Haunted by old questions

Someone I know went for a job interview the other week. The person concerned has a PhD and good references and grades. But sure enough the question arose as to whether she intended to have more children and how did her childcare arrangements work. Would her husband have been asked the same questions?

This is not only against the law. It is hair raising in the year 2019. Despite anti-discrimination and health and safety in the workplace legislation, this issue clearly arises. I was both surprised, disturbed and felt myself to be a touch naïve that I have been clearly convinced that those days were a thing of the past.

According to employers in the most recent SCB Workforce Barometer there is a big shortage of both professionally experienced and newly qualified engineers, even though this can be debatable.

We also hear in report after report, the importance and necessity of both women and men engaging in technological development and the role of an engineer.

At a time when the job market is crying out for skills, what has gender to do with it? It is perhaps not in the big and obvious ways but more in the important and insidious details that discrimination can be found.

It is easy to feel tired and dejected, but I view this more as yet another sign of how important it is to continuously discuss these issues.

As part of this, we at KTH have had a specific safe workspace initiative since 2018, to combat harassment, abusive special treatment, discrimination and sexual harassment.

Human interaction and interplay in the workplace can be risky. Having said that, it should be so simple.

Everyone, women and men, students and professors, should be able to feel completely safe and secure in being who they are – in particular when someone is in a position of dependency on someone else – for their future career and everyday peace of mind.

In addition to being in contravention of our own ethics policy and illegal as regulated in e.g. health and safety in the workplace and anti-discrimination legislation, the consequences can be devastating.

The risk is that we will miss out on talent and knowledge, but it is the sanctity of the individual that is crucial for a healthy work environment and attractive workspace.

That, as in the example above, this already arises at the job interview stage is worrying, to say the least.