A reader wrote to me about a job interview in which the male interviewers made inappropriate comments. It brings up the question – what should we do in this situation? Our initial instinct is to get angry and tell them off but more often than not we don’t call them on it at all. How do we find the appropriate response that makes us feel proud of ourselves?
Here is Randi’s situation:
About 4 years ago I was asked to interview for a database administrator position. I wasn’t apprehensive at all considering I had the work experience and the college background. Two men walked into the room, sat down and looked a bit surprised. They looked at my application and one said, “Randi?” Hmmm… my initial guess was that they were surprised that I was a woman. I simply replied with, “yes.” Not far into the interview they confirmed my suspicions with their comment, “…you do realize that this is a young man’s field?” I could have thrown my morals, work ethics, and composure out the window by responding with, “…then why are you two working here?” since they were both middle-age, but I held onto my values and responded with, “I would like to change that view of this field.” The interview soon ended and ultimately I was not offered the position. Was I surprised? No, not at all.
Formulating a Response
I think we all agree our initial response would match Randi’s. It feels good to rip into them but it really doesn’t change anything – it doesn’t affect the men.
Most of the time, we say and do nothing. And that is the problem! We need to say something! If we leave without saying something we kick ourselves.
So, how can we figure out what to say when we are at a loss for words? This is something I’ve had to think about in order to come up with my approach. For me it required a switch in attitude.
To me any man who says something like that in the last 15 years must be mentally deficient or live under a rock! He can’t have any common sense. There can be no other logical explanation! He is an embarrassment to his company and to other men!
So here’s how I play it – “Ok, guys time out!” Give them the Time Out sign with a heavy sigh.
Then in an “I could of had a V8” tone, “Guys – I can’t believe you just said that!”
Then in slightly disgusted and shocked tone, “Do you realize what you’ve done? You’ve given me a reason to claim discrimination. Do you realize you just told me I won’t get this job because I am not a man and not young enough? Do you realize the can of worms you just opened? I have to report this. Good I have your business cards. Thank you very much for putting all of us in a losing situation. And thank you for saying something so stupid and wasting my time while I deal with this!”
Yes, a little acting does help. It helps make the point and makes me feel comfortable enough to get the words out.
Realize men have had 20 years to learn where the lines are drawn. The ones who make inappropriate comments know how to dance on the line and know they can get away with it. They know the weaknesses within their company culture and how to manipulate it.
If you are angry and emotional they know how to win against you. If you attack them, they know how to play it so no one listens to you. So, you have to do something different, something creative that they don’t expect.
Personally, I am comfortable laughing at them and acting like the mother explaining to bad little boys what they did wrong. I think my approach came after I spent several weeks helping out in a kindergarten classroom then went to a construction site. I couldn’t tell much difference between the kindergarten class and the construction site.
As you will figure out on this website humor works for me. I am naturally amused by people and the things they do. See my article High Heels – that is one way I addressed comments being made about me at work. This approach makes me comfortable and gets my point across.
How you will handle these situations is something you need to think about ahead of time so you are better prepared. When it happens you will be caught off guard and it may take you a few minutes to process what just happened. If you are like me, you won’t be able to deliver that perfect professional response that the sexual harassment and discrimination seminars say you should!
And don’t think that because you didn’t say anything right away you missed your opportunity. Give your mind and emotions time to process. You can even stop on your way out of the room, turn around and address them. Or leave and come back in. As I said, a little acting works. (I talked to my neighbor about this and she also thinks a little acting is always effective – she says she does it all the time, we are good at it.)
So take the time now to think and plan your response. Figure out how you can view these men so they aren’t intimidating, so you can see them for the creeps or immature guys they are.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts. We need to share our ideas and help each other – this is a tough situation we all deal with.
Report What Happened
After you leave, call their HR department and report it. Remember this is a difficult situation for them too – so be friendly! Always let them know that you are trying to do the right thing.
Report what you said to the guys. It will also show the HR person you are not coming at this from an angry or emotional position so they are much more likely to do something. And it will be harder for the guys to paint you in a bad light.
If you are thinking – Wait, why do I have to be nice?! I’m the victim! They should be apologizing to me!
The reason is because being “the victim” isn’t going to get you anywhere either. Sorry, but the reality is that when you play the victim card, people become defensive, not empathetic.
Now in Randi’s case, she was interviewing for a position within a Navy contract the company had. If she knows who to report it to in the Navy then she could report it to the Navy too. In my experience, government agencies are very responsive to these complaints. Remember the consequences of elevating it further. Make sure you don’t over react or create drama just for spite.
Feel Empowered, Not Victimized
As you pursue this, know what you want to achieve.
You want to stand up for yourself and feel proud of yourself for doing so. You want to feel strong. You want to be an example of an empowered woman who took action. You want to show that in these situations women can act positively and we are more than timid, vengeful or emotional creatures.
Preach that to everyone you talk to – let them know you are pursuing this and following up because this is what women need to do. When you come at from that perspective you will be surprised how many people will actually jump on the bandwagon with you. They may have been waiting for someone like you to come along and give them a positive experience they can use as a foundation for addressing a problem in the company.
It is easy to work from our negative feelings. But empowerment comes from acting based on your values.
Empowered women are not victims, they stand up for themselves and their values.
PS – Don’t forget to leave your comment
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