Recently I had the opportunity to “interview” for a volunteer position. Myself, along with the other volunteer candidates, were asked questions by a five-member panel. Ostensibly, these open, public interviews gave the candidates a chance–above and beyond what each of us might have shared via our written applications–to impress the panel with our detailed and creative thoughts on the sought-out volunteer work.
It was obvious to me, based on the variety of on-the-fly questions, that the five panel members had not come up with any systematic approach to the interviews.
It was evident to me, based on the number of tangential and superficial topics which came up, that the five panel members wanted everyone to feel comfortable, albeit not productive by using this “conversation-like” format.
It was clear to me, based on the candidate-centered questions, that each panel member had broad discretion to ask what he/she thought might be pertinent to the work ahead.
Imagine my surprise when the only woman on the panel asked me this:
“So how would your position on this committee fit with your other responsibilities and positions in town, time wise?”
My heart dropped when I realized what she might be asking. In the hopes that she would rephrase it in a way that would dispel what I thought I’d just heard, I said this:
“How do you mean?”
“As far as balancing your career and being a library trustee, how do you see your being to (sic) fit this committee in with those other responsibilities?”
Yes, in 2017, in an open and public forum a woman was asked a question which called for really only one of three answers:
- “Oh, well, I guess I didn’t really think about how much time this volunteer work would take up, you know, with those ten meetings a year. Luckily for all of us you pointed out how little thought and consideration I’d put into making the application in the first place. So sorry for wasting your time on such a silly idea.”
- “You know, now that you’ve reminded my of the fact that I have a career and other responsibilities, you’re so super right. Plus, with all those cerebral demands, I’d probably get so exhausted that I wouldn’t be able to function well. Thanks for reminding me that I don’t need to overextend my fragile, female self.”
- “I have plenty of time.”
My answer was, verbatim, #3, though the subtext in my head was saying, “You can’t ask that kind of question.” It sickens me to think that in order to be considered I was required to answer such a marginalizing and sexist question.
These sort of “do you really think you can do it all” questions cannot be asked during a job interview. Why? Because they are discriminatory on their face and violative of the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. These sorts of questions are taken with dead seriousness by the laws of our nation. Why? Because we have decided to prohibit, via laws, any language that implies 1. that the woman didn’t properly consider her choice to apply or 2) that the woman–even if she did make proper considerations–is blind with foolish ambition and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
And yet, here in 2017, it is still happening.
I might have felt slightly less discriminated against had the female panel member asked all of the candidates the same question. None of the men was asked. None of the other female candidates was asked despite one of whom being well known for having “responsibilities and positions in town.”
Only I was asked, in 2017, by the one woman on the panel.
A few days later, I sent the woman this message:
“If you have an opportunity, I would appreciate a call from you” along with my number and this valediction “Regards, Jenna.”
I got an immediate response: “Thank you for contacting me! I will get back to you as soon as possible.”
She’s not gotten back to me. I won’t speculate as to why. Maybe instead I’ll grill myself up a tofu pup and cover it in ketchup. Lucky for me the bottle has a lid I can handle all by myself.