Speak Magazine

Field Notes

The Tanzanian CV: The Devil is in the details

By: Brielle Morgan

TANZANIA – During a slow morning in the newsroom, Pascal Massae asked me to help him with his CV. The tall, perpetually smiling, twenty-something was nearing the end of his internship at Clouds TV. Thrilled at the thought of nitpicking over formatting — an admittedly guilty pleasure — I told him, sure. He pulled up the beginnings of his résumé.

Topping the page was a stack of bullets I found surprising, and problematic. He’d disclosed his age, gender, marital status, place of birth, tribe, and even his religion. It read to me like a checklist for discrimination. The only thing missing was a bullet for sexual orientation.

The self-righteous Canadian in me wanted to guffaw. I wanted to tell him that potential employers can use those details to weed him out before they familiarize themselves with his qualifications. But I checked my reaction, opting to try listening instead.

I asked him why he included all that personal information. He looked at me, the grin on his face betraying equal parts amusement and confusion. I don’t know, he said, shyly. The subtext of his smile seemed to be, “What are you getting at now, hmm mzungu (foreigner)?”

I told him that in Canada it’s not standard to include those details on a résumé, so I was intrigued by the difference. Wanting to find out whether this was typical for Tanzanian CVs, I asked a handful of Clouds employees whether they include similar details.

Of course, I was told again and again.

But why does an employer need to know your religion, I asked a young producer. Some organizations are affiliated with a religious order, like Radio Imani, so they want to hire Muslims, he told me. Or, maybe they’d like to ensure that lunch service accounts for certain dietary restrictions, he reasoned.

Hmm.

As for the marital status thing, several people told me that employers look favourably on married people because it’s assumed they’ll be more responsible.

I asked my colleagues whether they thought including these details could have a negative impact on their application. TV anchor Sophia Kessy said that while she hadn’t considered that before, she could see how such details might invite discrimination. Walter Kimaro, a TV editor, told me a friend of his (who’d disclosed her age on her CV) was told explicitly that she was too young for the job.

The latter scenario violates our basic human right to freedom from discrimination. It also goes against Section 7(4) of the Tanzanian Employment and Labour Relations Act, in which employers are forbidden from discriminating against someone directly or indirectly based on their marital status, religion, place of origin, gender, and age, amongst other attributes.

I wondered why the protections we take from this kind of discrimination on North American CVs aren’t mirrored in Tanzania.

“It’s old school still, British colonial style,” offered Horrace Katson, a young producer from Uganda. “It’s how they teach it in schools.”

“It’s the way you see your father write a resume,” added Lee Ndayisaba, the programs manager for Clouds TV.

I asked Ndayisaba whether he thinks it’s problematic to include such personal details on a CV and he (just barely) spared me an eye roll.

“In your culture, what does an employer do? They Google you. It’s the same thing.”

Fair point. A determined enough digger could find most of those details online, but at least they’d have to work a little for them. And if Katson is right about this CV-style being a remnant of British colonialsm, it’s interesting to see how different British CVs look in comparison.

Just last year in an effort to discourage discriminatory hiring in England, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spearheaded a nameless-CV initiative. Clegg’s campaign asked British companies to create application forms which didn’t ask for a name or the names of schools attended.

“Ability and drive should trump connections and privilege,” Clegg said.

While critics pointed out that the nameless-CV initiative wouldn’t stop employers from discriminating at the interviewing stage, it seems like a step in the right direction.

Offering up one’s religion, age, gender, and marital status on a CV is making it too easy for an employer to discriminate, intentionally or not. As the British campaign indicates, even names can be problematic. A 2004 study out of the U.S. found that résumés with recognizably African-American names were twice as likely to be ignored as other résumés.

I wonder whether someone who omitted such details would be at a disadvantage in Tanzania. Would an employer trash their CV because it doesn’t conform to standard protocol? Would it be deemed unprofessional? How much weight do one’s marital status and place of birth actually carry in the hiring process? I’d like answers to these questions, and I’m hoping to persuade a Clouds journalist to dig into this issue a little deeper with me.

After launching a number of conversations about CVs (on a Friday, no less) with journalists throughout the building, I sat back down with Massae to help him finish his CV.

“So, should I include my marital status?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Up to you. What do you think?”

He paused.

“I think I’ll leave it.”

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