Monday, January 7, 2008

Let's do the time warp again!

Sometimes I work internships so I can afford to go to school. Officially the reason is because I want to develop my technical skills and build a portfolio of diverse .. stuff... and yeah... actually I did build a bit of a nice network in an industry I'm totally not interested in working in. I'm fortunate enough to attend an institution with a pretty decent 5-year plan for students who want to work (ie pay for school). Thus, every once and a while, I apply for a billion jobs and go out on about a million interviews. Or something like that.

Here are questions I'm used to hearing:
"What are your strengths?"
"Can you describe your past work experience?"
"What was your favourite course?"

Here's an interrogation session that threw me right for a loop:

"You're in engineering? I thought girls liked Arts, nursing, you know... maybe teaching? Why would you go into engineering? Don't you get lonely? What was wrong with teaching? It's a very stable career! Do you hate children? Seriously, why would you go into engineering?"

I'm sorry, I thought we were living in the 21st century. I'll study engineering for the same damn reasons as anyone else, or no reason at all, but I don't think that I'm required to justify my motivations to anyone just because of my gender. Obviously, it makes a lot of sense to ask me about why I'm interesting in working for your company or in your industry. But to validate my mere existence? Piss off! Unless you'd like to stay around for the 2 hour saga of my lifelong dream to be a camp counsellor, drifting from summer to endless summer, running around outside, living in cabins, and having my food cooked for me.

But back to that interview... This was the very first thing the interviwer said to me when I came in the room. Well, actually, the first thing he said, incredulously, was, "You're.... a... GIRL!?!?" No joke. Then he asked if I was the first girl that had gone into engineering. I'm certainly not the only one, although I have been in some smaller classes of 30-40 where I was the only representative of my species... err gender in the room.

So, the interview keeps going. I talk about my last job designing and building equipment. Lots of design, lots of grungy shop work, and lots of mechanical skillz going into action. I also mention something about my old old job hauling dirt bales. After all of this, the interviewer looks up and says to me,
"I'm wondering if you would be able to handle all of this job. Some parts of it involve working in the shop. Sometimes people get dirty in the shop. Have you been in one before? Are you ok with being dirty?". So, at this point, it's pretty clear that this guy isn't listening to a thing I've said. I keep talking about my experience to try and quell any doubts he may have as to my qualifications. Then he apologizes, and says (more or less, I can't recall the exact phrasing), "I'm sorry, I just can't hire you for this. There is lots of dirt and heavy lifting, and it is not a proper environment for a woman. It is too noisy and too dangerous and you don't want to work there."

I should note that the job (apparently) involves carrying about 20 pounds, on occasion, across a shop floor. Which isn't a particularly deadly or evil machine shop floor, it's just a shop floor.

Finally, at the end of the "interview", he turns to his more linguistically gifted counterpart, who asks his big question... "So, uhh, like.. do you think you have any mechanical aptitude at all? Y'know like, uhh... guys like to fix cars and stuff. That's mechanical." Great. And that's coming from someone who apparently is a recent graduate of the university. I know it's not exactly polite to call out your boss for something, but seriously, THROW ME A FREAKING BONE HERE and tell your boss that he might not be reflecting the company's (supposedly friendly) hiring policy. Don't play "Play along with the boss and insult the woman's competence."

Also, no, I have no mechanical aptitude at all, and I hate machines with every fibre of my being. Thank you for reminding me of my one true calling, gold-digging. Say, are you single? How much are you carrying in student loans? Oh, nevermind...

Long story short, I called HR some time after the interview. I basically said, look, whether or not this guy is serious, I definitely didn't come away with a good impression of your company after that interview, and I'd appreciate it if you'd remove me from the list of candidates as I wouldn't feel comfortable working in that kind of environment. The HR person hemmed and hawed and said, "Oh, he's only been here for 8 years, his English isn't very good, I'm sure he didn't mean that." Basically, "You must be overreacting, I don't believe you." Thaaaanks.

Otherwise, the company was fairly nice about it and offered to consider me for a position in a different department. They said they would have a meeting with the interviewer and go over their company's tolerance policies . Wait, this guy has been conducting your hiring interviews for students (3-4 students a term, 2 terms a year) for several years and you've never been over this before? Or nobody has ever said anything? Or noticed?

How did he manage to avoid seeing a girl? Seriously, wtf!?!? Plus, if he hasn't ever interviewed a woman... that suggests that the likelihood that he hires them is fairly low. How has the company not noticed this? This is a fail at every level, if the company even remotely tries to pretend that it's interested in supporting, promoting, hiring, or even interacting with women in technical positions.

My co-ordinator at the school suggested that I push really hard to get the job, then be the female pioneer or something. I don't think that eight months of working in a shitty environment to only, at best, have someone say that I did just as good a job as the male students they've had, is really a worthwhile experience for me. Realistically, a single summer student isn't going to radically change a large company's attitudes or policies about anything. And, there's always the possibility that if I mess up anything on the job, they'll attribute it to me being a woman and not to me being inexperienced or anything, or just generally incompetent.

I'm not a fan of sit-there-and-take-it, but I also don't believe that this particular endeavour is worth it. Once I've graduated I think I'll be in a better position to go and revolutionize the revolution that should have happened 5o or so years ago for these companies. Until then, I'll be satisfied with shooting them dirty looks every time I see their booths at hiring fairs.

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