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Phl Still Far From Overcoming Discriminatory Hiring Tendencies – HR Expert

Phl Still Far From Overcoming Discriminatory Hiring Tendencies – HR Expert
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Philippine-based companies have “a long way to go” in adopting best hiring practices as there are job-seeking individuals, who still get asked to possess qualifications that have no connection with the positions they are applying for, a human resources (HR) expert observed.

Connie Barrientos-Carey, president of Cebu City-based recruitment firm Aleph Talent Solutions, told “Agenda” on One News last Aug. 28, that the country lacks an “equal (employment) opportunity office” to protect people’s rights to be employed unlike in other nations.

 “A lot of HR people really need to learn a lot, particularly in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and belonging. Right now, it’s still a byword (workplace equity), but we’re working on making it a thing in organizations,” she said in an interview with program host Cito Beltran.

Barrientos-Carey was sought for her comments on the subject following a recent controversial job post associated with snack brand Potato Corner. It involved its soon-to-open stall in Ventura Mall Dasmariñas, Cavite, which was looking for service crew members.

In the now-deleted advert, the company expressed its preference for female candidates between 18 and 30 years old, who have “good visual impact and pleasing personality,” “clear complexion” with “good set of teeth,” and “weight proportional to height,” among others.

The post quickly became a subject of ridicule among Filipino netizens, who turned it into memes that went viral on social media. They imagined the selection process like that of beauty pageants and runway model agencies. The company has since apologized over the issue. 

On “Agenda,” Barrientos-Carey said organizations need to ease up some requirements to avoid instances of workplace discrimination. These include having applicants attach their photos and indicate their religion or gender in their resumés.

According to the HR leader, there are recruiters who tend to favor “attractive looking talents” over average ones in terms of physical appearance, even though both have the same qualifications. This makes the hiring process discriminatory “that’s why we don’t do pictures anymore,” she explained.

In deference to companies with religious sensitivities, Barrientos-Carey advised that hiring personnel should not make belonging to a certain religion a “must” in the list of criteria. Instead, they can be open to accepting applicants who “have a great understanding of” a particular faith.

“You put it that way, so it becomes a skill instead of something you have no control over,” she explained, pointing out that most people did not choose the religion they were born into like the Catholics, who get baptized into the community during their infancy.

Barrientos-Carey implied there are individuals, who may even turn out to be great hires despite not belonging to the same religion as the people or company they would like to work for, because they have extensive knowledge of other faiths or they studied it.

Hiring based on gender, meanwhile, is a big “no-no” for the HR professional since many jobs these days can be done by both men and women. Not only does this habit perpetuate gender pay gap issues, but it also limits growth opportunities, especially for women in male-dominated industries.

“It has been statistically proven that women are paid 35 percent less for doing the same job that men do,” according to Barrientos-Carey. She cited as an example the Philippine women’s national football team, who recently made it to the World Cup, but earned way less than their male counterparts.

This issue cuts across every major professional sports league worldwide, prompting several feminist organizations as well as groups that advocate for gender equality and equity to negotiate for better pay for women who succeed in sports.

Barrientos-Carey noted the same problems exist in other professions like engineering. “There are more male engineers than there are females. And there are still companies, big companies, like known conglomerates that would not hire a female engineer as a property director,” she revealed.

The reasoning behind this is based on age-old stereotypes that some jobs are more suitable for men than women. But “you can’t just judge somebody and his or her abilities based on gender. You can’t do that anymore,” the HR expert underscored.

What if that person has to work in an oil rig or other places with tougher environments for that matter? Barrientos-Carey said the same principles should still apply, citing the success stories of women who made it in the seafaring industry.

But in situations where cases of sexual harassment may arise, “it is the company’s job to make sure there are policies and systems that safeguard (both) women and men and people of different genders and (sexual) orientations from assault or discrimination.”

 The case for gender equity

Therein lies the value of “gender equity,” Barrientos-Carey explained, acknowledging the fact that men do face harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace, too, not just women. “If you say gender equity, it means that both males and females are equal,” she said.

“I worked for a particular company that prefers accountants to be women, because apparently women have better attention to detail, and that didn’t sit well with me,” Barrientos-Carey told Beltran, who asked her for examples of men being discriminated against at work that bothered her.

From her perspective, these preconceptions “don’t make sense” and blamed them on the “mentality” of people who make hiring decisions in the company, most of whom she classified as “boomers” or those who were born from the early to mid-1960s.

“You know, it’s not fair to men. Like, there are certain jobs that people associate with certain genders, for example. Nurse is a typical women’s job apparently, and that’s not true, that’s not the case. There are a lot of very capable male nurses,” Barrientos-Carey said.

The seasoned HR and marketing expert attributed this to the notion that men are breadwinners and wives are homemakers, which became the norm during post-World War 2 that modern society needs to outgrow.

“Why does it always have to be… It’s always stated that a man has to provide for the family, and if he doesn’t, it makes him less of a man. Hello? This is not the 1950s anymore. In this economy, everybody has to pull his or her own weight,” she said.

But while men get discriminated against for entry-level up to senior management accounting roles, Barrientos-Carey acknowledged that they do get the unfair advantage over women when it comes to higher corporate positions, like chief financial officers, for example.

Beltran agreed, remembering a conversation he once had with some women in upper-level accounting, who asked him why they were never part of the board. He believes this has nothing to do with gender, but about mentality.

