Recently I have been part of an interview process to fill an advisor position in our Education Abroad Office. As the Assistant Director, I have had to lead the entire process of reviewing resumes, selecting candidates, and organizing the interviews (which includes inviting individuals from other offices to assist in the second round). It is a significant amount of extra work which my supervisor, the Director, asked me to do.
After the final round of interviews, my supervisor and I sat down to review our top choices. One my top candidates was a male, who did not appear on my supervisor’s list, and when I asked his reasoning he said the male candidate was “overqualified for the position.” However, in comparing my top (male) candidate with his top (female) candidate, the two had exactly the same qualifications in terms of number of years in the field, degrees, international background, and other relevant areas. I believe that my supervisor’s decision to eliminate the male candidate due to overqualification was a sexist one, and I let that be known.
How could I have better handled this situation? Following this interaction I am noticing other behaviors that include burdening me with additional work and undermining me when it is time to make a decision or take credit for something good. How can I work with my supervisor moving forward?
Irritated in Illinois
Dear Irritated in Illinois,
This is indeed a difficult situation. Given that our field is dominated by women, one way you might have been able to advocate for the male candidate further is to express your desire to diversify your staff and encourage more males to study abroad through role model advising. You might also have asked for clarification of more specifics on where your supervisor saw differences between your top two candidates. It is also wise to navigate the conversation with calm and to resist being defensive.
Possibly more concerning is the shift in your supervisor’s behavior after this interaction. Have you reached out to your Human Resource Department for advice or support? I know it can be difficult to trust the anonymity of these difficult conversations with internal colleagues, but HR is trained in this type of coaching for managing up or managing down. There are also online resources that provide guidance on these issues, if you are not comfortable talking with your HR department. The League also launched a Coaching Hub, so consider signing up to be matched with an experienced Career Coach in our field to guide you.
Alternatively, if you feel comfortable approaching your supervisor, you might want to address the behavior directly. Approach the conversation with confidence and direct communication. This might make you feel empowered and allow your supervisor to face an uncomfortable situation directly.