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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gender-based hiring a common problem

Gender-based hiring a common problem

9 gender working
A secretary works on a computer at an office in Phnom Penh Tower yesterday. Some companies looking to hire a secretary specify in the job advertisement that they are looking for women. Photograph: Ruth Keber/Phnom Penh Post

Fancy a full-time job as a secretary overseeing the general manager’s office? You must be female – and a “good looking” one too, according to an online job advertisement by a Paris-based modelling agency in Phnom Penh.

Sales manager needed – but only for healthy males, goes another posting by a local real estate company.

If you’re not batting an eyelid at these postings, you’re not alone. For a long time, companies here – both local  and foreign-run – have listed specific genders for their job openings, along with other criteria like education and work experience, with barely anyone objecting.

But this practice may be breaking labour laws that appear to be little known. The labour code, adopted in 1997, states that companies cannot pick new employees based on criteria that are deemed non-substantive, such as gender.

Yet many continue doing so, unaware they may be picking the wrong side of the law.

“It is not a problem” if the situation and job environment call for it, said Meng Kimpheng, Asia Real Estate Cambodia’s human resource supervisor. The real estate company in March posted on a local job portal a sales manager position for males.

The sales manager has to head out to meet potential clients daily, sometimes even in other provinces until late, Meng said. Only males would usually want this job because “many females do not like to travel or work under the sun”.

It is also more convenient for males to spend the night away from home after meetings, he added.

While the company employs females for other office-based positions, he said, “males bring more benefits to the company” because they are also willing to work longer hours and on weekends.

But not all agree. Putting his money on the fairer sex is Cam-Sin Dry Port Logistics deputy country manager Kolo Chen. “Females are more willing to work late, while males will just knock off on time and delay the work,” he said.

This is why his company’s online posting in January for a finance executive requested females. They are more careful with finance, he said, because in Cambodian culture husbands pass their money to their wives to manage.

But it is not just employers who are unaware that gender-based hiring could be illegal. Several lawyers in Cambodia contacted by the Post were also unsure if the country bans it.

The Labour Ministry did not reply to media queries.

Employment agency Top Recruitment’s Kevin Britten said that such hiring practices are “occasionally appropriate”, such as when only males are hired to clean male toilets and vice versa.

“In my opinion, this is not a high-priority business issue,” he said, though it could “cut 50 per cent of potentially suitable applicants out of your [selection] pool”.

“There are no international standards as this issue is very culture-specific [and] is a feature of Western societies,” he added. An online search showed that countries in the region with similar regulations against gender-based hiring include Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Korea.

But an NGO leader said gender-based hiring is “discriminatory” because companies are pre-judging, “based on their own feelings”, the candidates’ suitability for the job.

Instead, companies should have concise job descriptions – indicating, for example, that the work requires travelling or staying out until late – and then “the candidates can make their own decision on [whether to apply]”, said Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia.

Even if, for example, a school has female students wanting private home tuition, the job advertisement should not ask specifically for female tutors, she said.

“It doesn’t mean that a male teacher will harass the student,” and the students are the ones selecting their tutors anyway, she added.

“Nobody is voicing out this discrimination yet,” she said. “But slowly, young people will fight against it as they become aware of their rights.

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