Is gender bias hiding in your interview room?

There are several ways you can prepare for a job interview. You can research the company, practise the most common interview questions, rehearse your answers and plan your route. However, there is one factor you just can't prepare for: gender bias.

Gender biases come into play when companies either intentionally or unintentionally treat candidates differently based on factors related to their gender. In some cases, employers may not be aware that their hiring process contains gender bias. Therefore, it's important that job seekers are aware of the signs.

Here, we take a look at the most common examples of gender bias in job interviews that female-identifying professionals face, and how you can respond if you find yourself on the receiving end.

1. Maternity leave and family responsibilities

There are a number of illegal interview questions that recruiters and hiring managers should avoid during the interview process. Among them are questions relating to marital status, pregnancy and other family responsibilities that might impact a female candidate's chances of being hired. Despite this, women are still commonly asked about their familial status and if they are planning on having children. 

In fact, in a recent study, more than half of UK employers surveyed agreed that women should have to disclose if they are pregnant during a job interview. This is one of the most common examples of gender bias for women in job interviews. 

What can job seekers do?

The good news is that you are under no obligation to disclose this information to a potential employer. In most cases, questions like these are part of an interviewer's attempt to make conversation and are not intended to discriminate. However, it is still illegal and should not impact hiring decisions for a female candidate. So if you do get asked about your marital status or family situation and you don't wish to answer, you can simply reiterate that you're committed to the role, that you're able to fulfil all of the job requirements and share that your personal life does not interfere with your work life. 

2. Follow-up questions and interruptions

A study published in the journal of Social Sciences found that women are more likely to be interrupted during interviews and are asked more follow-up questions than their male counterparts. The study also found that women are more likely to rush through their answers as a result of the interruptions. 

What can job seekers do?

If you feel as though you're frequently interrupted mid-sentence, or if the number of follow-up questions seems excessive, try not to rush your answers. It could be based in sexism and assumptions (intentional or not), but it could also be that your interviewer is genuinely assessing your suitability or looking for a particular answer, and they are using follow-up questions to guide you towards that answer. Regardless, take a deep breath and try to be as specific as possible. It's important to remember that you're a qualified applicant with valuable work experience and you wouldn't be in the room if the employer wasn't interested in hiring you. 

3. Gendered language

Language plays a significant role in the hiring process. From job advertisements to selection criteria to interview questions, certain wording can impact whether a male or female candidate is more likely to land the position. 

For example, words such as 'collaborate', 'warm' and 'support' are more commonly associated with female stereotypes and are thus geared to attract female candidates, whereas words such as 'leader', 'competitive' and 'control' are associated with male stereotypes and are unconsciously geared to attract male candidates. This can breed gender bias in the hiring process even if the employer is unaware. Studies show that women are less likely to apply for roles containing 'male' wording, even though they might be just as qualified. 

What can job seekers do?

The first step is for applicants to make themselves aware of gendered wording for men and women. When you browse a job description, pay attention to which words might be more male-oriented or female-oriented. The more familiar you become, the less it will dictate whether you apply for the role at this company or not.

Final thoughts on gender biases

You can't control the type of questioning you will receive during an interview, but you can control your responses. If you feel that certain questions display hidden gender bias, it is within your discretion whether you choose to answer them.

Remember that a job interview is a two-way street: You are interviewing the employer as much as they are interviewing you. Therefore, if you see something you don't like during the job search, ask yourself whether this is an organisation you really want to work for. 

With gender bias still a major obstacle in the job search having an impeccable CV is all the more important. Make sure your CV is showcasing your best self with a free CV critique from TopCV.

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