A friend has just had a telephone interview with a prestigious software company. On the call he was asked about his views on the lack of women in IT. The company is very keen on encouraging women into IT; they run seminars on this and more. While he would have been well advised to go along with their line, he was in fact honest. He told them he believes there's a lack of women in IT because fewer women want to work in IT.

He has now been rejected from the job, without any further assessment. Although they gave a line that "there's no role that matches your skills" the recruiter specifically mentioned his views on women in IT in the rejection email.

I suggested to him that this may be illegal under discrimination law. Does anyone have knowledge of this? We are in the UK, but it is an international company, so I'd be interested on views from anywhere.

Edit - This question is relevant to recent events

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    Note to people considering a close vote - see this answer on meta about legal questions. – enderland Oct 22 '13 at 11:48
  • Largely because I would feel extremely uncomfortable rejecting a candidate on this basis. We are in the EU and there are all sorts of overly-politically-correct laws. This case seems somewhat related: morton-fraser.com/publications/articles/… – paj28 Oct 22 '13 at 12:33


Discrimination in the UK is only prohibited 'because they have one of the "protected characteristics", which are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.'

The Equality act 2010 says that: "Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief." To argue that this was a form of discrimination you would have to argue that your friend's belief was religious or philosophical in nature.

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    I have no idea what UK case law is on this subject. But I wonder: Surely almost ANY belief could be said to be "philosophical". If someone said, "It's my philosophy of life that ...", does that make it a protected belief? – Jay Mar 3 '15 at 16:59
  • His friend's belief does sound like a philosophical one. It is certainly one held by groups such as Men's Rights Activists and anti-feminists, who have am elaborate if misguided philosophy. – user Nov 6 '15 at 12:15
  • What qualifies as a philosophical belief? equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/…; similarly: harpermacleod.co.uk//hm-insights/2014/january/… – Roger Lipscombe Oct 25 '16 at 12:38
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    acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1856 adds "It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others." – Roger Lipscombe Oct 25 '16 at 12:40
  • Imagine instead they were a retro-programming company exclusively using Fortran and they asked 'why do you think there aren't many Fortran programmers in web design' and he told them Fortran was a stupid language? That opinion certainly isn't protected, and would result in a no hire... – Jon Custer Aug 11 '17 at 22:41

This is an issue of organizational fit. They would reject anyone (male or female) who held these views because they are at odds with the mission of the company (they run seminars on this for goodness sake!).

Your friend would not likely be happy in an organization where the culture is so far from his own views. And it is likely that the women who already work at such an organization would find his views offensive and it would make the current employees uncomfortable.

Your friend needs to understand that there is far more than technical skills involved in choosing a person for a role. It is better to be honest when answering questions that relate to culture becasue being in a job where you don't fit the corporate culture is very painful. Both sides benefit by being able to filter out people who won't fit in before hiring.

Let me give you some further examples. I work for a company that offshores much of the work. If you came to an interview at this company and told them that you think that offshoring is wrong, would you be surprised if they didn't hire you? This is the same situation. Your friend expressed a view that directly opposes the values and/or needs of the organization, he wasn't hired because of that and that was a good thing as he would not have fit in. Organizations have value structures too and when a candidate does not fit those values, the company has a right to not hire them.

  • Well, apparently unless that value structure involves age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. :-) – Jay Mar 3 '15 at 16:39
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    Tangential point, but assuming that the OP's description of what his friend said is complete and accurate, I don't see why it would be "likely" that women working there would find his views "offensive". I'm a male. If I applied for a job in a female-dominated field, like say social worker, and someone told me that she thought the reason why there weren't more male social workers is because it's not a job that tends to interest men, I can't imagine that I would find this offensive. I might or might not agree, but I wouldn't be offended. Of course someone with a social/political philosophy ... – Jay Mar 3 '15 at 16:44
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    ... that insists that any discrepancy between overall percentage of the population and representation in a given field MUST be due to bias and discrimination and no other factor can be considered might be offended. But I don't know that women are more likely to hold such views than men. – Jay Mar 3 '15 at 16:45
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    @Jay, remeber this particular company does seminars on how to increase female repsentation, they are looking specifically for people committed to that idea. This isn't just about a social opinion but one relevant to the job. – HLGEM Mar 4 '15 at 22:12
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    @Andy "someone could believe women aren't interested in IT and also believe its possible to change, and should be changed." Very true. And I think that it would be beneficial for the interviewee to not only believe this but say it out loud in the interview. And yet, somehow I don't get the impression that this was the case from the question... Seemed more like an "Eh, women don't like math/programming/whatever, what are you gonna do?" answer and/or attitude. Which would clash completely with the company's main objective. – AllTheKingsHorses Oct 20 '16 at 14:28

This is not "discrimination based on personal belief", so your question is moot. Companies are allowed to try to find the best fit for their organization, and one way they do so is to assess whether they think the candidate is a good fit with their company philosophies.

Even if your friend had said exactly what they wanted to hear, you have no way to know if he would've actually been hired.

It's perfectly legal and acceptable (and normal) for the interviewers to prefer candidates with whom they feel a good "mesh". This is often about personality, but it can extend to interests, philosophies, and any other areas that might affect day-to-day interactions.

Virtually nobody is hired purely on technical skills alone. If they were, most in-person interviews would be unnecessary.


Let me ask this question: Why do you or your friend care whether it's legal?

If I applied for a job, and the company made it clear that they don't like people of my religious, political, or whatever views and don't hire anyone with such views, I could try to hide my views or flat lie about them to get the job. But what kind of work environment would that create? I'd be afraid to engage in any sort of casual conversation with co-workers for fear that I would let something about my beliefs slip. I guess I wouldn't be able to post on forums or social media for fear that someone at the company might see these posts and figure out that I have these disliked beliefs. Etc.

I suppose if I couldn't find any other job, I might put up with it. But frankly, if a potential employer engaged in that kind of bigotry, I'd just rather not work there.

Now I suppose that if my employer was prejudiced against people like me and refused to hire me because of my opinions, and those opinions were in a protected class so that such discrimination was illegal, I suppose I might want to sue him just for the fun and profit of it. But I wouldn't want to force him to hire me. I'd want a cash settlement.

  • Just noticed your old answer. You kind of answer your own question, but there's one thing I'd add. The company's behaviour is unprofessional, unethical, and possibly illegal. The intention is to get them to change that behaviour. It's not for the sake of my friend; it's for the sake of future people. There may be people who desperately need the job, and do hide their views. If this behaviour is legal then his options for influencing their behaviour are limited. But if illegal, it's quite likely he could force a change in behaviour. That is the point of equality law, after all. – paj28 Jan 23 '17 at 16:46

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