Last week, a story about two colleagues, a man and a woman, switching names for week to see what it was like to work as the other gender, made the rounds on social media.
The man came to the startling conclusion that his job got so much harder when people thought he was a woman. He said half of his time was spent proving to clients that he was capable of doing his (her) job.
My first response to this piece was, “well, DUH!” I mean, proving I’m more than capable to do my job has been an almost daily part of my career (I’m in media, one of the most notoriously sexist professions, without a doubt).
When I reread the ‘switching names story,’ though, I was taken aback at how truly shocked this man was by this discovery. I mean, I guess until you actually experience it firsthand there’s no way to really quantify how degrading and counterproductive this attitude towards women can be.
The female colleague didn’t really have any revelations at the conclusion of the experiment and seemed to just accept that her job was significantly harder because of her gender. It was really depressing to see this reality confirmed, yet again, and to feel that I could totally relate to her.
A few years back, I interviewed for a role at one of Canada’s biggest media companies. Interviewed is putting it mildly: I tried out for a position. I wrote two assignments and sat through two interviews before I was asked to come back for a third with the big boss. I was told I was one of two candidates being considered for the position.
I prepared for this interview like it was no one’s business. My husband relentlessly quizzed me, I exhaustively researched the company and the division I was hoping to work in. I polished my portfolio. I bought a smart little outfit and took special care with my hair and makeup (tone down the trollop).
I got there early so I could take a few minutes to collect myself before going in. I’d heard good things about the woman I was interviewing with from a male friend who had worked with her. I felt pretty comfortable when we first sat down together in a conference room even though she came across as a little cool and closed off.
First off, she asked me to tell her a little about myself. I gave her a quick little rundown of my schooling and professional experience. The words were flowing, I felt calm and confident.
Her next question was: “Where do you live?”
Interviewer: “Hmmm. That’s pretty far. How would you feel about coming here everyday?”
Me: (In my head) Uh, weird, but ok. “I’d feel fine. I live right near a GO station.”
Interviewer: “Yes but it’s a long way to come. You think you can always get here on time?”
Me: Huh? Am I not sitting here right now? Aren’t there like thousands of people who commute to this city everyday. I know our transit infrastructure is bad but…? “Barring any train delays, I don’t see why not…”
Interviewer: “We sometimes have to work late. Would that be a problem for you? How would you get home?”
Me: Ok. But don’t you want to know about, like, my professional attributes? “Not a problem. The same way I came here…?”
Interviewer: (Long pause as she reviews the pieces I’d written during the application process). “Well, you’re certainly a very good writer.”
Me: Whew! Back on track. “Thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.”
Interviewer: (Another pause as she looks me over. I catch her glance at my wedding rings.) “Do you have a family?”
Now let me just break here for a moment. This question was not asked in a friendly, conversational way. It, honest to goodness, felt like a challenge. This was the question she was trying to get the answer to with all of those other shitty questions. This woman was asking me if I had kids and it was very clear that if I did, it would be a strike against me. I was maaaad.
Me: “Of course I do. We all come from somewhere don’t we?” Then I gave the most innocent smile I could muster in my rage.
She was NOT impressed. She gave me one of those tight-lipped smirks where the edge of her lips turned white. She clearly didn’t like having her bullshit thrown back in her face.
Needless to say, the interview ended rather quickly after that. She didn’t even shake my hand. I also didn’t offer it.
I didn’t hear anything from them. Such a waste of time and energy.
I’ve sat through other really uncomfortable interviews. One, even, where the interviewer implied that I had slept with the author of one of my reference letters because it said too many nice things about me (media, seriously, super insanely sexist). That guy actually ended up hiring me, funny enough, and I (and a fair number of my former female colleagues) could dedicate an entire book to the seriously uncomfortable situations I found myself in with that dinosaur.
This interview, though, was worse. I was being discriminated against because I was a woman, by a woman who was not much older than me and who could probably tell tales very similar to the one I’m telling now. It was truly heartbreaking; she’d given up the fight.
I cannot imagine a professional scenario where men are asked these kinds of questions: asked to prove that not only are they capable of doing the job but that they can physically find their way to the office.
I suppose to some degree I get that you see a woman of child-bearing years sitting across from you and maybe it gives you pause because ‘Gasp! She might get pregnant and disappear for a year and I’ll have to take time to hire someone to take her place! Woe is me!’
Here’s the thing, though: y’all need to Get. Over. It. You need to step up and adapt to reality.
This is the 21st century and despite the fact that there is a patriarchy still clearly trying to put us ‘in our place,’ we aren’t giving up any more ground.
Women have proven time and again that we are brilliant, witty and resourceful. We are savvy, strong and independent. We are professional, caring and innovative. We are all the things that make today’s workforce diverse and more productive. We are a force to be reckoned with.
In light of these revelations, I’ve decided to craft a new cover letter. I feel like it will cut through all the bullshit and will save time the next time I apply for a job. It reads as follows:
Dear hiring manager,
I am eager to apply for [position title] as I feel my years of experience in this field and passion for [whatever product they’re selling] makes me an ideal candidate. Please refer to my portfolio and long list of references for further proof that I am awesome and you’d be stupid to not hire me.
Before we go any further, though, I feel we need to address the elephant in the room: I have a vagina. Sometimes blood comes out of it. Sometimes babies come out of it.
Let’s agree that these things are not, in any way shape or form, your concern as they in NO WAY affect my integrity or diminish the pride I take in doing a job well. They do not take away from my professionalism or the impressive skill set I bring to the table. Also, my biology will in no way inhibit my ability to tell time or find my way to the office.