Sadly, it’s not rare to encounter sexism during a job interview. According to one recent study, 75 percent of senior women in tech say they’ve been asked about marital status, pregnancy, and children during interviews. And while those may seem innocuous to some, they are feeding into a cycle of discrimination in the workplace and these questions are, in fact, illegal.
While some hiring manager may feign ignorance, do not them off the hook. There is hardly an employer in the United States who does not understand that sexist questions violate Federal and most state laws.
What kind of questions? We turned to five women to share the worst interview questions they’ve been asked. If you’re faced with one of these, beware.
Take Dez Stephens, who was interviewing for a program coordinator position when her potential employer asked, “What does your father do for a living?” she says.
Stephens shook off her shock, grinned, and said, “Would you also like to know what my mother does for a living?” But not all sexist questions are so easily brushed off.
Angela Copeland showed up to an interview for an executive level digital marketing job sans wedding ring, and was quickly asked, “Are you married?” While Copeland says she responded quickly and politely to the inappropriate question, it put her off enough that she no longer wanted the job. “I made a mental note of how much it bothered me,” she says, “and I knew that was not someone I wanted to work for.”
When Anetra Henry-Hunting applied for a position as a business manager, she was repeated asked about her support system—the group of people who would care for her and whom she would care for when she clocked out of work. But then, she was hit with the real doozy: “How many kids do you have?” Henry-Hunting isn’t a mom, she says, so she brushed it off. But when she snagged the job and became a manager herself, she was asked to repeat the question only to female interviewees.
“His assumption was the dad wouldn’t be called off the job when a child gets sick at school,” Henry-Hunting explains. “But I never implemented this tactic in interviews, and I left the company shortly thereafter.”
Arlene Guzman Todd was interviewing for the role of marketing manager when the company’s vice president asked, “Who is going to watch the kids while you’re at work?” It was a question she couldn’t let slide, she says, and she quickly pointed out just how sexist—and unnecessary—the question was for him to ask.
“My posture changed and I probably rolled my eyes,” Guzman Todd admits. Then, “I said something like, ‘I didn’t see childcare as part of the job description, so I don’t think we need to spend time discussing it.”
Then there’s Rachel Schromen, who, as she was interviewing for a position as an estate planning attorney, was asked by a male hiring manager about her work in women’s rights issues. He asked, “Are you capable of getting along with the men in the office?” Schromen says. Her women’s rights work? Working with domestic violence and survivors of sexual assault—hardly work aimed at hurting men.
“I responded that my involvement with that type of advocacy does not mean that I don’t like, or get a long with, men,” Schromen says. But that was hardly her last encounter with sexism in an interview. Later, when she interviewed for a position in a bankruptcy law firm, Schromen revealed she had researched the company.
The male hiring manager said, “Well, aren’t you a smart little girl?” She bristled, and answered as politely as she could. But, luckily, there’s a happy ending to this particular sexist encounter: After Schromen took the job, she realized the man hadn’t meant to be sexist at all. “He ended up being a wonderful employer who was old fashioned in his ways and speech patterns,” she explains. “And he was respectful and receptive when I corrected things he would say or ask he use different terms.”