How Gender Bias Hurts Women During Job Interviews

You’ve found a job that looks to be the perfect fit. You’ve polished your resume, crafted a killer cover letter and sent both off with fingers crossed. Now, you’ve got an interview. Congratulations!

You know that gender discrimination is a thing to watch for in the workplace, but do you know how it can affect the interview process? Understanding the ways gender bias sneaks into an interview can help you thwart it and land your dream job. Here are a few ways managers have (subconsciously and not) penalized women with traditional, false assumptions.

The Informal Interview

Some companies rely on informal interviews, also known as unstructured interviews. The method is simple: Employers call in candidates to shoot the breeze, and assess their “gut feelings” after the conversation is over. Employers often feel this laid-back interview style is more comfortable for interviewees, which is often not the case, as noted by career experts at Drexel University.

The problem is that rapport doesn’t determine how a person will perform on the job. Too often, men ace these assessments by talking sports, headlines or hobbies in a relaxed way many managers love. Unfortunately, female candidates are often lured into letting their guard down and offering up personal information (like marital status) that employers are not allowed to ask about outright (and that could sway the hiring decision in the wrong direction). So make sure you come prepared with a strategy to keep your interviewer on target. For example, you could bring the conversation back to a subject the interviewer previously brought up that’s actually relevant to the position. This shows that you were listening while avoiding topics that could put you at a disadvantage.

Emphasis on “Cultural Fit”

Cultural fit is important to the success of an organization. According to the New York Times, when approached correctly, hiring for cultural fit ensures all employees share the same values and enjoy a similar working environment. However, sometimes hiring for cultural fit can result in the same issues as an unstructured interview — candidates are chosen for their rapport, not their talents.

To be perceived as competent, a female interviewee often needs to be confident, assertive, capable, ambitious, competitive . . . you get the idea. She is a leader. The only problem is that when a woman portrays these traits, her likability suffers, according to experts at the University of Florida. In fact, experts found female leadership candidates were penalized twice in job interviews. If they acted like a confident, ambitious leader, they were seen as lacking social skills. But, if they were more cooperative, modest and communal, they were perceived as far less competent than their male counterparts.

To help your likability shine through, brush up on the psychology of body language, the benefits of small talk and the power of positive visualization.

No Testing

Gender bias is commonly seen as doing something that puts women at a disadvantage. However, it can also manifest as not doing something that breaks the cycle and allows women to shine. As behavioral economist, author and Harvard professor Iris Bonhet said in her book What Works: Gender Equality by Design: “Smarter design of our hiring practices and procedures may not free our minds from our shortcomings, but it can make our biases powerless, breaking the link between biased beliefs and discriminatory — and often just stupid — actions.”

For example, when hiring for a job requiring specialized technical talents, some hiring managers will not have candidates complete skills tests. Tests like these can separate the truly qualified candidates from those who merely look the part, according to a 2016 Harvard Business Review report. By designing a hiring process that includes skills tests, hiring managers can increase the chance that they’re getting the most-qualified candidates and giving women a fair chance. Many organizations are already doing this or plan to in the near future.

If the thought of a test makes you nervous, remember it’s an opportunity to stand out and test results aren’t as open to interpretation. Stay sharp, and when the time comes, you’ll be able to complete that test with confidence. If there isn’t a test, come prepared with a portfolio, presentation or other deliverable demonstration proving that you’ve got the chops.

Finally, it’s important to be aware of gender discrimination in hiring, but you shouldn’t let it discourage you. Women are increasingly visible on corporate boards and in positions of authority. By fearlessly applying for your dream job, not only are you more likely to find a fulfilling career, but you’re also part of a gender equality movement that makes progress each and every year. Before you know it, you’ll be the one doing the hiring. So dream big, prepare for interviews and know you’ve got the wisdom to ensure success.

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