Was This Sexist ?

Advice please.

I'm in process of interviewing to fill a large number of technical jobs. So far this year I've probably interviewed about 40 candidates and pre-screened another 100. I won't say it's a male dominated sector, but I haven't seen one female CV  so far... (which I actually consider to be a problem).

Anyway, a colleague was asking how I was getting on and so I explained the process and mentioned the above numbers together with a rough strike rate.

She asked how we were assessing the applicant's softer skills, so my reply was along the lines of 'I'm asking them when was the last time you engaged your feminine or artistic side in the line of your work'. Not exactly meant as a serious answer, but she accused me of being sexist. I answered that I was only referring to the various different facets of everybody's personality, of which the feminine side was only meant as an example of one facet. There was absolutely no intention on my part to imply that women don't make excellent engineers as I have worked with, and recruited plenty more over the years.

I'm looking for impartial advice. Was my comment and it's reference to the feminine side sexist ? 


  • literatinliteratin ✭✭✭
    I would say it was. Not intentionally, but it implies certain assumptions about what women are like compared to what men are like. I am a woman and have no idea what you actually mean by 'feminine side' unless you meant it to be synonymous with 'artistic'. And although you have not ha d any female candidates so far, presumably you would have to ask the same questions to female as male candidates. Could you really say to a woman 'when is the last time you engaged your feminine side' without implying that that was not a side she normally needed to engage in the course of her engineering tasks?
  • RedjeepRedjeep ✭✭✭

    To be clear, that wasn't an actual question that I was asking anybody, it was just something that I made up to answer her question. I wouldn't dream of asking anybody (male or female) something like that because I don't really know what it would mean in real life.

    In honesty it was just a flippant response to the vastly male dominated atmosphere. It was probably a mistake by me to associate 'softer side' with 'feminine side' even though I was only using that as one example of the different aspects of everybody's personalities, both male and female.

    To give you an idea of the gender mismatch, I have well over a 100 people report to me, only one of whom is female. And guess what. she's an administrator rather than technical.

    (I inherited this situation, but given the breakdown of the CV's that I'm receiving I can understand why it's arisen).

  • literatinliteratin ✭✭✭
    I have a friend who is (or was) a female engineer. She ended up leaving the sector because she couldn't handle the massive institutional sexism she faced on a daily basis. That isn't directed at you specifically, but I suppose does owe something to the kind of work culture that associates the feminine with qualities not normally found in technical roles. It sounds like you are one of the 'good guys' but in the context you describe, that means being extra sure that you challenge those types of assumptions where possible because they're so prevalent and are contributing to the situation you've inherited.
  • RedjeepRedjeep ✭✭✭
    Fair point. I'm sorry your friend had to leave engineering. I've worked with many female engineers over the years, but have never been in a situation where they've been fairly represented. I've never been sure if it's because it's just not a favoured career path or because of other cultural issues. I suppose the reason why more women don't chose it is probably because of the image. 

    I'm not sure that I've ever seen anything that I would call institutional sexism either though. I suppose that may depend upon the sector and what particular brand of engineering she was involved in.

    I don't think that I was trying to imply that 'feminine' and 'problem solving', 'technical' etc don't mix. I certainly wasn't trying to imply that 'women' and 'technical' or 'engineering' don't mix (I know that's not what you're trying to say I was saying).

    I was talking more of the feminine side as an abstract object in a group of men who probably learnt to strip down a car engine in a barn at the age of eight, and who could name every statistic for each 6 Nation's rugby player of the past 10 years, but probably forget their wife's birthday every year.

    I will be more careful in the future and will continue to challenge any assumptions.

    Thanks for your feedback. It's been helpful.

  • WombleWomble ✭✭✭
    I would have turned round and asked what was meant by softer skills! Did the person mean non-technical skills? My son is an engineer and I think some skills often lacking in engineers include literacy, communication skills, and an ability to see the bigger world application of something. Of course, my son is fantastic and not lacking in any of those
  • WombleWomble ✭✭✭
    I wonder where the second half of my post went? Grrrrr
  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭
    I worked in engineering for many years. All I can say is the level of emotional intelligence I encountered was lacking as to be non existent.
    I assumed that the guys who went into this profession had something lacking in their make up.
    The typical male engineer at interviews was at pains to describe 'team work', and being a 'team player'. He's wrong. What he describes is not a team, but a dog pack, where one guy dominates and the rest have a place in the order of things.
    Quite often these same types build for themselves a personal empire within a company. Outsiders are tolerated only until they agree to the rules of engagement or else are ostracised until they leave.
    I guess low self esteem is the problem. Real engineers have degrees and chartered status. Whereas in the UK any twat with a spanner is called an engineer.
    Glad I now work away from engineering and with normal pleasant people. Namely women.
    Now that's sexist.
  • Redjeep... as you clearly didn't (and would never) ask any candidates the 'feminine-side' questions, then (if I take your post at face value) then I would say that you have not been sexist.  You are clear that you made the comment as a flippant, perhaps exasperated remark... and it therefore seems to constitute a joke.

