We recently hired a bright, talented young woman into my organization as a product manager. She had interviewed with members of both my staff and that of colleagues by the time she met with me.
The people in my staff and peer departments are almost entirely comprised of males. I asked her whether she sensed any chauvinism during the round of interviews. To which her response was, “no”.
Later, I felt regret for asking the question. Whereas I was asking in part to establish empathy (as in, “I’m not a chauvinist and won’t abide it in my team”), I realized the dilemma I could have exposed her to.
In effect, she could only say “no” because if she said “yes, I sensed chauvinism” then she could think I had a reason not to hire her on the basis of fit or avoidance of future conflict.
On further reflection, I realized I asked the question because my own ability to assess the situation is limited. Limited by a cultural gap between me and the primarily Czech workforce she would be working with. In other words, I don’t know what chauvinism is, or is not, in the Czech culture.
In the year I have been here, there have been times where I felt that I was able to sense cultural differences. This situation reminded me that there are many things I don’t (yet) understand. And that my cultural norms can’t simply be projected onto another culture. Disconcerting….
Let the learning continue.