About six months ago, I was asked in an interview, ‘I know I am not allowed to ask this, but I am going to anyway, do you plan on becoming pregnant in the next year?’ How I should have answered: ‘Yes, yes I do.’
I would have loved to hear their response after that. If they responded with supportive things such as ‘great, well we’d have to support you when you are at that stage’, then I would have known that it would have been an employer who I could have respected and enjoyed working for (though, probably not really as they still shouldn’t have asked). Due to me being unprepared for the question (it was 2016 after all!), I responded in a way that I thought would not affect my position as a candidate for the position: ‘well, we have other things we want to get in order first.’
This whole experience has been grating on my mind, wishing I had answered differently. Wishing I had been quick enough to give them an answer that would have made them uncomfortable.
I was at least fortunate enough to be able to answer calmly, despite the thoughts running through my head: ‘That is actually none of your business. You have no idea if I have been struggling or not to have children or if I have been told that I can’t have children. Not only is it against the law to ask, it is an insanely personal question, would you have asked the same question to a male applicant if he intends to become a father in the next year?’
Mamamia Out Loud discuss the toughest interview questions out there. Post continues after audio.
The fact that they started the question with ‘I shouldn’t ask this, but…’ means they know full well of the implications around it. Had I said yes, and then not been offered the position, I could have reported it and made a big deal. However, how I interpreted this question at the time: ‘We don’t want you on board in this position if you can’t fully commit.’ It has annoyed me that I, myself interpreted the question this way. Why was that my first reaction?
My parents raised me to be an independent and hard-working person. Including the traditional forms of education, sport and encouragement, my parents made sure that we were raised to respect, to be welcoming and inclusive. These types of things included: how to shake a hand properly, how to open a bottle of wine/champagne (before screw caps!), how to work and cook on a BBQ, how to change a tire, as some examples. Tasks that are focussed on me being independent and able to be social and welcoming to other people.
I was put in an awkward position that if I had really been able to speak my mind, the interviewer would have taken offence, and I would have possibly jeopardised my candidacy for the role. It is rare that I notice that I am a female in the workplace, I see myself as a colleague, a learner, a leader, an operations manager, a contributor. The only time I am reminded that I am a female at work is when someone else points it out to me:
‘Wow, you shake hands like a man’. If you mean I don’t let you dominate me in an old school tradition of a handshake, sure.
‘How do you feel about being a female in a male dominated industry?’ Didn’t occur to me until you asked.