    I personally think you were complimenting women by implying that the 'feminine-side' would equate to better softer skills... so if there was sexism, I'd argue that it could only be construed as anti-male.  

    However, some people define racism or sexism... or any -ism as having taken place if someone perceives that they have been insulted on the basis of race, gender etc.  Personally, I think that's an anti-social view.   Personally, I would say that sexism has not taken place if >90% of women would not be offended.  Subjective, I know, but it's intended to show that everybody should be very sensitive, but that no one should be accused of -ism because one-in-a-hundred people might take offence.  We need humanity to be able to make light-hearted remarks, within reason, or it we'll end up in a very poisonous society that does nobody any good.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    edited March 2017
    It would have been sexist if you had asked the candidates in the interview (male or female) the question that you jokingly told your colleague you had asked.  If she took offence without checking that it was a joke, then I suspect her people skills need examining.

    I'm in the opposite situation - working in accountancy I see predominantly female applicants, to the the extent that the last time I was recruiting and there was an application from a male, my comment of "Woohoo, we have a man!" during shortlisting was also met with queries over my impartiality.

    Having worked in the motor trade in a previous life, I'm probably more than a bit hardened to sexism and what would now be classed as sexual harrassment, but was then seen as banter (1990s).  Of the 45 managers in the company at the time, there were 2 females, both of whom were in admin/accounts.  It's not quite as bad now, but there is definitely still a glass ceiling.

    But possibly for a reason, given NorthEnder's numerical skills. :wink:
  • RedjeepRedjeep ✭✭✭
    Nessie,  I've worked in engineering since the mid 80's and I still recall a lot of the attitudes of the time.

    In fairness, and in defence of engineering, it wasn't sexist all the time.

    Race, disability and sexual orientation also got their fair share of 'banter'.  :/

    (and in reality, it probably wasn't just engineering, then or now, it was just the accepted culture).

    Thank God things have changed.
  • RedjeepRedjeep ✭✭✭
    Womble said:
    I would have turned round and asked what was meant by softer skills! Did the person mean non-technical skills? 
    I did ask, and her comment was along the lines of check their communication skills. I think the exact phrase was "ask when was the last time they had a conversation that didn't revolve around sport or cars".

    Form your own conclusion.... 
  • QrszxQrszx ✭✭
    +1 for literatin's explanation.

    In reply to NorthEnder and Nessie, I would suggest that positive sexism exists and it's still a problem. If you perceive one gender as being superior at certain tasks, you pigeonhole them. Depending on what it is, it can have quite a bearing on women's (and men's) lives.

    I don't agree with your argument that "sexism has not taken place if >90% of women would not be offended". First of all, how do you decide that? Secondly, you can't expect everyone who has been a victim of discrimination to be acutely aware of it, especially in societies that are male-dominated. On the other hand, women who have been discriminated against may feel like they can't say anything about sexism because it would be disadvantageous to them.

    I really hate the popular notion that everybody is too offended these days. I manage to go pretty much 365 days a year without offending anyone (probably up for debate with my family) and I still have a great laugh. If anything, being more sensitive to this stuff has allowed me to empathise with more people and have better relationships. I think it's far more productive if you're thinking about why someone was offended by something you said, rather than dismissing it.

    Apologies for blathering on and if you've read all this stuff before. I realise Redjeep's joke was pretty low on the scale of sexism and don't wish to be disproportionate. I guess what I'm saying is that little things over time matter and trying to understand is always good.
  • Pete HoltPete Holt ✭✭✭
    Hi, as a HR Business Partner, I can confirm that the question was sexiest even though not intended to be. You can PM me if need be, just killing time and don't normally post in this section of the website.
  • NorthEnderNorthEnder ✭✭✭
    edited April 2017
    Whatever turns you on, Pete   :D
  • WombleWomble ✭✭✭
    Oh dear, I might fail on the question about conversations concerning sport.... And I'm female! Met up with a couple of friends after football yesterday for drink and dinner, her eyes rolled as he and I discussed the game etc. He said "Well, I don't often get someone to talk to about football"
  • WombleWomble ✭✭✭
    I'm a scientist by training, not an engineer.
  • Chris2304Chris2304 ✭✭✭
    You ascribed certain characteristics / traits based solely on gender. That is the very definition of sexist.

