Etiquette or ethics?

Q. I am one of only 2 women in a large team of men. Today I overheard 2 of the guys discussing an interview with a candidate for an open position on the team. One of the gentlemen commented that the woman was pregnant, and he had concerns about how much time she would be out of the office because of this. The other man agreed that this was a concern and said it was too bad because she was otherwise a good candidate. The conversation did not include me, but I feel like the decision to hire or not hire this woman based on her parental status is unethical and discriminatory. Is there a way to bring this up to them? Or should I stay out of it since I am not in charge of this hiring decision, and the conversation was not intended to include me, it just took place near me?


A. Sometimes what appears to be etiquette crosses a line into legal and ethical issues. That certainly is the case here. Making hiring, or non-hiring, decisions solely on the basis of pregnancy is illegal.

The ethical question you face is what should you do now? You can choose to talk with the two men, talk to your manager, or stay quiet. Staying quiet is the easiest solution but it isn’t the ethical solution. I usually counsel that the first course of action should be to talk directly to the people involved as opposed to going to a manager.

Ask the men how the interview process is going. Mention that you overheard their conversation about one strong female candidate. Then mention that you may have heard wrong, but did they say that the her pregnancy made her a less attractive candidate? Give them an opportunity to respond, because it is possible that you interpreted the conversation incorrectly.

If they are foolish enough to confirm your suspicion that they would make a hiring decision based on the whether a candidate was pregnant, it’s time to talk to someone higher up the food chain.

The etiquette issue at hand is how you approach the men. Don’t threaten or assume wrongdoing. Tell them what you overheard and explain that you are simply bringing your concerns to their attention and then asking them for their perspective on what you heard. After you’ve heard what they have to say, then request that they confirm with you that they will not consider the woman’s pregnancy in deciding whether or not to hire her. If you’re satisfied, you can leave the matter there. If not, then it is time to discuss it with your manager.

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