 Human Rights Watch interview with Olga O., Lviv, April 18, 2003.
186 Human Rights Watch interview with Sveta S., Kharkiv, April 14, 2003.
187 Human Rights Watch interview with Halyna H., Lviv, April 17, 2003.
188 Human Rights Watch interview with Marina M., Lviv, April 16, 2003.
189 Human Rights Watch interview with Tania T., Kharkiv, April 14, 2003.
190 Human Rights Watch interview with Katia K., Lviv, April 15, 2003.
197 Human Rights Watch interview with Nadia N., Kharkiv, April 12, 2003.
201 Human Rights Watch interview with Anastasia A., Kharkiv, April 12, 2003.
202 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksandra A., Kyiv, April 23, 2003.
205 Human Rights Watch interview with Snezhana S., Lviv, April 18, 2003.
206 Human Rights Watch interview with Lilia L., women’s NGO employee, Lviv, April 15, 2003.
210 Human Rights Watch interview with Natalia N., Lviv, April, 19, 2003.
212 This is supported by statistical evidence showing that over 70 percent of government employees are women. See State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Men and Women in Ukraine, p. 37.
213 Human Rights Watch interview with Tamara T., manager, personnel department, private industrial firm, Kharkiv, April 14, 2003.
214 Human Rights Watch interview with Katia K., Lviv, April 15, 2003.
215 Human Rights Watch interview with YuliaY., Kharkiv, April 13, 2003.
217 Human Rights Watch interview with Nina N., Kharkiv, April 14, 2003.
219 Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika V., Kharkiv, April 13, 2003.
220 Human Rights Watch interview with Olena O., Lviv, April 17, 2003.
222 Human Rights Watch interview with Tania T., Kharkiv, April 14, 2003.
223 Human Rights Watch interview with Ella E., Lviv, April 17, 2003.