Key interview questions to check for gender washing

by | Mar 24, 2020

Be prepared with these interview questions to check for gender washing

When you go through the job hunting process, do you prepare interview questions to check for gender washing?

Research shows that women tend to prefer to look for promotion within their existing companies. They are not like their male colleagues who keep in touch with the market on a regular basis. They are also usually responding to a specific problem, whether that's a change in personal circumstances, a negative experience, or a rotten boss. It's therefore really important for women going through the interview process to prepare interview questions to check for gender washing. By that I mean asking the right questions to avoid making a critical mistake when the organisation puts on a show of being female friendly, but it's just for show.

10 interview questions to check for gender washing

Firstly, all questions should be open-ended: who, what, where, when, why and how to create that all important dialogue. This pre-supposes that you have done all the necessary research before you even set foot through the door. As a candidate, you will have seven or more touch points with the organisation throughout, so take a note of how those interactions go. If there were any problems at all while the hiring company is supposed to be on its best behaviour, imagine how things will be when the honeymoon is over.

interview questions to check for gender washing

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Here are some good topics to address and some ideas for questions to get you the answers you need:

1. How would you describe your company culture?

Chances are you will meet a number of people in the process, so ask them all the same question and compare responses. Check they are consistent. Do they say things like:

  • I have a better relationship with my iPhone than my partner.
  • We are all winners here.
  • We do more with less.
  • Whoever is around gets the job done.
  • We all give 150% all the time.

These are indications of a certain type of culture. Is it in line with your own vision? This question helps you get a deeper understanding of the company’s value, vision and approach. You can decide how the responses aligns with your own views around work organization, team participation and overall business goals. Any divergence of views will give you something to consider, or indicate for you to ask more penetrating questions.

This is a time to also raise anything you may have read in the press or on a social proofing site, which might be positive or negative, and offer them a chance to explain or expand.

  • "I noticed on Glassdoor a comment about..."
  • "I read in the press a recent case about ... "

2. How do you measure success?

This is a great question because it gives you an insight into how they advance someone's career and what support they give to help you reach your objectives. You can also ask:

  • "What type of person is successful in your organisation?"   Does it sound like someone like you?
  • "How do you help people succeed?" What sort of programmes, either official or formal, do they offer such as on boarding or mentoring initiatives.

3. What is the pace of the workload?

This is a nice alternative to asking someone to describe a typical day. It will give you a sense of the peaks and troughs of the work, out of hours contact and the level of travel for events, client meetings and entertainment or trips to other corporate locations. You will gain an insight into any bottlenecks such as year or quarter end, and how they deal with other locations or business partners in different time zones. Once you get a dialogue going, you can ask more detailed and probing questions about their expectations for you and your time. 

4. Remote working and flex

Ideally this should be declared outright in the job ad, but you could always ask how they dealt with the Corona Virus crisis which pushed many more conservative organizations to embrace new ways of working. You will also get a feel if you will be assessed on the amount of hours you work or your results. The precise details can wait until you are negotiating a firm offer.

5. Career support

This is the time to find out how they will help you advance your career. If they say you are the "CEO of you " -  you have to ask yourself; Is that what you want? Ask questions on their:

  • Onboarding programmes
  • Mentoring opportunities and sponsorship schemes
  • Training both in-house and external. Or do they give you a link to an eLearning platform and tell you to get on with it. How does that match your own learning style?
  • Stretch assignments - what tasks or roles will they give you to make sure you check all your personal development needs and goals. This could be areas such as people management, public speaking or P & L responsibility.
  • Role models - ask about the senior women in the company. Will you get a chance to meet them if you haven't already?

6. The gender pay gap

This is something that you should have researched beforehand and hopefully it will be clear. If not you can ask how they are approaching it and what their philosophy is. Do they give responses such as "Men spend more time in the job than women"...? How does that fit with your expectations?

7. Other benefits

Once again this is something that should hopefully be displayed on their website or on the job profile. But it's always good to establish what the emotional benefits are, as they can mean more than the salary compensation to some women. This should cover:

  • Maternity leave
  • Child care / elder care
  • Vacations
  • Sick pay
  • Health and wellness
  • Pension plan

If you don't want to tackle this in the interview, you should ask when you get an offer.

8. Communication and leadership style and preferences

They say that people leave a boss, not a company, so how you feel about the person who is hiring you is important. Ask questions about how they manage their teams and assess if their leadership style is something that works for you. Do they seem like a micro-manager or someone who is hands-off? Which do you prefer? Some people enjoy autonomy. Others like a boss who is closely involved. What is their preferred method of communication - weekly meetings, daily Slack chats, round robin emails? Understanding your own style and preferences here is vital.

9. Keep your eyes open

Remember to observe. What is the décor like - fresh and up to date or tired and worn down? Are the offices modern, open plan, or do they have quiet spaces? What hangs on the walls? Pictures of all-male boards, and men getting awards at golf-outings? Or something that conveys a different vibe?

  • How noisy and busy is the office? How does what you see appeal to you? If it's quiet does that mean that people are remote working and hot-desking? Make sure you ask!
  • What sort of drinks do they have? Some companies offer open bars on a Friday. Maybe you prefer to get away at 4.00pm.
  • Look at the break room  - is it male-coded with a foosball table, and sports channels on the TVs?
  • What are the women's loos like? Small and pokey as if they are an after thought? Or generously spaced and well-lit, with a decent vanity counter and even a shower?
  • Do employees have photos of their families on their desks?

All of these things offer small insights into the type of company it is and the general atmosphere.

10. What attracts you to the company?

This is a good question to pose as a way to get a personal take on what the people you speak to enjoy about working for the organization. Listen attentively and look out for genuine passion and enthusiasm, but pay attention to any areas of doubt or concern. You never know, one day you may want their job!

Asking the right questions at an interview puts you in a perfect position to decide if this is the right role for you.

Check Out Our Interview Coaching To Land You Your Dream Job.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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