    It clearly wasn't intentional, and seems to be based on 'loose' use of language as much as anything but - taken to its logical conclusion - it does imply that you think 'hard' skills are male traits and 'soft' skills are female traits. When you are hiring for engineers, that is a problem IMO.
  • Obviously, racism, sexism etc  are bad things... and in engineering, they can persist (although in my company, I've never seen racism and rarely any level of sexism). It' important  they are eradicated. But the problem is, people so often seem to go "looking" for it.

    Chris...  your sexism clearly wasn't intentional  :p - but there's a fair argument that it was worse than anything that the original poster, Redjeep, said. He never said men were better at 'hard' skills.  He implied that women were better at 'soft' skills and that is NOT the same thing. He didn't reach the conclusion that was so logical to you!

    I'm playing devil's advocate a bit but really, I think that the cause of reducing sexism is damaged by pointless witch* hunts about trivial use of language. The patheticness of it leads those with sexist tendencies to have their views reinforced, rather than diminished.

    *My understanding is that witches can be of either gender.
  • QrszxQrszx ✭✭
    Yeah, I don't know how much punishment for use of language needs to happen, but I certainly think managers, etc. need to have the conversations with employees. "This was a sexist thing to say and this is why."

    At the same time, I don't think you can separate small scale slips from the larger picture - I think you can create a culture of sexism by letting these little things accumulate without question. So, really, I think it's useful to point it out in a useful way.

    Side note: I also think it's really useful to look at large scale data on things like sexism and racism to see how prevalent it is. Then maybe find a way to look at more qualitative data from people of that group. It certainly gave me insight that just living as a white British man day to day wouldn't have otherwise.
  • Chris2304Chris2304 ✭✭✭
    NorthEnder - Yes that's a fair point. Technically someone can think that women are better at 'soft' skills AND think they are equal to men at 'hard' skills, I suppose. 
  • popsiderpopsider ✭✭✭
    Chris2304 said:
    You ascribed certain characteristics / traits based solely on gender. That is the very definition of sexist.

    It clearly wasn't intentional, and seems to be based on 'loose' use of language as much as anything but - taken to its logical conclusion - it does imply that you think 'hard' skills are male traits and 'soft' skills are female traits. When you are hiring for engineers, that is a problem IMO.
    He asked if they'd used their feminine side - feminine in that context just means the qualities traditionally associated with women - if you take your argument at face value it wouldn't be possible to use that word (or by extension masculine) as an adjective without being sexist.  
  • JoeyJoey ✭✭
    Kamagra Oral Jelly , Kamagra 50mg Tablets ,Kamagra 100mg Tablets ,Super Kamagra 100mg .

  • RatzerRatzer ✭✭✭
    Joey said:
    ...and it was the footer I was trying to quote, because it is by far the most sexist thing said so far in this discussion.

    Although Pete Holt's sectionism is certainly worrying and something that might need to be pointed out to RW Towers.
  • Reg WandReg Wand ✭✭✭
    My daughter loves pink things, it's instinctive, she's 4 and has insisted on having a pink bowl and cup ever since she was old enough to have an opinion.

    There's something in her brain that likes pink. I suspect she won't be an engineer when she grows up. If she ever asks for a blue cup though I will get her one.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭
    Reg - worry not.  My eldest was princess pinky pink until she was about 5.5.  Now she hates it with a passion, wears mostly camouflage and is a huge Star Wars fan.  At almost 9, her current "what I want to be when I grow up" is a paramedic.
  • RatzerRatzer ✭✭✭
    I wondered if the pink comment was ironic.  An inter/post-war cultural development of the States and Europe is hardly likely to be imprinted on our X chromosome.  I could be naively mispositioning cause and effect, and the sweeping changes brought about by the necessary integration of women into the industrial workforce brought with it a feminist demand for men to be boys in blue, but remember that colour wasn't invented until the late sixties when BBC2 used it to show the tennis.
    My two (boy and girl) love green.  Always have.  I think it's an evolutionary artefact of that first UK broadcast imprinted on the national consciousness.
  • NessieNessie ✭✭✭

    Probably slightly ironic, but if you have tried to buy toys and clothes for a child in the last 10 years, you will know that all "girls'" stuff is pink and purple and all "boys'" stuff is blue and green. There's even gender specific Lego - apparently girls only want to build fashion shops and swimming pools, while the boys build Star Wars fighter craft and police cars.

    Dunno about the green thing - although you may be on to something.  I don't like green, and we didn't get a colour telly until I was 11 (in 1979).  Hmmm. ;)

    My 2 girls like green - the eldest because it's the colour of Luke Skywalker's light saber, and her wee sister because she copies everything her big sister does.
  • Reg WandReg Wand ✭✭✭
    There are certain boys you like to play with the pink lego you know, it's not just for girls.
Sign In or Register to comment.