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Casual discrimination: just “business as usual”

Sometimes you end up in a situation that makes you shake your head in disbelief.

Sometimes you realise that we’re not as far along as we like to think.

Sometimes you get a reminder of why your mission is so important.

Last week I had all three happen at once.

I’ll try to keep this story short. It’s light on detail by necessity, and I don’t think I need to explain why I found it so frustrating.

Towards the end of last week a Juggle professional told us about an awful interview. Our mission is to create a platform that matches the best candidates (regardless of their circumstances or lifestyle) with the best businesses, thereby creating a better hiring environment for everybody – one where diversity is a given – so obviously we take any negative feedback very seriously. But this one takes the (stale) cake…

The professional fielded interview questions about relationship status. Questions about plans for parenthood. Questions that are completely against the law in an interview environment. The classic “this won’t screen you out, but…” Some worse stuff that I won’t bother going into.

I wish I were surprised by the ignorance, but I’m not. I wish I were surprised by the casual prejudice, but I’m not. I was a little surprised by the seniority and sector of the interviewer in question, but in retrospect I shouldn’t have been. If the kind of systemic issues that Juggle are trying to address were confined to specific places or levels then our job would be much more straightforward. But occasions like this remind us of the sad truth: this sort of thing is still going on everywhere, and often.

We terminated our agreement with the interviewing firm. There’s not really much more to say on that aspect. I started Juggle because I thought that flexible working was the best way to challenge gender-inequality in business and close the female leadership gap. This kind of discriminatory behaviour is exactly what we’re trying to stamp out. Allowing it to remain, unchallenged, would be monstrously unfair but also counterproductive. It hamstrings talent and limits business success.

To be candid: we don’t come out as heroes in this story. The professional in question had some negative feedback, and also mentioned that they were conflicted about telling us. For me this is one of the most upsetting aspects of this story. Partly because it’s a reminder that this sort of discriminatory behaviour is still normalised to the point that it doesn’t really stand out. It’s illegal, it’s outrageous, and yet people still wonder: “is it really enough for me to speak up about? Isn’t this just business as usual?” It’s nothing to do with courage (though people who speak up have great courage). The consequences for highlighting it often outweigh the support or restoration they can expect. So, why bother, when nothing will change?

So the most upsetting part is the thought – even just the thought – that they might have been conflicted about telling Juggle specifically. There’s certainly an element of professional/selfish pride at work there, but my main concern is that Juggle was created to democratise the future of work. We need to be agents of change, and that means people need to trust us enough to let us pursue that change on their behalf. I’m relieved that the professional made the decision that they did. But it should have been a no-brainer. So we need to do better, and we will.

A little reminder of why we’re doing what we’re doing – and that there’s room for improvement – is always useful. I just wish it didn’t come at the expense of one of our candidates.

Story over.

Back to work.

– Romanie, Juggle Founder


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