You lost me at practicing

Shooting the Breeze

25 July 2016

I was recently conducting an interview with a couple of colleagues of mine at KJR and encountered probably one of the worst moments of throwaway gender inappropriateness I’ve experienced.

I’m a passionate advocate for addressing gender discrimination in the workplace and have been for many years. If I trace it back to the essence of my career, having started in publishing, it probably derived from having a reasonable emotional intelligence, a skerrick of moral fibre and working in a company that was actually largely populated by women (roughly 10 women to each man). It was a wonderful company and really gave me an insight into how men and women in senior management helped balance the conversation in both strategy and execution. My previous company, as a callow journalist, was pretty blokey and dominated by apex predators in the board room which, in my opinion, led to a number of decisions being made through hubris and not necessarily with great results.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of boards and celebrated the success of the ones with a reasonable gender balance, if not gender parity. These boards have undoubtably been the most productive of my business life. I’ve even been lucky enough in recent times to be afforded the chance to lecture on board diversity and talk about it in the context of genuine business benefits rather than just its moral rectitude.

Which highlights my general ideology and brings me back to the interview…

The person in question sat down as we politely enquired about his weekend and the conversation unfolded as follows:

Him: “Yes, great. Just hung out and played with our kids.”

He directed his next question at me:

“Do you have kids?”

Me: “Yes, I do. A boy and a girl.”

His next question directed at my male colleague:

“And you? Do you have kids?”

My male colleague:

“Yes, one, a daughter.”

His next question to my female colleague:

“What about you? Any kids yet?”

My female colleague:

“No. Not yet.”

His response:

“Oh, you’re still practicing…”

A leaden silence hung in the air as I, and my two colleagues, really sat dumbfounded at what the interviewee had said. It was, at best, a gauche comment to a woman. Given the work context though, it was the casual sexual inference to a professional that just made it wholly out of order.

I have to say, that in the complete shock of the moment, I didn’t react as I wanted to in hindsight and, certainly, as I believe I would if I encounter something like it again.

My actual response was, when I recovered a second or so earlier than my two colleagues, “Well I think we should probably just get on with the interview.” At which point my female colleague took over the questioning (as we had agreed beforehand).

I sat half-listening to the guy’s responses over the next five minutes of so recognising simultaneously that he didn’t really have quite the right fit of skills we were after in the role AND that even if he did, there was no way on this planet that we would hire him given the horrendous faux pas.

As the interview continued, I really came close to just stopping it altogether but at that point I felt that it would just make us appear rude, so we continued for another 45 minutes with me, at least, thoroughly disengaged.

I reflected upon it with my colleagues after the interview and actually apologised to my female colleague for not stopping the interview on the spot. She was gracious enough to accept that apology and was glad that at least I’d raised my disappointment with the comment immediately after the interview.

For my part though, I’m not so lenient on myself. Whether I was in a state of utter brain-freeze or not, I’d have to say that I wish I had stopped the interview once I had recovered my wits. I’m sure there are some people who would say that I should have and the fact that I didn’t gives an impression of the acceptance of such commentary; and yet others will probably say that I’m over-reacting entirely.

For me, I’m just resolving that if I ever encounter a similar scenario, then I won’t bother with continuing a meeting or interview with someone I can’t truly have any respect for and will also do them the courtesy of explaining why so that they have the chance to potentially rectify their thoughts, words and deeds in the future.

I’m sorry mate, you lost me at practicing.

Connect with Ash Howden, CEO of KJR – LinkedIn or Twitter

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