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In our small company with a few employees, everyone's input is important. We call each candidate in for two interviews, one with the owners and another with the Head Developer and a team member who volunteers.

Something curious happened during the past week. A candidate (let's call him John) sent in his resume and a short email application. We invited him for an interview as he fit our requirements. What caught everyone's attention is that on both visits, John deliberately avoided every woman he met. Rather than asking the female receptionist for directions, he emailed one of the owners and waited for the Head Developer to take him to the interview room. He greeted only the male developers. A female employee who helped on one of his visits was treated as non-existent.

If he had any religious prohibition on interactions with women, as in the case of this question (How does one politely decline a handshake due to religious reasons?), he never mentioned it, not even to the owners. There was a consensus among the women that his attitude was weird and offensive, and a couple of developers expressed their concern in working with someone like him.

In the end, we dropped John from consideration because he didn't have the required work experience, but none of us knew how to handle it if this were not the case. Our clients are companies that employ women, minorities and various protected groups in great numbers, so someone who behaved this way with them could cost us clients, jobs, and reputation.

If John were as competent as the others and we would have had to narrow down our list, how much weight should we give to his actions? Should we give the "Johns" the benefit of doubt over their weird behaviour, or send a canned rejection email straight away?

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    OP, one thing that might help - did he blush a lot when addressed by women? That could inidcate shyness. Or did he stick his nose in the air? Can you describe his body language? – Mawg Feb 20 '17 at 10:02
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Lilienthal Feb 21 '17 at 11:38
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    Is he going to have to speak to female clients/customers etc? Are you satisfied he'll be able to perform his job in a way which won't embarrass your company/cost you financial or reputational damage? – bye Feb 21 '17 at 13:15
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    You could have asked him, as that's what interviews are for. No point in hiding behind etiquette if you're going to be splashing out thousands of your currency – NibblyPig Feb 24 '17 at 8:55

11 Answers 11

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The purpose of an interview is to determine if a candidate is a good fit for the job. If your interview panel does not have sufficient confidence that the candidate is suitable, do not extend him an offer.

Several factors go into making that decision, not just their technical competency. Weirdness is one such factor, but there are plenty more. I have seen technically well-qualified candidates getting rejected, because they were "too much into research and not into business", their communication style was extremely convoluted, they worshipped a platform that we don't use, their showboating was way over the top, and so on.

Communicating with women seems important to this job, and John has made it clear that he is far off the mark there. So you can conclude that the candidate does not meet the requirements.

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    Even if his position did not really require him to particularly work with any women at the moment, I would be worried about the kind of work culture that would result from hiring such a person. Once he's a member of your company, would he be part of hiring decisions for instance? Wouldn't you be concerned that he would be discriminatory towards any potential female candidates? I would definitely not consider a candidate that raised such concerns, even if he or she were qualified in all other ways. – Kai Feb 23 '17 at 17:26
  • If a simple interview was so weird that it actually felt offensive to the ladies at the office, imagine how it would be like if he actually worked there? – Nelson Mar 10 at 0:41
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I think you are overthinking this. A big red flag for me (and seemingly for you) is that the candidate was unable to ask the most obvious person in front of him for assistance (the receptionist). Instead he chose to waste top management's time to help him find his way to the interview room. Not to mention, the customary behavior when coming to an interview is to let the receptionist know who you are and why you are there.

I would have asked him why he wasted the owner and senior developer's time, and if the answer was unsatisfactory (such as "I don't speak to women"), I would end the interview and walk him out. I don't have time to deal with this nonsense, and I certainly don't want to hire someone who needs his hand held for basic tasks.

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    Yep, he would have failed the interview before he even got to the interview room if it was me. No further info needed. – Kilisi Feb 21 '17 at 5:42
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    Such blatant lack of respect towards a receptionist would be a big red flag even without a problematic attitude towards women. (+1) – Chris H Feb 22 '17 at 14:29
  • Good point. I'd also be concerned about top management who let people waste their time. – user8365 Feb 27 '18 at 13:27
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If this candidate was as competent enough as the others and we've had to narrow down our list, how much weight should his attitude have? Should we give the "Johns" that exhibit similar behaviors the benefit of the doubt or send a canned email rejection straight away?

Particularly in a small company and particularly when the employees filling the job in question must meet with clients, attitude is just about everything. Give me a candidate who isn't as strong technically but has the right attitude and I can usually train them to become a great employee. Give me a candidate with a poor (or weird) attitude, and the technical strengths may not matter at all.

If a candidate fits the bill strongly everywhere except a seeming avoidance of women, I'd be direct. Something like "We like your technical abilities, but it seems like you avoided every woman here. Our company and our clients are composed of both men and women and this role requires dealing with both. How can we feel comfortable that you will be able to handle that situation?"

