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Warn bosses: Shut up about working women!

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The office is no place to discuss gender roles or women’s presence in the workplace. Be sure to warn supervisors against such talk, even in private.

Recent case: Rhonda worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a technician and eventually trained for a management role. She passed the courses with flying colors and was ready to apply for openings as they occurred.

When a management position opened in her parents’ home county, she approached a manager in that office whom she knew from her childhood. She explained how much she wanted to work in that particular office. That’s when the manager told Rhonda that he was reluctant to recommend a woman for the job because the office had had problems in the past with a female manager and an all-female staff.

She applied anyway. So did two others, but their applications were rejected because they left out crucial information. That left Rhonda as the only candidate. The selection committee rejected her, stating that they wanted to have more of a choice.

The search opened again and one of the rejected applicants reapplied, this time with all his paperwork. He was hired after a 10-minute telephone interview. Rhonda’s interview took 45 minutes. When she asked why the man was selected, the committee claimed it was because he answered the questions more succinctly.

Rhonda sued, alleging sex discrimination.

The court said her case should go to trial because there was direct evidence of discriminatory intent, based on the supervisor’s warning and the inconsistent interview process. (Pope v. Vilsack, No. 1:11-CV-946, MD NC, 2013)

Final note: Don’t let presumptions about gender management styles affect your hiring decisions. It’s not fair—and it’s illegal.

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