We’ve lost count of the amount of arguments about gender inequality in politics that involve a man piping up: “But Theresa May’s the Prime Minister! What about Angela Merkel?”
The truth is, despite women making up at least half of most populations, we’re still woefully underrepresented in government. When we do get there, we face intense scrutiny over our appearances, disrespect from male colleagues and constant doubt about our abilities to take on difficult tasks without “getting emotional”.
Another fine example of just how far we have to go before we level that playing field is what happened just hours after the election of Jacinda Ardern, the youngest ever leader to become head of the New Zealand Labour Party.
One of the firs questions she fielded? Being asked about her plans to have children, because people “need to know that type of thing” with women in high profile jobs.
The politician was asked by the co-host of ‘The AM Show’, Mark Richardson, on Wednesday morning, whether it was “OK for a PM to take maternity leave while in office?”
“If you are the employer of a company you need to know that type of thing from the woman you are employing because legally, you have to give them maternity leave.”
Now, what Richards was asking the people of New Zealand, assuming that they could be Ardern’s future employer, to do is actually illegal in the country and counts as discrimination based on sex under the 1993 Human Rights Act. It’s also incredibly ignorant.
For anyone wondering what the rules are around asking whether a job applicant is planning on having children, here’s a quick reminder: pic.twitter.com/NzCv5bie9X
— NZ Human Rights (@NZHumanRights) August 1, 2017
Ardern had not been on air for Richardson’s question, but when she was later brought on for an interview, she snapped: “For other women, it is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace.
“It is a woman’s decision about when they choose to have children,” she continued. “It should not predetermine whether or not they are given a job or have job opportunities.”
Limply attempting to defend himself, Richardson responded: “I just think it’s unfair for an employer… He [editor’s note: WHY IS THE EMPLOYER A MAN BY DEFAULT, RICHARDSON?] needs to know at some stage down the line [that] he may need to have to allow, in his organisation, for that person to take a year of leave.
“I’m not saying don’t employ that person.”
“If you’re asking the question around the time you’re making a decision around employment, you’re implying it’s going to have an impact on whether you’re going to employ that person or not,” Ardern fired back.
“That is what I’m saying is unacceptable. Why would you ask if it wasn’t going to prejudice your decision?”
“Everyone needs to be able to prepare in advance [for maternity leave],” Richardson said.
Ardern closed the argument with a sardonic thumbs up and a, “Good debate!”
Sadly, while questioning candidates in this way is also seen as discriminatory under UK employment law, that doesn’t stop bias based on gender from influencing who ends up getting the job.
If you are ever asked something, like Ardern was, in a job interview, it should raise an immediate red flag. As should questions about your marital status. If you are asked, you could answer by saying: “I like to keep my personal and professional life separate.”
But really, we’d advise you to look elsewhere. Work for someone who respects you and your abilities, and deserves your investment too.