I believe my interview panel was sexist. Is it proper?

Saturday April 03 2021
By Caroline Mboijana

Dear Caroline, 
I have been part of many job interviews in the past. A month back, I was part of the most uncomfortable one. Almost a minute in, one of the interviewers, surprisingly a female, noted that I was pretty. As we went on, some questions from both male and female interview panellists seemed sexist. I was asked if I was married and later, if I planned on getting pregnant soon. Is this proper? Rachel.

Hello Rachel,
I’m sorry to hear you’ve had an uncomfortable interview experience. Unfortunately, there some interview panellists who may not recognise the questions you were asked as offensive and have, therefore, not thought about asking alternative questions that would solicit the information they are looking for. Asking such questions in interviews speaks to the culture of the organisation and questions the organisation’s philosophy on issues of marriage and children. In practice, such questions are interpreted to be discriminatory in nature and should not be asked to either male or female interviewees. 

On the comment of “looking pretty” this is inappropriate and is certainly not relevant to the discussion. On the questions about marital status and children, you may find the nature of the work dictates that a potential employee may be required to travel frequently, work long unsociable hours  and will, therefore, not be at home with the family. Where roles require frequent travel or are structured around unsocial working hours etc, these aspects should have been communicated in the job advert. 

This way applicants know from the start that the role will require them to be away from their family.  We know such roles have an impact on the family, causing a challenge with balancing work and home life commitments. This, in the long run, will negatively impact all stakeholders, the employee, the family and the organisation.  In trying to ask for this information, alternative and acceptable questions could have been asked. These may include, “How comfortable are you with travelling for a period of up to 2 weeks a month?” Your response to that question should naturally flow into a discussion about your home commitments and your family.

 Moving forward and a way to avoid having a repeat experience, you should conduct an organisation due diligence, finding out as much as you can about the organisation’s culture and people practices. There is always a story and information about an organisation culture and people practices. 

Caroline Mboijana,
Managing Director,
The Leadership Team (U)