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  • Leigh Kester

Break the Bias

Hands up if you have been stereotyped or discriminated against because of your gender?

Now, hands up if you have been asked a leading question whilst being interviewed, because you’re a woman?

uncomfortable looking interviewee from being discriminated during an interview

Speaking from personal experiences everyone has their own ideas of what it means to be a woman. Some think homemakers, some think care giver, others think gossips/shopaholics. What seems to be the missing link is that a woman can be multiple things. I’m a shopaholic, I love to cook, and I have career ambitions (I work hard at it too) and there are many more characteristics you could label me with. Not every woman will fit into that perfect mould or idea, we are all very different.

Yet I (and many others) still have had that leading question in an interview, which starts as general chitchat; relationship status, “how long have you been together?”… and then that all important “When do you think you will be having children?”. This is not ok, and it is breaking the law. The Equality Act 2010 states you cannot ask these questions in an interview or to an employee and that the maternal status of a woman or the gender of the applicant cannot impact your decision.

a road print of a family with the female holding the youngest child

The limitation implied by asking when someone is going to have children is that it would be seen as a negative to want or to have children whilst being employed. It also has a further impact to the applicant as it is assuming and harmful, as they may have experienced difficulty conceiving, or may not want children thus, putting societal pressure on having children because of her gender. Asking this question could have a detrimental impact on the applicants mental wellbeing. Asking this question does not ascertain how hard the applicant will work in that job role, nor how good they would be at it.

There is so much weight and gravity behind a gesture, a nickname, or a conversation that can carry a lot of harmful content which is stereotyping and discriminative behaviour, such as pet names, little lady, darling and babe. All of which, can have a demeaning subliminal message, which may not always be the intention, but it might be how it is received. Everyone has their own experiences and preferences, and it is up to us to respect each other and listen. However, these experiences, conversations, nicknames, or gestures can lead to long term impact on our relationships with people and ourselves.

an unhappy employee at her desk because they have been discriminated through unconscious bias

For example, calling someone you don’t know all too well or without permission ‘babe’ could communicate a sexualisation of that person, equally ‘little lady’ could be trying to suppress and imply fragility of a woman, which will naturally translate to the superiority of a man. In the long run this could create a confirmation bias in both the man and woman. For the woman it could be men of a certain position or certain looks will always behave that way and for man it could be the acceptance of their treatment or assuming because one woman didn’t say anything, it meant she enjoyed the attention, so all women will. This isn’t healthy for an inclusive work environment or social.

It is important to remember that there are now more options for employers during the recruitment phase to stop stereotyping and discrimination at the first step. One example is blind hiring, where the employer will look at your credentials and that is all, they won’t know your name, gender, age, or race. They will be able to judge on whether your skillset and knowledge base fits their job role. In relation to advertising the role this will be done in ‘neutral’ territory where people of all backgrounds will have access, rather than just online or in a men’s magazine etc. This creates a level playing field for all great potential candidates.

For women there is a perception, we must always be abiding and polite, but what if that isn’t the treatment we are receiving? If you experience gender specific questions in an interview it is ok to stop the interview if you are not comfortable. We must always remember when interviewing that this is the opportunity for both you and the employer to see if you would be a good team. This rule applies to professional and personal settings too. Sometimes to educate is also to stand up for ourselves and how we are being treated. It is often that we will step in to stick up for someone else and encourage them, but it is also too often we would let that same action slide if it were happening to us.

It is time to break the mould and break the bias.


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