The Gender Implications When Hiring & Interviewing

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Applying for a new job is stressful, a time sponge, and from an organizational point of view, costly.  For an individual, even if it is done as much to exercise a muscle as out of need, it requires diligence, self-awareness, and confidence. If you interview as female, it’s even more challenging. Why? Because you have to walk a thin line between what you know, what you believe, and public perception.

I’ve spoken to a number of women in the museum and library fields about job interviews. These women aren’t novices. They all lead organizations or departments, and they are well read, not in the book group sense. Rather they read widely about leadership, and they’ve had opportunities to put what they read into practice. Before I go further, here are some givens about men and women in the job race. They are all supported by research, and I’ve included links so you’ll know I’m not just ranting.

So what happened to the women I spoke with? These issues came to a head when they were faced with the proverbial interview question about change. It goes something like: “Based on what you’ve seen today, what is your vision for our organization, department, program?” Anybody who’s read anything about leadership knows that rapid change, particularly from a new hire, goes nowhere. These women knew that. Each gave an answer that was a variation of: change takes time, buy-in is important, describing how they like to observe, watch, listen and learn before experimenting, analyzing, testing again, and implementing. None of them got the job. The positions went to men.

Is it possible the men offered less measured and reasoned responses? Is it possible they replied with a laundry list of changes, delivered with a confidence and panache that was just what the interview committee wanted to hear even though few organizations–except the most desperate–can sustain wholesale hierarchical change?

I can imagine you eye-rolling here. How do you know, you ask? And you’re right. There are a million reasons for offering a job to one person over another. But is it possible that boards or hiring committees confuse confidence with competence? That a confident answer even if it flies in the face of every good leadership best practice is more acceptable than a more measured response? And might that be a gendered thing since we know men tend to sound more confident? In fact, if I were asked, going forward, I’d tell each of these women to answer that question differently. I’d tell them to practice sounding confident, responding with a vision statement and a list of areas that need experimentation.

Some final caveats: This isn’t about getting women to act more like men even though it seems that way. Successful women are confident, but the consequences of acting confident are different for men and women. Women are judged differently than men, and therefore answers to the most basic questions are heard differently. Women need to be twice as good to be seen as half as competent. All of this is 10 times harder and more complex for women of color, women who are overweight, women with disabilities, LGBTQ and transgender women because the opportunity for bias multiplies.

And lastly, if you are hiring:

  1. Remember, an interview is like a wedding. If that’s the happiest day of your life, you’re in trouble. Hire for the long haul, not the razzle dazzle. There are many who ace the interview, but there’s no there there when it comes to real leadership.
  2. Because the museum field is tipping so precipitously toward becoming a pink collar profession, hiring committees may think they’re doing the field a service by hiring a man. That may be. Just make sure the process is equitable. Tokenism is tokenism no matter who’s in the mix.
  3. Talk openly about issues of bias–where and how they appear–with your search committee before the process begins. You may want to use a bias exercise to help your committee understand where they are.
  4. Build a diverse interview committee that includes POC, the young, the experienced. Let the committee discuss its governance rules ahead of time. Make it a safe space where all thoughts are welcome.
  5. Discuss the difference between diversity and difference. Is your program, department or museum ready for a challenge? See suggestion #2.
  6. Be open. Remember it’s not just about you. It’s about your organization. Look for the person who will help your museum grow.

Joan Baldwin

 

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One Comment on “The Gender Implications When Hiring & Interviewing”

  1. lnorris201 says:

    Anne and Joan–in my recent interviewing for department head positions in respected mid-size museums where the new generation of directors in the 40s and early 50s are in the first directorship, they are lacking in crucial leadership skills. In particular asked what is the vision they have for their institution in the next 5-10, they are completely unprepared for the question and either defer to other department heads on the hiring committee or simply say they don’t know. This was true in all cases and the directors were both male and female. With the new “team management”, each of the institutions had difficulty making decisions not only about hiring but in solving problems within their institutions and they appeared to be endlessly circling around old problems. The one thing they are clear about is they want departments heads who will “coach” and basically hand hold the young first-time museum professionals. In meetings with the young professionals asked what was the nature of the coaching they are looking for, replies fell into, “I haven’t missed having a department head, I just need someone to help me with my career”; “I want someone totally devoted to helping me get ahead; “I want someone who will make my case to senior leadership and not get in my way.” When asked how long they had been in their positions, they answer was fell between 4-13 months. Hiring committees gave the distinct impression that department heads would not be making decisions but reflecting the wishes of the department members. They just desperately needed someone to babysit the new generation. In all cases the positions were either re-advertised or institutions decided to eliminate the department head position. I think the advice you are giving in pertinent to institutions that already have strong leadership primarily with experienced directors nearing the end of their careers. Gender is not the primary issue.
    Lynn


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