I read an article titled "How are the educated unemployed doing?" on this daily back in May 2020. As I kept reading, the thought that was racing through my mind was: Is having a "privileged" background both a curse and a blessing?
Now, let me take a shot at what you might be thinking right at this moment: of course, it is a blessing. I agree too. We all, who have been blessed with it, must be eternally grateful. However, have you ever felt the pressure of being "privileged"?
Over the centuries, our society has shaped up our environment in a way that controls the elements which determine these privileges - money, power, fame, access to healthcare and education etc., to name a few. Even the basic human rights are being considered as privileges because of the segregation in the background of the individuals and their respective families.
The article said: "Because of the coronavirus, the job market in Bangladesh, as in other countries globally, is likely to shrink further over fears of an imminent global recession. The uncertainty over when these educated unemployed people will get jobs does not seem to be going away very soon. Economists say that families of educated unemployed people are not normally poor as per the poverty line. However, due to the current critical period, they have fallen into poverty."
These "educated unemployed" people mostly belong to the middle-income group. As they are not "poor" as per the poverty line, these people are the ones deeply impacted. Why deeply impacted you may wonder? Because these people suffer in silence, their pain and burden are hidden away from our bare eyes. The anxiety suffocates them and pulls them down into the dark abyss. At most extreme cases, this suffering leads to suicide.
The newspaper article further said: "But an official of the relief ministry, on condition of anonymity, said the policy of the ministry does not consider the educated unemployed as eligible for relief. Relief is being provided to low-income people who used to work on a daily basis but have become destitute due to the lockdown." Now, without an income source, having lost a job due to coronavirus, and being (only) earning members of their families, what does the future hold for these educated unemployed groups?
The middle-income group is often misunderstood. How so you may ask? Well, it is being perceived that they skew closer towards the higher-income group since their families have been working for generations and they have saved a lot of wealth. But contrary to popular belief, the cost of living outweighs the standard of living of these families by a huge margin. Their income is limited and fixed, but the cost and inflation have always skyrocketed. At such times, when a steady job is gone, the burden is crippling. They are the classic example of "being caught in a mouse trap" - they get access to quality education, they graduate with higher degrees, and then the majority of them are chained to the vicious cycle of middle-income jobs (which unfortunately due to various reasons, but that is a separate discussion).
Why is it that someone is being struck out for being privileged? I am grateful and blessed for the privileges I have in life; however, I have often faced certain questions during my job interviews. After answering which I felt I have been automatically written off because of my "privileges" (I observed the expression on the interviewer's face and the body language). It is as though I do not need the job, rather the job is a hobby for me. Even at my workplaces, I have at times faced certain comments from co-workers, who made negative remarks and taunted me for having privileges. Their assumption is so strong, that they straight away resort to making hurtful comments, and do not even for once consider asking whether what they assume is even true.
Should not the interviewer/employer focus on the candidate's work experience, evaluate based on work performance, and the fact that this candidate may actually have the potential to thrive and contribute to this organization? Although I am an experienced HR professional, I do not align with the concept of evaluating someone for a job interview based solely on their "privileges". Their work experience and relevant information has to be the priority for the assessment. For instance, it is not necessary or at times considered illegal at many places to ask personal questions during an interview, but I have been asked:
- Who is in your family? What do your parents do?
- Do you have siblings? What do they do?
- What is your marital status? (I have also been asked the reason for it!)
- Where do you live? Do you pay rent or own the house?
- How do you commute to work? Do you own a car?
How do these questions help to evaluate the candidate's potential and past work experiences? Does it automatically imply that if they have it all, they do not need this job? So, rather hire someone who does not have it all, and the chances are they will stick around for a longer period in the organization and contribute?
As I wrap up here, I would like to share that it is indeed a blessing to be born in a privileged family. However, one has to carry along the curse that comes with it as well. A curse that is unseen by others, but the pinch of which is felt by the individuals through their entire lifetime.
Maisha Binte Abdullah is a Human Resources Professional from Bangladesh with 8 years of hands-on work experience in diverse sectors, including both local and global organisations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.