I was not hired because I wear a hijab

Published: August 10, 2011
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“But, what does my attire have to do with my work?”I was baffled. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

As I stood outside the glass door, gathering my confidence I took a deep breath. “This has got to be it,” I thought. I prayed one last time before entering the world I wanted to be a part of.

I was a recent advertising graduate, a position holder, the favourite of almost all my teachers. I was about to enter the office of a renowned advertising agency to interview for a copywriting position. This was where I had always seen myself when I closed my eyes. I was ready to give it my best.

I stepped inside and took in the surroundings. Done up in white and gold, the extravagant lobby enticed me. I walked to the reception, feeling watched, feeling judged.

The girl on the counter seemed to come out from a fashion magazine, her skin was smooth and perfect, her nails polished. I could not help but notice that the girl had hazel eyes and her eye lids were dark green and yellow.

“Yes? What do you want?”

“I am here for the interview.”

I saw a flicker of amusement in those enchanting hazel eyes. “Ok, have a seat please.”  I sat on the faux leather couch and looked at the small fountain in the lobby and the lights dancing with the water. Employees moved around, silent and efficient. “Miss Tooba?” I heard my name being called.

I was led to the conference room. “Please wait, Mr Shariq* will be here in a moment,” my guide informed me and left the room. I looked around at the spotless glass table, black chairs that complemented the white interior and a flat screen television that was installed at the far end of the room. I smiled to myself, clearly impressed.

I heard the door open and turned to look around. A middle aged man in a gray striped suit, white shirt and a pink tie entered the room. “This must be Mr Shariq”, I thought. I sensed a hesitation in his demeanour, his pace slowing for a second.

“Hello, Tooba, ” he said, seemingly overcoming his hesitation.

“Hello,” I replied, fervently wishing for easy questions, like all candidates.

He asked me about myself. My voice unsteady for a second, I regained my confidence and answered properly. I gave the right answers to all his questions, ranging from my subject to my personality. He gave me a test and I performed well. I felt sure that I would get the job.

“Okay, Tooba, one last question”, suddenly his tone changed.

I sat a little straighter, puzzled by the apprehension in his tone.

“Yes?”  Suddenly, I did not feel so sure of myself.

“Do you really think you can work like this here?”

His objection was to my attire. I was wearing a pink hijab with a moss green gown, covered head to toe.

“Well yes, why not?” I replied.

“I am sorry Tooba, but you might not be able to adjust here. It would have been a pleasure to have a person of your caliber here, but…” he stopped in the mid sentence, his implication clear.

“But, what does my attire have to do with my work?”I was baffled.

“Other people might not be comfortable with you around,” he said with certainty.

I was speechless.

I had never heard anything of this kind before. I had studied at a reputable, institution. I have lots of friends, and no one has ever felt uncomfortable around me, why would this attitude suddenly change with me stepping into the professional world?

“It was a pleasure meeting you Tooba,” his words indicated the end of the interview. I stood up, feeling dejected, a tear in my eye. This was absurd. Sixteen years of hard work, my academic standing, everything seemed to go down the drain. Was it just appearance that mattered? All my achievements, intellect, confidence could not land me my dream job.

I felt cheated, my years of efforts wasted for all the wrong reasons. I was forced to let go of my dream by professionals who claimed to provide equal employment opportunities but could not shun their discrimination towards an attire that does them no harm.

Where’s the justice?

*Name has been changed

tooba.zaheer

Tooba Zaheer

A lecturer by profession, an MBA student, who blogs at bakerscanvas.blogspot.com and periodicreflections.wordpress.com.

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