Likely this question will elicit the reasons behind what you are observing, and you can make an appropriate hire/don't hire decision.

If I got strong feedback from others on the team (female or male) that this candidate was "weird and offensive" then I almost certainly would pass on hiring, unless I was convinced that it was something that could easily be corrected or was some sort of misunderstanding. Feedback from my team is very important to me and fit with the team is often of primary importance while making a hiring decision.

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    Not only are clients composed of both men and women, but so are coworkers (both generally and in OP's case), which would make the candidate's abience (or proverbial anopsia) of women pretty crippling indeed. – SeldomNeedy Feb 18 '17 at 22:43
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    @SeldomNeedy For many developers, coworkers are the clients. – user2338816 Feb 20 '17 at 2:13
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    @JoeStrazzere : Actually it would be discrimination, it just wouldn't be illegal discrimination. (Certainly in the UK, you can discriminate on the basis of protected characteristics, provided that it is because of a genuine requirement of the job - but you can't advertise for "Labourers wanted. Must be prepared to work topless in summer.") – Martin Bonner Feb 20 '17 at 16:25
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    @Bobson No, because you're not discriminating against them based on their religion - you're discriminating based on their inability to perform their job, which is thankfully still legal. The fact that their religion makes them unable to perform their job is their personal affair, not yours. I shudder at the thought of how crippled our society is becoming when people self-censor themselves like this "just to be sure" (communist countries used this to control people all the time). Would you really hire a hindu beef taster, just because the only reason he can't do his job is religion? – Luaan Feb 20 '17 at 17:02
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    @Brandin: In the UK, that indirection wouldn't save you. Indirect discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic is just as illegal as direct discrimination, unless (as in this case) there is a genuine requirement for the job. – Martin Bonner Feb 20 '17 at 19:59
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My thought is that you should have had at least two females ask a direct question and just let there be silence if he did not reply. Ask the question a second time. If he again does not reply thank him for his time and show him the door. Avoiding women and refusing to interact are different things.

If you have a female manager have a one on one interview with that person. In a more private setting maybe can inquire directly about reluctance to engage females.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Feb 24 '17 at 1:42
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I think the answer to this is extremely obvious and you can see it yourself by simply gender flipping the question. How would you have reacted if he had refused to interact with any males and instead insisted on only interacting with females? Would you feel that you could work well with this person? Would you feel that their behaviour was acceptable in a co-worker? If you can't emphatically answer 'yes' to both those questions then why on earth do you expect your female co-workers to tolerate it?

Have some respect for the women in your company and do not hire this man.

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    @Jack having a health problem doesn't mean that we should hire the person. We hire someone only if the person fits the position and will not harm other employees. For example, I would not hire a person diagnosed as a psychopath. If the person in question truly suffers from gynophobia, he should seek medical help and apply for jobs where he can sort this out and minimize the issue. For example, working on a remote position. – Zanon Feb 19 '17 at 15:46
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    @Zanon I didn't say he should hire the person. I'm questioning JackAidley suggestion that the OP should have some respect for the women in his company and not hire him, as if this guy was a sexist intentionally snubbing women. – Jack Feb 20 '17 at 8:53
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    @Jack If he has a genuinely recognised psychological condition he should inform the company of that and they should respect their obligations under local disability regulation. In the absence of any flagged psychological condition they should proceed under the more likely assumption that he has no such condition. – Jack Aidley Feb 20 '17 at 10:12
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    @Jack If misbehaviour of an employee (or prospective employee) creates problems for your other employees or customers, the cause does not matter. If he is genuinely phobic, it is his responsibility to deal with his condition so that he can work in a mixed-gender environment. If he doesn't, he is just as much at fault as if he was an active misogynist. – Graham Feb 20 '17 at 14:02
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    @Jack, you have to accommodate employees for their illnesses, you do not have to hire people who have an illness especially when it creates a problem for existing employees. If he has a mental illness and cannot work with women or talk to them at all, then he needs to get treatment before he is going to be able to work in the current workplace just about anywhere except possibly Saudi Arabia. That is a disability that disqualifies him from most jobs if he doesn't fix it, just like being blind disqualifies you from driving a truck. – HLGEM Feb 20 '17 at 15:11
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In my experience as a developer most software development can be done sufficiently well by a person with an average skill level.1 Technical prowess is a requirement, but does not have the central role one would naiveley expect.

The one problem of singular importance any non-trivial software development must solve is communication, because non-trivial software is all about communication, and non-trivial software is produced by a division of labor. Division of labor crucially relies on communication. If the parts do not interact well in the development process, they will not interact well in the product.

This leads directly to my advice to not employ anybody with a communication problem, let alone somebody exhibiting the pathological behavior you describe.

You may have no choice if there is only one developer with the extraordinary technical skills needed to solve specific problems; but my experience working with such individuals was unpleasant. They tend to spoil the team spirit and fun at work which makes it easier for the team to perform.


1 Granted, a few problems are technically hard and need exceptionally skilled developers. Also software design probably should be done by somebody who is a bit brighter and more skilled than the average, mostly because design errors are so expensive.

  • "Conceded" While I'm not 100% sure that it's incorrect, I've never heard that term before and believe that "Granted, ..." or "I'll concede that..." are more commonly used. – Lilienthal Feb 21 '17 at 11:46
  • To one-word it, "Concession: a few problems are ..." works. – user53718 Feb 24 '17 at 4:15
  • “most software development can be done sufficiently well by a person with an average skill level” Actually, most programming can be done as you said. Software development requires good competence, but I don't think that was really the point of the question. :) – Andrea Lazzarotto Apr 27 '17 at 12:57
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You wouldn't usually want to hire someone who for whatever reason doesn't talk to women. Or who for whatever reason doesn't talk to men. If you believe that the candidate is such a person, you have two choices: Either don't hire him. Or, ask him straight away. "I have the impression that you avoid talking to women. Is that so?" Maybe the answer is "Yes, because I am terribly shy". Then you decide depending on the answer.

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    What does it matter if the reason is (extreme) shyness? Whatever the reason is, it's weirding out the female employees. An employer hiring this bloke will soon have a lot of issues on their hands, like would it be sexual harassment to either party to put him on a project with a female coworker, etc. – DepressedDaniel Feb 20 '17 at 4:55
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    If it is only shyness, he could grow out of it as he becomes familiar with his new collegues. He is unlikely to grow out of prejudices. So it would help to undertsand which is the case. With the former, one might consider an offer. – Mawg Feb 20 '17 at 10:00
  • @DepressedDaniel If it is due to something that can be easily corrected, then you may still decide to hire. See JoeStrazzere's answer. – Brandin Feb 20 '17 at 12:01
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    "I cannot talk to women because I'm too shy" is one thing, "I don't talk to women because they belong in the kitchen, not the workplace" is another thing. – gnasher729 Feb 21 '17 at 22:07
  • Although I understand your point, there's some danger in it: the person might SAY "I'm shy" and think by itself "I hate women, and if they decide not to hire me, I'll sue them for discriminatory reasons because I feel I have the right to hate women". Therefore I wouldn't ask such a person anything concerning his attitude towards women. Be correct, send him a nothing-saying "No"- answer and protect yourself against any possible complaints from such a person. – Dominique Feb 26 '18 at 15:56
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There are some cultures where men are not allowed to speak at all to women in the work place. I believe Arabic or Middle Eastern people are such examples. Technically speaking it may not be legal for a company not to hire someone based on this reason as it would be discrimination based on religion or race. I'm a bit surprised I haven't seen any other answers mention this already.

How long has he lived in North America for? I lived with a man who told me when he first move to the US he had to change some settings on someone's computer. He went into the office and changed the settings without speaking to her at all because he considered this professional. Latter, when he got called in by HR he assured them he had been professional and not spoke a word to her. Apparently in his country it was illegal for men to speak to women in the workplace.

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    "It may not be legal for a company not to hire someone based on this reason." Companies may need to provide reasonable accomodations, but it doesn't exempt you from professional requirements. See, e.g. workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/70575/… – Brandin Feb 20 '17 at 12:10
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    Reasonable accommodations for religious belief are things like dress code exceptions. I really doubt one could successfully claim unfair treatment for not being accommodated with an allowance to treat other people unfairly; it’s a paradox. – Semicolon Feb 20 '17 at 15:19
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    Can't speak for American anti-discrimination law, but in the UK it would certainly be legal to not hire someone who refused to speak to women for religious reasons provided that speaking to women was a genuine requirement of the job (there won't be many jobs where it isn't). – Martin Bonner Feb 20 '17 at 16:32
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    Discrimination and prejudice would be "this applicant [who we have never met and have only a resume for] is called Ahmed. He's probably from one of those countries where they can't speak to women. Reject." Someone who actually comes in and displays the behavior isn't being pre-judged, they're being judged. – Kate Gregory Feb 21 '17 at 12:31
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    When in Rome... there may well be reasons not to interact in other countries, but the candidate isn't in those countries, trying to get a job. – Tim Feb 21 '17 at 13:35
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Where I agree fully with the other answers about not hiring the person, I will expand a little on what you could or rather (sadly) can't do to help him in his search for a job.

You might feel that having had him for interviews and taken quite a bit of his time, that you then owe him a bit of advice of what he needs to work on to improve his changes for a job.

There can be many reasons for his behavior, he could be a jerk, he could suffer from a condition on the aspergers/autism spectrum and there areprobably more reasons.

