EWL News

Bad practice and hiring discrimination: our latest story comes from Brussels

[Brussels, 28 June, 2013] In our work on economic and social policies and in the context of our maternity leave campaign ’2 years overdue’, we’re collecting stories and testimony from women who have experienced discrimination in their lives due to their pregnancies.

Our latest story comes from Sylvie [1], who faced a combination of bad practice, unprofessionalism and sexism, highlighting discrimination in the interview and hiring process of her latest job application.

“I first became aware of inconsistencies when I noticed the sliding application deadline for the position of policy officer, which had been shortened by 4 days. I called to verify that they were still accepting applications and was told to apply if I felt that I fit the vacancy description.

I applied highlighting over 9 years of experience, a robust background and well developed skills and abilities for the job, including a PhD qualification from London School of Economics, and my honorary researcher status with a UN body.

I received a confirmation email stating the recruitment process was being handled in cooperation with an external company in Denmark (the job is in Brussels). Shortly thereafter, I received a telephone call at 9pm in the evening – a very strange time for following up with candidates! What followed was a discussion based on personal questions- it was not clear if it was an interview as such, given especially the confusing context of the phone call. They asked me if I was married, to which I replied ‘no’, thinking this was a formality regarding civil status, but when they asked me if I had children, I felt unfairly put on the spot to the point that my instinct told me to say ‘no’ even though I had a 4 month old infant. I immediately felt that disclosing this personal information would put me at a disadvantage even though I was qualified for this job!

I was invited to the first interview which went very well, and was invited back for a second interview for which I was to complete a task due back in 2 days. I submitted the 6 page assignment and also completed a standard personality test. Then, during the second interview, I chose to disclose that I had a child. They asked me why I had not informed them earlier and I explained my uneasiness with their questioning procedure and that I was made to feel that I would have put myself at a disadvantage in the selection procedure. After giving my references, I received an email that said:


“We have estimated that we need a different profile purely in terms of expertise.”

When I called to follow up on the email, I was told the reason why I was not selected is because I ‘lied’ in the first phone interview - the one at 9pm at night when they asked me if I was married with children. They would never have asked a man this question! The combination of inconsistencies in reasoning and unprofessional procedure paint a grim picture.

I would have been willing to accept any reason, regarding qualifications, experience, anything, but not because of this. It is entirely unprofessional, bad practice and sexist. I have followed up with my union but they have not been able to help me further. So what are we supposed to do? Say we have children and put ourselves at a competitive and economic disadvantage, or be forced to hide the fact that women are multidimensional human beings capable of so much more…?”

If you would like to share your story, please contact us here at the European Women’s Lobby at EWL@womenlobby.org

Not her real name.

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