Gendering Interviews

I was skyping my brother when I realised something. He had a job interview coming up, so I asked him if he had prepared for it. “Mmm…not yet,” he told me nonchalantly. His calmness bothered me.

I, leaving a few days to prepare, searching ‘what to wear to an interview’ and ‘how to shake someone’s hand’ (in a way that screamed ‘hire me!’) could not fathom going to a job interview unprepared. This was nothing compared to my sister’s militant preparation of mental cue cards and format answers, days, even weeks, before the interview. And yet, here was my brother, days trickling into the dreaded day, and remaining wholly unfazed. The worst thing was, he was amazing at interviews. He was confident and funny, he was assertive and in control, he answered questions in model STAR format. He was everything I needed to be in an interview, and he hadn’t prepared for days on end. What was I, and my sister missing?

Then came in my realisation. My brother grew up in a society that valued the opinions of men. These set the conditions in which men grew up confident that their opinions meant something; society would listen to them regardless. In 2012, the car company BMW changed it GPS voice system because it was a female voice. BMW Germany received various complaints from drivers about the female GPS, telling them where to go and what to do. They trusted, and felt more confident, with a male voice directing them where to go. Is it a surprise then, that women are more likely to question themselves? Society grooms women to privilege the voices of men, while remaining silent, and uncertain of their own voices.

It is a well-established myth that women talk too much. Men are seen as ‘silent listeners,’ and women as mindless chatterers. This is the opposite of the truth. Extensive research by Deborah James and Janice Drakich, Margaret Franken and Janet Holmes shows overwhelming evidence in which men talk, and tend to dominate conversation far more than women, especially in a public setting. This happens from an early age. At primary and secondary schools, research found boys dominated classroom talk. At university, men also dominated conversation. Janet Holmes analysed the number of questions asked by participants in one hundred public seminars. Where the numbers of women and men present were about the same, men asked almost two-thirds of the questions during discussions. Moreover, Dale Spencer, an Australian researcher and feminist, believed that men have no accurate indication of how much they talk. Spencer asked students to evaluate which gender talked more in a given discussion. Men perceived the discussion as “equal” when women talked only 15% of the time, while the discussion was “dominated” by women if they talked only 30% of the time. Essentially, society would prefer women to be silent, than to talk at all. Is it so hard to answer why men can perform confidently (and better?) in a formal, interview setting?

Interviews require you to talk, to be sure of what you’re saying, knowing that your interviewers are listening, and accepting what you have to offer. Men have grown up knowing their voices will be heard, groomed into a society that privileges men’s voices from the classroom, to the office. Of course, there are women who are just as confident and do exceedingly well at interviews. But those come from preparation rather than from natural validation by society. The confidence a white, heterosexual man will have in what he has to say, will be different from how a woman has obtained her own confidence and validation. I understand the importance of interviews, I really do. How else can you gage a future employee’s work habits and ability to fit in a company? But being aware of how the system works to favour men’s opinions and validating the struggles women face, may be the first step to changing something in society.

 
  Wen-Juenn Lee CONTRIBUTOR

Wen-Juenn Lee CONTRIBUTOR