Entry 3: My first job interview in Hong Kong was a sexist one

Upon nervously waiting for my job interview, I braced myself for questions such as “So, why do you want to work at our company?” and “What do you plan to do with your career?”.

But lo and behold, I did not see this coming.

I was in the midst of moving my life to Hong Kong, to be with my husband who is based there. We only just got married, but I was anxious to get my work life together and sorted. I had started my jewellery business a while ago, but wanted to also find some part-time or freelance work in Hong Kong, to keep me well occupied.

I thought of flowers. Doing flower arrangements seemed like something up my alley. Something possibly therapeutic for my anxious nerves and would allow me to minimise human contact. So, I hunted around for some floral boutiques to try my luck.

One floral shop seemed to stand out. I glanced through their website and their social media channels, and the company seemed to give off good vibes and portray itself as one with a positive and encouraging environment. They seemed rather reputable, with fancy boutiques located in Hong Kong’s prime locations. They didn’t have openings for a floral assistant post, but I wrote in expressing my interest anyway. Just in case.

I didn’t actually expect to hear back. Except I did.

Within the same day, I received a response. The ‘business manager’ wanted to arrange an interview with me; I acquiesced. As their office was in a rather unknown industrial area, she offered to meet me at a Starbucks convenient for me, which I thought was a very considerate gesture.

The day came and I got there extra early as my anxious self does for any interview. I sat by a corner table looking out the full-length glass panels, my Apple Watch repeatedly reminding me how nervous I was (Hi, alert: high heart rate of 128 bpm while at rest).

The lady arrived after some time and the interview lasted about an hour. She asked me the typical questions an interviewer would pertaining to education background, job experience, etc. She introduced the company’s background, business structure, and what they were looking for. There seemed to be some restructuring going on (she herself was new), and turnover sounded pretty high by inference, which I guess was a major red flag on hindsight. They were looking to replace their marketing manager, and she thought I could be a fit for a marketing assistant role, under this future marketing manager. As it sounded like a decent place to work at, with much I could learn, I didn’t outright reject the idea.

I mentioned that I’d only just gotten married and was pending my dependent visa, and at this point was soughing out opportunities in Hong Kong. I told her I was open to any opportunities, and she asked me what my intentions were for my career path.

“So, do you want to be a wife? A jewellery designer? A career woman? What is it you want to do? Because you can’t be half this and half that,” she said in so earnest a tone I couldn’t be mad at her. She wanted to offer guidance.

While my immediate thoughts included ‘Why can’t I be all of those things? Why do I have to choose?’ and ‘What do you mean ‘be a wife’? What does that even mean! What does my role as someone’s spouse impede my work or career? If I were a man, would you have asked me if I wanted to be a husband?’, I decided to take a step back and gave her the benefit of the doubt as a Hongkonger speaking in English.

So, I returned her honesty, with a laugh, “Oh, I don’t know. There are so many things I want to do!”

The rest of the conversation that afternoon remained cordial, and I genuinely didn’t take much offence at that point. I believed her to simply be an asian woman with a very traditional and conservative mind.

Then came round two.

A few days later, the business manager wrote me again, saying that she’d like to arrange a second interview for me with her boss who was the founder of the company. Thinking it harmless, I acquiesced once again.

I went down to their supposed atelier, which was also where their office was situated.

The atelier, as they called it, was a dingy sort of place. The founder later even referred to her space as shabby and reasoned that she wanted people who could ‘roll up their sleeves and get to work’. While I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that, I did think it could use a little tidying up. There was office space beside the workshop area, which was tiny and claustrophobic (as I guess is the reality for many in Hong Kong).

Anyhow, I arrive at this place and the business manager tried to make room at a random table for me to sit at while waiting for her boss to arrive. She offered me water, but I declined. Soon enough, the lady owner arrived and I followed her into her office.

The interview started off decent. In her German-accented English, she presented herself friendly but professional. I thought she seemed nice and genuine. She complimented me on the presentation of my resumé, and asked me to share about myself. I told her about my past work experience, my current situation and what I was looking for.

Midway while I was speaking, the German lady gets up from her chair and runs out to greet someone. A girl in her early to mid-twenties was waving enthusiastically outside the glass office door and they exchange a I-haven’t-seen-you-in-ten-years hug. They explode into excited chitter-chatter, while I awkwardly remained in the office and found my own entertainment by conveniently eavesdropping on them (what else was I supposed to do, right?).

Eventually, the German lady returns and I try to continue where I had left off.

Yada yada yada, fast forward. I explain my situation, in that I was sourcing for freelance/part-time work because I travel a lot and I didn’t want to commit to a full-time job there. We discussed possible work arrangements, and I mentioned briefly that I had also just gotten married and was still sorting out settling in Hong Kong.

Then, she stepped on my toes. She uttered the words, “So, now that you are married…”.

And she paused. A hint of embarrassment was apparent as she spat the words out, unable to complete her question.

Those words alone were crystal clear. As the words sunk in my mind, I simply stared blank at her. And as I became completely aware of what she was alluding to, so did she become equally aware of how I was not the least impressed and did not intend to assist in providing an answer.

Perhaps my dazed facial expression jolted her into realising how ludicrous and inappropriate she was being, because there was a shift in her gaze and she switched her focus to something else quickly, of which I now can’t remember. Taken aback by how unprofessional and inappropriate she was, I couldn’t absorb much of anything and everything that went down after that. I was completely uninterested in working for such a woman. My mind kept thinking about the big joke that was sitting in front of me. A relatively successful western married businesswoman with children of her own, discriminating against a newly married woman who actually was there simply wanting to be a floral assistant. Tell me I did not travel all the way for an interview only to be ridiculed for being married and being a woman. I was fuming inside.

Clearly alluding to babies, I was appalled by her narrow-mindedness. How could a businesswoman who had family and children of her own, discriminate against other women? What’s more, I couldn’t believe how those words could come out of a modern western woman’s mouth? Surely whether or not I have children is none of her business? Even if I did intend to have children, what does that matter to her? By merely bringing it up, she made it clear that she intended to discriminate against any married women with the potentiality of bearing children. If I were a man, would she have asked the same question? Do men get interrogated in interviews about their desire to procreate simply because they are of a married status? I don’t think so.

In today’s world, a woman should not have to choose between work/career and having children. If a woman were to only possess but one, it should be solely out of choice that she decides to dedicate her focus wholeheartedly. Women should not be interrogated about their womanhood in interviews, made to feel bad for wanting and being capable of bearing offspring, nor should they be put down by other professional respectable women.

She ended the interview abruptly, telling me that she had to get on a call to Melbourne. Polite as always, I thanked her for her time and showed myself out of the bleak hole.

I didn’t bother sending a thank-you email after, while they didn’t bother contacting me back either.

Cover image credits: Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash