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How to Keep Hiring Managers From Asking Inappropriate Interview Questions

A lesson in what interviewers should not say

A woman and man talking at a desk in an office.

​A former manager for Google and Meta bragged on social media about openly discriminating against female job applicants.

On May 22, tech professional Patrick Shyu admitted in a now-deleted Twitter post that was captured by Business Insider that he used to trash the resumes of female applicants in front of them during job interviews and immediately reject them.

"I told them, 'Go have some kids. Don't worry, I'm smarter than you, I know,' " Shyu wrote.

After receiving criticism, Shyu tweeted that women shouldn't work as coders and should instead "prioritize being a good mother and wife," Business Insider reported. He also suggested that misogyny is a myth and an excuse for "incompetent women who spent too much time researching 'misogyny' instead of improving themselves."

On May 26, he tweeted that his opinions are not solidified, "just as how we never stop learning and growing as people."

Shyu worked as a tech lead for Google from September 2014 to April 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile. He then worked at Meta as a staff-software engineer from May 2018 to July 2019. It is not clear whether Shyu's behavior led to his departure from each company.

Representatives from Google and Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Avoid Asking These Questions

Shyu's reported behavior was beyond the pale, but while most other interviewers don't go that far, many do ask female candidates inappropriate questions that can be perceived as discriminatory and could result in a lawsuit against the company.

"Women, in particular, have historically been subject to such illegal questions that, in many cases, are meant to uncover certain information about them that can be used not only to weed them out as potential employees, but, in some circumstances, for use to target them in the future in inappropriate ways," said Andrew M. Gordon, an attorney with the law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Gordon cited specific inappropriate questions, such as:

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have kids?
  • Who is responsible for taking your kids to and from school?

Not only are these questions inappropriate, Gordon explained, they also are illegal and have nothing to do with the candidate's qualifications for a position. They can also tarnish a business's reputation and compromise its ability to recruit and retain talent.

"Employers need to be able to trust their designated interviewers," Gordon said. "It is imperative that the people being charged with interviewing potential candidates have a basic understanding of what questions are appropriate and what questions are off-limits as well as the context behind why certain questions are problematic and potentially discriminatory."

Workplace Microaggressions an Issue for Women

For some women, discrimination occurs once they land the job.

Women are more likely than men to face microaggressions that undermine them professionally, according to a report by McKinsey and Company. These microaggressions include being interrupted and having their judgement questioned.

Women of color often experience a higher rate of these microaggressions, the McKinsey report found. They are more likely than white women to face microaggressions that reinforce harmful stereotypes or cast them as outsiders.

Women who regularly experience microaggressions are twice as likely as those who don't to be burned out, more than twice as likely to report feeling negatively about their job, and almost three times as likely to say that in the past few months they struggled to concentrate at work because of stress.

Kimberly Lee Minor, a Black woman who founded and serves as CEO of boutique firm Bumbershoot in Columbus, Ohio, has dealt with microaggressions throughout her career. When her first child was born prematurely, she continued working shortly after birth because she had not planned to go on maternity leave so early.

"During a meeting, my boss asked me if I planned to come back," Minor said. "I answered in the affirmative. Why would I continue to work during my leave if I wasn't planning on returning? His answer was simple: 'Just checking because [someone] said that gals don't usually come back once they have their kids.' "

Shortly thereafter, Minor discovered that a promotion she had wanted had been given to someone who had not given birth.

"This is just one of the stories," she explained. "There are many more about when I had to make a choice that my male colleagues didn't or when I was judged for being a mom or a woman."

Gender discrimination has shown to erode women's confidence. The Society for Human Resource Management offers resources for employers to identify and eliminate gender bias in the workplace to create a more inclusive environment.


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