Saturday, June 26, 2010


I like to believe that I assimilated all those lessons on politeness that my mom gave me over the years. I like to believe that I have a goodly measure of self control when faced with awkward or temperature-raising situations. And then I get into a situation that has me seeing red and it's a real struggle to maintain my equanamity.

In addition to teaching I also do freelance editing/writing work. I had a meeting with a possible client about giving a short series of workshops on the basics of business communication. I knew ahead of time that the person I was meeting with was frum and that the firm's employees are also frum. I spent some long minutes staring into the contents of my closet in deciding what to wear to this business meeting. Obviously "business" dress was going to be required but whose notion of business dress? The weather wasn't making things any easier for me--it was hot, mega humid and with storms expected. In no way, shape or form was I going to get into a black suit and a full sheitle, although I suspected that was what the female employees would be wearing, or some variation thereof.

In the end I settled on hose, and a very nice two-piece long-skirted outfit in the colors of teal blue, raspberry and white. Yeah, I know guys, your eyeballs are turning up in your head. Bear with me. Instead of a sheitle I opted for a hat, which is way less heat inducing than a full sheitle. Yes, the hat was not just a baseball type of cap but a "real" hat. Yes mom, I remembered the lipstick if nothing else.

During my meeting with the client I could see him look very puzzled. Finally he told me that I was something of a puzzle to him. And then he said the words I reallllly hate to hear: "What are you?" I bit my tongue on the words "I'm female" because I so knew that was not what he was asking. He had been told by the person who recommended my that I'm frum and it was obvious that he was having some troubles putting that "frum" together with the way I was attired. What he wanted to know was what kind of frum am I.

I had already figured out this this person was 1)not going to hire me based on the money being charged for the seminars, 2)was not going to hire me based on how many more hours were going to be needed to "give them some English" as the interviewer mentioned about the employees, and 3)it had now become obvious that I wasn't going to get hired because I visually represented the "wrong" branch of observance.

I packed up my materials preparing to leave, but I did warn the interviewer that he had wandered into illegal territory with his question, that asking about religion was an EEOC violation. When his eyebrows formed a questionmark, I realized he had no idea what the EEOC was. No, I'm not filing an EEOC complaint. It was my choice not to take this job and I'm not looking to punish anyone. But somewhere down the road this company, and others like it, are looking at real problems unless they get their heads out of the ground they are buried in and become familiar with workplace practices and regulations that the government approves and disapproves of. Strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely, those seminars I might have given to this company would have covered the basics of what an interviewer can and cannot ask at a job interview.

Their loss, in more ways than one.

1 comment:

Dave said...

If I recall correctly, the question is technically legal, but highly unwise.

If you don't get the job, then the question can be used as evidence that they made the decision based on factors that they are not legally allowed to consider.

I had to explain this when I started laughing when the first question out of one interviewer's mouth was "So, you married?"