When it comes to inclusion, the questions matter!

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When it comes to inclusion, the questions matter!


My partner – Eileen – recently decided to return to the world of work after spending time as the CEO, COO and CFO of Pich Inc. Whilst this crucial leadership role involved all those critical managerial skills (setting strategy, defining culture, making decisions, leading two young daughters, etc etc) it was sadly very poorly paid (in fact, the salary reduced to ‘absolutely nothing’ after the initial 12-weeks of minimum wage maternity pay!).

Dipping a toe back into the job market is undoubtedly a daunting experience for the vast majority of parents or primary carers who have spent a decent period doing the parenting and primary carer thing. It’s fair to say that Eileen was more than a little nervous and apprehensive. In her favour, she had a strong CV which included experience in Australia and Germany, a degree in marketing communications and a personal skill set that was actually honed at home with the kids. If she could manage and lead our two monkeys successfully, the workplace would be an absolute breeze!

“The CEO asked Eileen, ‘I see you have two kids, how do you think you will juggle your home life with this role?'”

She soon spotted a role on seek.com.au (other job search websites are availableed) and sent off her CV and a nicely-crafted covering letter. And waited. She scored an interview with the manager. The interview went well. She was invited to spend an afternoon with an employee doing a similar role. The road trip went well. She was asked to complete a written ‘sales and marketing assignment’ (oddly relating to selling toothpaste – the role was nothing to do with selling toothpaste!). She did pretty well. The local manager said he wanted her to ‘meet’ the company’s CEO in Sydney on a Skype call. Eileen was over the moon. Her first application and she was scheduled to chat to the CEO – score!!

And then this happened.

The CEO asked Eileen, “I see you have two kids, how do you think you will juggle your home life with this role?”

Let me state for the record that since Eileen and I have had our kids – Pearl and Olive – I have had three jobs. I have never (in the more than 8 interviews that were involved in getting these roles) been asked how I will ‘cope’ with balancing my home life and my work life. In fact, the only time my family has been brought up has been at the end of the interview in the part that might best be described as ‘general chit chat and small talk’. My family life, hobbies, passions and what I get up to in my spare time have never formed any part of a serious interview question.

And nor should they. Ever. Not for me, not for Eileen and not in any interview for any role.

“All too often questions are asked in interviews that have no place in interviews.”

Unfortunately, all too often the opposite occurs. All too often questions are asked in interviews that have no place in interviews. Robert Half, the global recruitment company, published a list of ‘example questions and statements’ that should never be asked or made during an interview.

This list (below), whilst not intending to be comprehensive, offers a reasonable starting point.

 “How old are you?”
Disability/impairment (physical and mental): “How many sick days did you take last year?”
Family/carer’s responsibilities: “Are you the carer for your elderly family members?”
Marital or relationship status: “Are you married?”
Parental status: “Do you have children?”
Political beliefs and activities: “Are you a Liberal voter?”
Pregnancy: “Do you plan on becoming pregnant anytime soon?”
Race: “What’s your nationality?”
Religious beliefs and activities: “Are you Christian?”
Gender (including sexual harassment): “Females rarely succeed in this industry.”
Sexual orientation: “Are you gay?”
Union or employer-association membership: “Are you a member of the union?”
roberhalf.com.au/blog (January 2015)

An alternate approach to the whole ‘what should I or shouldn’t I say in an interview’ approach, is what might be described as ‘the nuclear option’ in progressive selection processes; inclusive recruitment.

“Eliminating bias – unconscious as well as conscious – is critical for a robust recruitment process.”

Inclusive recruitment – often called Blind Recruitment – comes in a variety of forms. In the purest sense, it involves removing all references to potential ‘discrimination triggers’ at the very beginning of the selection process. This would include deleting references to age, marital status, gender and sexuality from the CV prior to it being scrutinized. In some cases, references to educational institutions and addresses are also removed.

The intent of implementing inclusive recruitment is to eliminate bias – both conscious and unconscious.  Numerous studies have shown that, whether we like it or not, we all have unconscious biases that cloud our judgements. When selecting the best person for a role, clouded judgement does us and the organisation no favours. For example, if we went to a certain school or were born in a certain place, it’s understandable that we would feel a certain ‘affinity’ to a candidate if we know in advance that they also went to that school, or were born in our hometown. Whilst this is completely natural (commonality makes people feel comfortable) it doesn’t help the interview process at all. We are after all looking to hire the best person for the role.

Eliminating bias – unconscious as well as conscious – is critical for a robust recruitment process.

Back over at Eileen’s ‘first recruitment process since having the monkeys’ (as we now call it!) – she didn’t get the role. The CEO emailed her and told her she wasn’t ‘salesy enough’. That’s fair enough I guess. But ‘that question’ lingers. Was it really that? Or was it ‘something else’.

“Conscious bias, unconscious bias and asking silly questions at interview is, sadly, extremely common. And even more worryingly, it’s often gender blind!”

And here’s the thing, the CEO who asked ‘that question’, well, she is female!

Conscious bias, unconscious bias and asking silly questions at interview is, sadly, extremely common. And even more worryingly, it’s often gender blind!

7 Top tips for leaders wanting to ‘do recruitment right’

  1. Ensure a thorough job analysis and job description is developed at the beginning of the process.
  2. Establish a clear set of selection criteria based directly from the job description. Know what and who you are looking for.
  3. Interviews should be an objective information gathering process. The focus should be on:
  • Skills and knowledge
  • Work history and professional experience
  • Education and training
  • Personal attributes and behaviour
  1. A set list of interview questions should be asked of all candidates in order to gather consistent information on every individual.
  2. Even if you are part of a smaller organisation, always have a colleague with you in the process to ensure you have more than one opinion and interpretation of the selection data.
  3. It is important to make the selection decision as soon as possible after the recruitment and selection process has been completed. Do not allow the process to drag out as the best candidates may accept another role.
  4. Keep in mind the culture of your organisation and whether the personal attributes and behaviours of the individual will fit within that culture.


By David Pich FIML
Chief Executive

Institute of Managers and Leaders

3 thoughts on “When it comes to inclusion, the questions matter!

  • As a woman who has been asked numerous biased questions over the years, some which left me gobsmacked, I am interested to know what the appropriate response should be to these inappropriate questions.

    • Hi Mel,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree. Biased questions are the pits. My view on how to respond is that you should call it out in a polite but confident way. If the interviewer has the grace and humility to accept the constructive feedback, they are probably the type of person you’d want to work for. If they don’t, they probably aren’t. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Eileen didn’t call it out. That said, here we are 6 weeks later and she’s saying that she’s really glad she didn’t work for that company. It’s time for us all to make a stand against this stuff and if things are said innocently or without thinking a decent leader will accept, apologise and move on.

      What do you think?


  • In one sense, better for Eileen to have been asked ‘that question’ at interview. Much worse to have started a new role and then experienced ‘disapproval’ when she needed some flexibility in working around something essential for the kids. Agree with David about calling the behaviour out at the time; needs a bit of courage. This also raises the paradox – how does one identify unconscious bias on one’s own part? If as a leader, I have an unconscious bias about gender, asking my staff for feedback might not elicit much useful information. Aversion to career-limiting feedback is understandable.

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