Sexist Hiring Standards Unprofessional

Elizabeth Bentivegna, Contributing Writer

On April 1, I interviewed for a programming job at OnShift, a Cleveland-based tech company that makes medical shift scheduling software. Two weeks later, I received a phone call from the recruiter who had contacted me about the position, saying that they would not be hiring me. The hiring director had relayed to her that they would have hired me based on my personality and technical abilities, but would not be doing so because of the way I looked. I was informed that my appearance “looked more like I was about to go clubbing than to an interview,” and that the run in my tights, coupled with my mild lateness — which I had informed them of earlier, due to my afternoon class — suggested to them that I was “unprofessional and not put together.”

Essentially, I was denied a job on an all-male development team for what I looked like.

My friend Alanna Bennett, OC ’13, a staff writer for BuzzFeed, tweeted about the incident, and it has since gone viral, sparking debates and being twisted by third-party media outlets. And while this experience has definitely helped me care less about what people think, I have a few more things to say to OnShift and anyone in tech who considers themselves an ally of women.

How dare you. You laud yourselves as beacons of diversity and change, yet refuse to pull your heads out of the sand and face the winds of change. The concept of “professionalism” in terms of dress is outdated and oppressive from many angles. You cannot cherry-pick which parts of progressivism you embrace. You cannot stretch out your hand to those in need and yank it back on a petty whim.

For the curious: I was wearing a fitted black T-shirt, a red skater skirt, black tights (yes, with a run, the horror!) and a black cardigan. I wore fairly heavy makeup. But it doesn’t matter what I looked like precisely: If I had been a man, would it have mattered what I was wearing? Would the word “clubbing” have even come up? When a man needs to look “professional,” he puts on a suit. Done. When a woman does so, as I was attempting to do, she has to conceive of every possible way her outfit could be misconstrued as too sexy, too frumpy, too nonchalant, too revealing, too formal — and somehow correct for it. What’s more, everyone has their own ideas of what is considered “professional” — Hillary Clinton is constantly criticized for wearing pantsuits — and again, we are expected to magically know how we are going to be perceived before it happens. There is no giant rulebook for how a working woman should look, but everybody seems to think there is and that their copy is the correct one. My attempt to be “professional” was construed as sexual. What if I had actually intended to look sexual? Would this have had any impact on my ability as a programmer? Many tech companies don’t require their programmers to wear anything fancier than jeans and a T-shirt. Many men I know received job offers while wearing polos and jeans. Why was my ability to code not enough?

There are too few of us in technology, and many others are finally starting to ask why. I can tell you. It’s because of things like this. It’s because even though the doors are finally opening for us, we are looking inside and are afraid of what we see. We can feel that we are not yet welcome here. You can claim that you want a female programmer, but if you do not show your candidates adequate compassion, you’re not going to get one. You got the vibe from her outfit that she’s not put-together? Call her references and see what they say. So you think she’s a brilliant programmer but doesn’t seem professional enough? Hire her so you can mentor her and help her become a better working woman. We don’t need to have our actions scrutinized and ripped apart in search of error. We need guidance and an opportunity to show the world what a woman in technology looks like. And after everything we have been subjected to, you need to roll out the red carpet for us.

Since the initial tweet was posted, I have been contacted by numerous news agencies and even potential employers, so I suppose I really should be thanking OnShift instead of blowing them out of the water. Thank you, OnShift, for giving me a taste of what this minefield is going to be like. You can rest assured that you have been an inspiration to at least one person. Thank you to all the media, the Review especially, for giving my voice a stage. And thank you to everyone who has poured out their hearts in support. You and I both know that change is coming and that we are the ones who will bring it. And we aren’t going down without a fight.