No Woman Should Be Asked These Questions During A Job Interview

They're potentially illegal, definitely sexist and not at all relevant.

Attention hiring managers: Don’t ask a woman about her marital status, plans on having kids or her child-care arrangements during a job interview.

These questions, which are almost never put to men, are not only irrelevant to assessing a potential candidate, they’re also sexist and potentially illegal.

And yet… An astonishing 75 percent of senior women in tech said they’ve been asked questions like these during job interviews, according to an incredibly depressing new survey of about 200 senior-level women who work in tech in the San Francisco Bay Area. The report, entitled "The Elephant in the Valley," was first picked up by Re/code.

The survey was conducted by Trae Vassallo, a former partner at Bay Area VC firm Kleiner Perkins, and Michele Madansky, who previously did market research at Yahoo -- they had help from Survey Monkey and Stanford University, among others. Both women are now working for themselves.

Here are some of the questions that women reported getting asked or told during interviews: 

  • "It's a good thing you don't have children yet as that would[n't] work well in venture/start up world."

  • "Would I really have the time needed for the job and could I work as hard as the other two partners I'd be joining 'given that you are a mom with a young child'?"

  • "I was asked during fundraising meetings 'how do we know you're not going to run off and have a baby?'"

  • "Once I was asked about my religion and my views on abortion. On another occasion I was asked about how I would take care of my child while working."

A stunning 60 percent of respondents reported receiving unwelcome sexual advances from co-workers -- a majority of those advances came from superiors. “This isn’t just colleagues not behaving well, these are bosses doing this to women they are supposed to be helping mentor,” Vassallo told Re/code co-founder Kara Swisher in a podcast interview.

For example, after one woman declined the sexual advances of her boss -- the company's CEO -- during a business trip, she was never again given the opportunity to travel with the company.

It gets worse! Eighty-four percent of these high-level women in the survey have been told they are “too aggressive,” Madansky told Swisher. Fifty-percent have been told they need to speak up more, she said.

Respondents all have worked in tech for at least 10 years. Some work at startups, others at larger companies that include Apple and Google. Three-quarters of those surveyed were at vice-president level or higher.

A stunning 60 percent of women reported receiving unwelcome sexual advances from co-workers -- a majority of those advances came from superiors.

One respondent said that at her company there was a joke that there were only two reviews for women: You’re either graded as too bossy or too reticent.

Even though much has been reported about gender bias in tech, the results of the survey still come off as shocking.

Sixty-six percent of women in tech say they’re excluded from networking opportunities -- golf and ski outings, trips to the strip club. Fifty-nine percent believe they haven’t had the same opportunities as men. (You can read the full results here.) These are the kinds of shenanigans we've seen reported again and again in finance, but were supposed to be absent from the more "progressive" world of tech.

These are not the kinds of questions men get asked. And simply asking them reveals some pretty evident biases against women, particularly mothers. The assumption is women with children aren’t devoted to work. This is a self-reinforcing stereotype. Managers erroneously believe mothers are not ambitious, so they do not give mothers promotions or opportunities for advancement. As a result, fewer women get top roles. Since fewer women wind up in top roles, then people start believing it must be because they lack ambition. It's a vicious cycle.

And hiring managers aren’t doing themselves any favors by asking these questions. While it’s not exactly illegal to ask about an applicant’s marital status, it could be a liability for an employer, said Christine Nazer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who spoke with The Huffington Post by email.

If a candidate's not hired because she’s married or has kids, “it could point to sex discrimination,” Nazer said. “For example, if the employer is asking because they don't think a woman who is married should fill a job that requires travel, that could fall under sex discrimination because the employer would be making an employment decision based on gender stereotypes, which is illegal,” she added.

So what do you do if you’re asked a question like this during an interview? If you want the job, “don’t be disapproving of the question,” Rebecca Pontikes, a solo practitioner who represents individual employees at Boston firm Pontikes Law, told HuffPost’s Jenny Che last year. You can try understanding the reason for the question, she advised.

The interviewer is probably trying to ask about your availability or dedication. So you can respond with evidence of your dedication and willingness to work hard -- instead of just providing personal information.

The sexist questions and presumptions won't stop at the interview, though. The survey found that while employed, women reported getting a lot of inappropriate feedback about being mothers. Fifty-two percent said they took shorter maternity leave because they feared negative consequences for their career. 

These aren't unfounded fears -- one respondent said while she was out on leave, a colleague tried to "poach" her team. Another woman was told that having a second child "would be a career limiting move."

Other women said they purposefully didn't talk about their families at work -- even taking down pictures of their kids -- because they didn't want to be perceived as not dedicated.

Have stories of your own to share? You can submit the anonymously here.