Although women as a group have made substantial gains in the workplace over the past decade, research shows that women pursuing technical roles are still regarded as less competent than their male counterparts, too modest and not tough enough to succeed.
Stereotyping isn’t simply a bad habit; it’s a natural aspect of human behavior. “It’s human nature to label people,” said Dr. Karen Keller, an influence expert and creator of The Keller Influence Indicator. “If your tone, attitude and appearance fit the manager’s stereotype, he will have a similar impression of you.”
Unless you’re prepared to tackle a hiring manager’s preconceptions tactfully and decisively, you could lose out to a male with fewer professional qualifications. Here are three ways to overcome gender stereotypes and bias during a job interview:
Get Out Ahead
“Tell me about yourself” is a fairly common opening request during an interview. The open-ended probe provides an ideal opportunity to acknowledge and dispel popular misperceptions right off the bat. Here’s an example of a suitable response:
“I’m glad you asked me that question. I realize that I may not fit the usual picture of a backend developer, but I’m here to tell you that I’ve built more than 20 apps using server-side code like PHP, Ruby and Python and I was the go-to resource on my team for stakeholders and DBAs.”
If the hiring manager displays stereotypic tendencies later on, don’t be afraid to politely suggest: “You may be mistaken in that opinion. Let me tell you why.”
Acknowledging the elephant in the room is the best way to challenge unflattering stereotypes a hiring manager or peer evaluator may hold against you. “Speak to the misperceptions,” Keller advised. “You need to meet these stereotypes head-on, because if they remain unsaid, they could end up working against you.”
Stop Being Stereotypical
The way you present yourself can prove as important as the words you say during an interview. If you seem shy or insecure while describing your experience or technical skills, you may inadvertently reinforce the hiring manager’s paradigm.
“Offer interesting stories to show why you don’t fit the typical stereotype,” Keller said. “Having a sense of humor is a plus because it shows balance and helps you address even the most sensitive issues.”
Study up on the prevailing stereotypes and consciously shift your behavior. Making eye contact, giving a firm handshake and having the courage to stand up for yourself can repel the notion that you’re too timid to lobby for your ideas in a male-dominated specialty.
Also, be prepared to offer lots of examples, to the point of over-explanation. Walk the interviewer through every step of a particular process, whether it’s building a Website or using a technical program.
Plying a hiring manager with lots of facts and examples may be the best way to counter his misperceptions about you. Substantiating your skills with code samples, portfolios, facts and references can distinguish you as a top performer regardless of gender.
While men and women can solve problems equally well, they often use different approaches and processes. Displaying emotional intelligence, balance and the ability to leverage your gender differences as well as your technical skills may help you leapfrog to the front of the hiring queue.
It may take extra effort to prevail in a hiring process where you start out as an underdog, but thorough preparation will build your confidence and courage, as well. And approaching the interview from a position of strength puts you on equal footing.