Click! Feminist Chutzpah on the Job

I really didn’t care if I got the job or not. This was my third interview with the same gentlemanly white man with a soft Southern drawl. He seemed no closer to offering me the position than he’d been in the first interview. The questions were essentially the same: “Why do you think you’re qualified for this job?” “Will the travel involved be a problem?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Blah, blah, blah.

“They’re covering their asses. They don’t really want to hire a woman but they don’t want to get sued,” I thought. I had identified myself as a feminist in college and I knew all about affirmative action.

This was in the early ’70s, when corporations were under pressure to hire more women and minorities for non-traditional jobs but were looking for ways to avoid it. I recognized the tricks–demanding experience in areas where women had never worked or talking about how the demands of the job would be tough on a family. I was once even asked what kind of birth control I was using because the company wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get pregnant and quit before their investment in training me paid off. I left that interview and joined my local NOW chapter.

So, I patiently answered his questions for the third time. Then, I decided to take control. They didn’t want me and I didn’t care anymore.

“I have a few questions myself,” I said. “How many women are on your corporate board?” He didn’t know. “How many women are in upper management?” Again, he didn’t know. “What is the career path from this position and what is the likelihood that a woman will move up?” He said he didn’t know exactly what I was asking.

Now, I was totally fed up with this charade. I told him,

I’m asking these questions because it looks like this company has no women in positions of authority and doesn’t seem to know how to begin hiring them. I am very qualified for this job. In fact, I’m overqualified. But you seem to think it’s beyond a woman’s capability. I am interested in a career and I’d like to know that my sex would not hold me back.

Now I was on a roll. “If I thought I was denied a promotion or raise due to sex discrimination, I would not hesitate to take this company to court.” If he was shocked, he didn’t show it. “Thank you for coming in. We’ll let you know.” Oh, I already knew.

The phone was ringing as I walked in the door at home. “We’d like to offer you the job. When can you start?”

Later, I learned that after I left he told everyone that he’d met one woman he thought had the “chutzpah” (a traditional Southern expression, I guess) for the job.

I have to tell you, it was the easiest job I ever had–easy enough for a man.

Image of job interview from Flickr user bpsusf under Creative Commons 3.0

Comments

  1. Love this story! Inspiring. Sounds like you, and they wanted you.

  2. Monica Smiley says:

    Love it, Carol…! We've all been there.

  3. Carol nailed it again! Women are always on boards that deal with human rights issues; but not on boards where we get paid! The Detroit Women's Forum had a project yearsa ago to determine which companies had women on their boards; it was extremely difficult to get the information; notice on many boards only first initials are used.

  4. Nancy Gerlach says:

    When I was 20, I interviewed with a man at a large shipping company. He askedme to sit in front of his desk; then he pulled his own chair around and put it right next to me, and we were knee-to-knee during the entire interview. He complimented my hair and said I had pretty eyes. We discussed the position, and then he asked me if I wouldn't be more interested in a job where he could put me right up front, like a receptionist. I told him I was more interested in the job I applied for, as I knew I could handle it and it sounded very interesting. He called me at home a day or so after the interview, saying they still deciding, but that he wanted to ask me out for a drink, assuring me that this was something he "never" normally did. I declined, but asked him if he would be offering the job to me. He said they probably would, but he'd let me know the next day. He called the next morning and offered me the position. I accepted. I worked for several days, and then I quit telling him I couldn't work for a man with no character. He was visibly upset at me. But, in my 20-year-old mind, I actually felt good doing that to such a clod.

    • Carol King says:

      Those were the days. I can remember being offered the receptionist job several times when I interviewed for entry level management positions that had been advertised as "no experience required." It seemed that once I was in the interview, they did require the experience of being male. I know that kind of discrimination still occurs (look at the Walmart suit) but it's much more subtle and I don't think many women recognize it. We still have work to do.

  5. I'm guessing you're making a joke with the last statement, but that's are exactly the kind of jokes that we feminists fight back against.

    Otherwise, good for you sticking up for yourself.

  6. “chutzpah” Jewish for Brass Ovaries

  7. Andrea Ploscowe says:

    Carol used a very effective sales technique called "The Take-Away." You sell something (in this case herself as a potential new hire) by backing out of the transaction, mid-sales-pitch. "Ah, I can see you're not interested in hiring me. Forget I was ever here."

    I got a position as a summer associate with a labor law firm via a similar unintentional take-away. The associate interviewing me asked how I could work for a management-side labor law firm when I had spent my first year doing labor-side pro-bono work for claimants for Unemployment Insurance.

    I replied, "I'm sorry for wasting your time. I can't imagine a firm like yours would want to take a chance on someone like me."

    "Well, wait a minute now…," said the associate, suddenly more interested in the disappearing option. I ended up getting invited for a callback interview and got hired for their summer program.

    • Carol King says:

      Very interesting Andrea. It wasn't conscious on my part and I was seriously fed up. It was for a job in sales, so maybe I just did that instinctively. Whatever it was, I did stay with the company for 3 years and received great training in sales (and dealing with harassment), so it worked out for me. You were far more sophisticated than I was at the time – you knew what you were doing. Brava!

  8. You were the gift, not the gig—however he found that out (love the blackmail angle–such a dramatic scene) you were a groundbreaker in that world. Thanks for your fine example!

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