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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wanted: A Girl Who'll Work for Less




"Secretary wanted: girl, 19 to 25 years old, good-looking with no family problems," reads a typical advertisement in a recent issue of a Russian newspaper.


A quick glance at the want-ads in any Russian publication reveals a disturbing trend: In their hiring practices, employers discriminate against women with families and seek out candidates with long legs, a pretty face and a willingness to take "business" trips with the boss.


That is just one of the problems highlighted by a study released this week by Women, Law and Development International, a Washington-based group. "The Consequences of Privatization on Women" concludes that women in post-communist countries have endured the bulk of the economic upheaval.


The study found that women are paid as little as 65 percent of a man's salary for the same job, are frequently subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace and have borne the brunt of layoffs associated with privatization. In some regions, women make up almost 90 percent of the unemployed.


Employment ads offer jobs based on gender, with managerial positions targeted at men and secretarial and less-skilled positions at women, the report said. In the meantime, women with engineering or economics degrees from major universities find themselves settling for secretarial positions that pay $100 to $200 per month.


As part of WLDI's yearlong research project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, some 900 companies were surveyed and over 500 women from Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Poland were interviewed.


Most of the women said they were angered by the outright discrimination in classified ads, Anne Zollner, WLDI's project director, said in an e-mail interview Tuesday.


"These job ads are all porno! If it's not a street vendor, it's a secretary with sexual duties," one Russian woman quoted in the report said.


Natalya, a young woman from Odessa interviewed by WLDI, said she lost her job because she refused to accompany her boss - who frequently made sexual advances at her - on a business trip alone.


She was on a two-week trial period, which ended with her would-be boss telling her she was "too inflexible" for this type of secretarial work.


"If you do not accept sexual proposals, you will be made to regret it. You may be fired, downgraded or have your salary cut to the minimum so you spend the next 10 years counting every penny. In one way or another, you will be made to recognize your inferiority," Anatasia, 34, told WLDI.


Sexual harassment is nothing new in Russia, but in recent years conditions have been ripe for it to spin out of control. "The attitude of employers that the free market means ... they have full liberty in the selection and treatment of employees means increased sexual harassment," Zollner said.


In general, she said, women feel safer in state-run or noncommercial organizations, where some stricter controls over employee behavior still exist.


Women have become more vulnerable to harassment as a crisis economy makes them desperate for any job they can come by, Zollner said.


And jobs-wanted ads reflect women's awareness of what may be expected of them by their potential bosses. Virtually every ad placed by a woman seeking employment in Tuesday's issue of Iz Ruk v Ruki, a newspaper entirely comprised of classifieds, include the warning "absolutely no intimate relations."


But according to Zollner's research, some of the women interviewed regard intimate relations with their bosses as an "insurance policy against dismissal."


"My boss often invites me to spend time with him and sometimes asks for my 'hospitality' toward his business partners from Poland," 28-year-old Vita told WLDI. "So what? I'm not the worse for it and this way I am sure that I won't find myself without a job," she said, adding that after the August 1998 financial crisis, 20 people in her company were fired.


Russians often view the issue of sexual harassment as something Western women are overly concerned about to the detriment of their personal relations.


Zollner said her organization came up against that view among the women they interviewed.


Discrimination in hiring is not limited to bosses seeking secretaries who can moonlight as lovers.


Other factors, such as marital and family status, play a big role in determining whether a woman is hired. WLDI reported that during job interviews, women are asked questions that are prohibited in most Western countries - such as queries about marriage and childbearing plans - and are often rejected because of their answers.


Pregnancy is a major concern for employers as the law provides for company-paid benefits for mothers. A 1995 Human Rights Watch report concluded that "both gender-specific protective legislation and mandated benefits in Russia deny women the ability to compete on equal terms with men."


"I am a pregnancy threat," a Russian woman said. "As soon as an employer knows that I was just married, it causes a suspicious look toward my waistline."


Though prohibited by Russian law, job ads often get very specific about their restrictions on women with children. One ad in this week's issue of Moscow's Work Today magazine says: "Secretary wanted: woman aged 27-38 with children only over age 4."