Our HR folks told us a story. Here it goes:
A while back, business as usual, HR was expecting someone to come for an interview. A fresh graduate, for an entry level position. Female, engineer, everything looked good on the CV. Situation normal.
Then around the time the person was supposed to come, a call came from the security guards at the reception on the ground floor. They said there was a visitor downstairs, but they could not let her in until HR confirms that she was the person she said she was.
What? What's wrong with just showing IDs, as usual?
Apparently, our guest wore a burkha. That's right. The muslim-outfit of which the ladies cover themselves from head to toe, leaving only her eyes for us to see.
And security was reluctant to let her go up to our floor, because although she showed her ID (which showed her face without the veil), security could not compare the photo with the real thing. Unless HR vouch for her, they would not let her go up.
"I am sorry, but this is the first time we have a visitor wearing a veil..." said the security man over the phone.
Isn't that an interesting fact: that in a country with muslim-majority such as ours, our office has never had anybody coming wearing a burkha before?
"Well, maybe not never, but throughout my service as security-guard in this building, I have never experienced this..." said the security guard.
"How long have you worked in this building?"
"Almost nine years now. I did not mean any disrespect to your guests, but it is still my duty..."
Fine fine fine. Our HR friend agreed and went downstairs.
To keep the story short, the girl went up for the interview and it went well. She is intelligent, highly opinionated (but that's normal), very sharp, and very structured.
So then HR folks scratched their heads: The girl is very capable, and judging from that and that only, she should be offered the job.
But the veil?
"We are not going to start discriminating people by what they wear, of course. Many of our female-muslim-colleagues here wear headscarfs, and they work together side-by-side with female-colleagues who happen to fancy tight pant-suits. No problem. This is Indonesia and we are proud of our tolerance."
"But discrimination aside, let's be completely honest here," said an HR friend in one meeting, "Could she really perform her job with no problem, wearing that?"
"Sure, we can arrange something with our security guards, so she can come in everyday with no problem, but what about when she had to go meeting our counterparts, at their building? How would our counterparts feel, sitting at the meeting table, talking to someone whose face they can't even see?
What if she had to make a presentation? Do you think she can make a really good, persuasive presentation in front of our counterparts, when they can't even see her face?"
"How about adjusting her responsibilities accordingly?" suggested one HR colleague.
"By adjusting, you mean discriminating?" snapped another. "Just because she is wearing something different, she gets different treatment. That's discrimination.
If she is in, she has to do what other fresh-graduates get the opportunity to do. No exception. Isn't that what fairness is all about?"
It went on and on, and the decision making was pushed higher and higher because nobody wanted to walk on thin ice. What a riot for taking one fresh-graduate!
Until one day, the hammer fell and the HR folks were amazed by how simple the thought behind the big bosses' decision was.
The decision? She is in.
The reason? Because she is the best candidate. That's it.
Offline, however, HR got the preach:
"HR's job is to find the best candidate. Once in, how the candidate wants to perform is not up to HR anymore, it is up to the candidate herself. She will get all the opportunities and it is up to her how she would handle them. She is an adult and she can think for herself.
She will not get special attention just because of what she wears.
She deserves the opportunities and it is our duty to offer it to her. If because of what she wears she refuse to or feel restricted to take the opportunities, then it is not us who discriminate her. She pretty much discriminates herself."
So how does our new colleague do?
Don't know. It's a big office and we have not had the pleasure of meeting her yet.
We'll keep you posted.
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