It will depend on jurisdiction and culture, but in most places the risk associated with trying to help him outweighs the benefit that might come from helping him. Even if you actually knew what was wrong the backlash that could come from the person or his family from reaching out could ruin (reputation and finance) your company.

Social media does not care about truth only about accusations.

You might get a lawyer to look over your advice to the person and guarantee that you will win any case in court, but the cost of any court case will not be small and it could still damage your reputation.

In a case like this you should simply send a standard mail thanking for his time and sadly inform him that you have chosen to go ahead with another candidate.

  • A place where helping someone is deemed too risky, is a sad place. – Elise van Looij Feb 20 '17 at 13:25
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What I don't see stressed enough in the other answers - ask John about this thing. Find out his reasons and find out if he is capable to do the required communication or not.

Some of the answers here assume that John thinks "I am too cool and proficient to ask female receptionist" and that he didn't communicate with women because his motto is "Women are stupid and I don't respect them".

Maybe John thought that receptionists might be unaware that he was expected for an interview. He took out his phone (or was it laptop?) and contacted the only person in the building that was surely aware of him arriving and the reasons behind it.

And maybe he was unsure how to approach greeting women he meets for the first time? He shakes hands with guys but it seemed somehow awkward to shake hands with women and he decided to skip it...

From my own life - I don't talk over phone with people I don't know well enough. If you give me a phone number and tell "call this person and arrange the data transfer", I simply won't do it.

People might find it strange that I come in person or email instead of calling. If someone would bring it up in interview, I could explain that I will have no problem with calls among team members once I know my team well enough but that I will never call a client that I don't know well and that I won't take the job if it requires calling strangers or picking up calls from them.

To conclude: Don't assume "John doesn't talk to women", maybe it's "John slowly starts talking to women over first few meetings." The latter is still a problem if you want him working with new clients but not a problem for the work with his team. Just ask and find out could he do it or not.

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    Even if he is just slow to start talking to women, it would still make him unsuitable for the job. What happens if they get him to work with a female when he starts and he is incapable of even talking to her? – ayrton clark Feb 23 '17 at 12:51
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    While I somehow agree with (some) points of your answer, this doesn't make sense: “Maybe John thought that receptionists might be unaware that he was expected for an interview” John could just walk in and inform the receptionist about the interview. She is not expected to know it, but she is expected to phone the relevant people to ask confirmation and let him in. – Andrea Lazzarotto Apr 27 '17 at 13:02
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I mean "your" collectively (as in "your company") in this answer since, in the unedited question, it is clear the OP wasn't on site on the day of this interview and so her perception of this event is from a second-hand, collective experience.

You seem to be basing your opinion on two factors:

  1. John didn't introduce himself to one of the panel
  2. He emailed his contact about where he should be.

Those two factors would not have raised concerns for me and I think you may be reading more into them than existed.

Further thoughts concerning those two factors respectively:

  1. Try and find out if the female volunteer introduced herself, and was ignored and whether the other interviewers introduce themselves. When nervous at an interview if someone didn't introduce themselves to me, but everyone else did, I might not "reach out" to that exception in the moment and then feel too awkward to do so once the moment had passed and it became apparent that no one was going to introduce us.
  2. Emailing a contact to find directions might be eminently sensible and be totally unrelated to the gender of your receptionist. From my reading of your OP I think it is possible he would have emailed his contact for directions regardless of who was on reception.

Going on the details given in the OP my answers to the questions are that, in similar circumstances, you should give little weight to his actions because I suspect the analysis of his actions could be a little off so you should give John the benefit of the doubt over your perception that his behaviour is weird and not send a canned rejection email straight away.

Rather, I would recall the candidate and investigate those points; I do find it a little odd that the panel didn't ask John about this behaviour in the instance you give. Do you know why they didn't ask him?

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    -1 for you should give John the benefit of the doubt over your perception that his behaviour is weird. OP mentioned that other colleagues were weirded out too. You can't extend the benefit of doubt in all situations. – DepressedDaniel Feb 20 '17 at 5:01
  • @DepressedDaniel thanks for your reasoning; on reflection of your comment I edited my answer to make it clearer that my use of "you" and "your" is collective, not singular. – lukkea Feb 20 '17 at 7:44
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    Taking the question as written, which I think we have to do, the only part of your answer I can agree with is : "Why didn't the panel ask John about this behaviour?" - whatever reason, whatever perceived or actual failing on John's part might or might not be at play here, the interviewers should have resolved this issue on the day. – Rob Moir Feb 22 '17 at 13:53
  • ok, this answer is wrong - but only because important details in the original question were wiped out during an edit. I've re-added. Case in point, "John" acted this way twice, so the receptionist could have been asked on the second visit. The female employee helped out on one of his visits, but he did not acknowledge her. +1 anyway for answering the (mangled) question correctly – bharal Feb 26 '18 at 15:59

protected by Jane S Feb 20 '17 at 11:05

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