In the world of corporate finance, according to Beltran, women tend to speak more in terms of “control and cost-cutting” as opposed to men who are more inclined to make investments, take risks and spend money.

But apart from looks, religion and gender, Barrientos-Carey added hiring based on age and schools attended among her “pet peeves.” She thus welcomed recent reports that companies now prefer hiring graduates from lesser-known schools than those who came out of top-ranked universities.

“Before people would be, like, ‘oh, I need to go to the top four universities in the Philippines to get a good job’… Unfortunately, when you go to these top four universities, when you graduate, you end up having an ego and it’s so difficult to correct and engage people who have massive egos,” she said.

The problem with this, according to Barrientos-Carey, is that these graduates already expect to receive P60,000 to P80,000 salaries for entry-level positions. “And that is not the thing. People and organizations need students, or need graduates, who are willing to put in the hard work,” she noted.

The case for social equity

Outside of personality and education, the HR veteran disclosed there are many companies, which are guilty of discriminating based on the family background or economic status of job-seeking individuals, and this happens a lot, especially in the banking industry.

“There are certain banks that will only hire you if you are Chinese. Because if you are Chinese, you have a lot of connections and you can convince them to deposit money in a particular branch. I know that for a fact. There is a bank that does that, it’s a big bank,” Barrientos-Carey told Beltran.

The real estate industry implements the same tactics. While race was not a factor, firms in this sector also prefer hiring applicants from well-to-do families, who have a bevy of connections that can buy properties.

“However, on the opposite side of the fence, I have come across people or organizations who don’t want to hire people from a good background or from families with money because they are scared that these kids will not take (orders) from anyone,” Barrientos-Carey noted.

“You know, they will not take any abuse, and they can leave anytime, and start a business that will rival theirs. So, the discrimination goes both ways,” she added. The HR expert blamed these problematic recruitment policies on the weak implementation of labor laws.

She believes the Philippines has the “best labor laws” compared to other countries, but they “lack teeth.” Case in point is the Wage Rationalization Act. Barrientos-Carey doubts if all establishments such as fast food and retail outlets have been paying workers at standard minimum wage. 

Consequently, this has resulted in high, discriminatory standards. Barrientos-Carey noted that a college degree is required for cashiers, yet they are only paid the now minimum wage rate of P610.00 per day or P76.00 per hour, which is not enough for transportation fares.

Meanwhile, in other countries, companies do not require college degrees for minimum wage earners. “They just need experience or people who are willing to learn. It’s weird because we have higher standards for people that we want to work with than people who are in government,” she said.

“It doesn’t make sense that we have higher standards for the normal citizens. But, you know, less of that as the position in government goes higher? It just doesn’t make sense. You can’t expect a lot from people if you’re not willing to pay livable wages, ‘cause that’s not fair,” Barrientos-Carey stressed.

Asked to comment on how we as a society ended up with an attitude of ‘”wanting the best at the least price,” the HR expert reiterated her earlier comment on not having our laws properly implemented, resulting in corruption.

“In this country where corruption is rife, you can just pay off officials and turn a blind eye to things that should not be happening. That is the problem here,” Barrientos-Carey lamented. She also noted how women in the Philippines pay a so-called “motherhood tax.”

“There’s a study that (says) by the time a woman hits 30 to 35 years old, or the age when most women have kids or get married… They get less opportunities to get promoted,” she explained. This is connected to their earlier discussion about men being more likely to climb higher in the corporate ladder.

Most organizations believe that since men are breadwinners, they need to earn more money for their wives and children. Men are also ineligible for the three months’ maternity leave, which means more productivity for the company. “A lot of companies also don’t hire pregnant women,” she said.

The case for better company culture

“At the end of the day, it’s about company culture. So, if your culture in the organization… supports women in top positions, that’s amazing because not a lot of organizations do that. At the end of the day, it’s all about organizational and company culture,” Barrientos-Carey underscored.

She gave credit to media organizations such as Cignal TV, for example, where women are found in top executive positions. “Company culture is top-down, not down-up, so whatever the culture is at the top, it will definitely reflect in everything in the organization,” the HR leader added.

Nonetheless, Beltran recognized instances where women tend to be more discriminating towards other women, once they manage to get on top of the hierarchy. Barrientos-Carey admits she has not encountered this issue up close yet, but attributed it to ‘stiff competition’ between employees.

“I always say this, ‘I will not support someone just because we’re of the same gender. I will support someone because that person is capable whether he is a man, woman, of the LGBTQ, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s about skill and ability,” Barrientos-Carey said.

Bad politics, therefore, must also have no place in organizations if we want to keep it free of all kinds of discrimination. The same message goes for companies who are looking down on people of certain ages or approaching retirement.

What all these problems boil down to, in Barrientos-Carey’s opinion, is the fact most firms refuse to disburse retirement pay unlike in other companies, who still value their aging and experienced workers.

“I think a lot of companies do that because running a business in the Philippines is no joke… It’s not the easiest to do business in... The high cost of doing business in the Philippines can be blamed for that… That’s why they tend to exclude particular ages which, to me, is unfair,” she said. 

On the bright side, however, Barrientos-Carey lauded organizations who are now slowly adopting DEI policies, particularly in the business process outsourcing sector, which are extending equal employment opportunities even to those in the LGBTQ community.

Still, she recognized that most businesses have miles to go when it comes to ending workplace discrimination, especially for other marginalized communities, such as people with disabilities or mental health issues, and it may entail more than just policies to address these problems.