Can't say - but you know who you are

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
My friend just applied for an administrative role. The sort of position that women apply for. She got a response back. "Thanks for the resume. Please send us a photo", writes Kate Oktay. 

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay

"Send a photo of a dolphin. Please, God, like, one of the ones with a `give-me-a-fish smile'. That would be amazing ... It's not often that this sort of opportunity comes along ..." I said, gazing away into a warm place where I could happily amuse myself imagining the possibility of being a dick, but for a good cause. Like Robin Hood, except instead of money and the aristocracy, there are emails and a not-very-progressive middle-aged man who decided against getting specialist HR advice.

"I was thinking about sending one of my foot," my friend said pensively.

But then I told the ODT what I was writing, and they said that I should find out why aforementioned (1950s-based), (larger than you would imagine) construction company took this approach before they could publish an article saying who it was and letting me take the (insert word that the ODT also definitely does not allow in here).

I emailed back saying that sounded a lot like real journalism, and that I had to conclude that the editor had never actually read my column; writing that leans more towards a joyous ode to idiocy and personal essays lacking in even the most fundamental aspects of self-reflection than printing anyone's right of reply to the mean things I write about them. If that was what we were doing, then this whole column would be long tracts of my husband defending his frugality and pointing out that saving money by laboriously selecting the largest leek in the bin had directly contributed to us buying our house.

Still, it struck me that I only got paid if I handed something in on Tuesday, and that I had this article half written, which, in comparison to something that is unwritten, is at least two whole days of wading through a terrible grey fog of procrastination where I vacuum floors madly and start stripping the wallpaper in the spare room in preference to opening a Word document. So I made my friend send an unsatisfying email asking why they wanted a photo, instead of a satisfying one with a foot and a swear word.

They didn't reply. It's understandable. The sort of people who ask women for photos as part of recruiting for a receptionist so they can judge their "presentability" - cough - age and attractiveness - cough - are also very likely to be the sort of people who dislike women having opinions on said photo request.

So, now I am not allowed to say who they are. Or even joke about who they are. Which is the hardest thing. I thought of several really, very funny names for this company that I was going to use in this column.

Yes, there is the important obligation to make companies accountable for behaviour that would have been scarcely acceptable in the '90s, let alone post-#MeToo. Yes, there's the fight against misogyny. But. There are things that matter more than that. Such a waste of some really good jokes. My friends, women from their 20s to their 70s, all came up with monikers; snortingly funny meanness from Women Who Are Sick of This &^%*. At least 300 words. Not written by me. Like candy from a baby. And now I can't even use it.

But. There is one consolation; you know who you are. And, because of this article, I hope you will have several uncomfortable conversations.

Please think of me when you are reviewing "resumes" on Monday ("Um, yes, Gary. She is very ... well groomed") and when you talk with your manager/board/investor about avoiding bad PR and damage to your brand.

And hopefully, this will make for at least one awkward barbecue in the spring with your friend's new girlfriend, the one with a weird haircut and loud views on things, who will bring it up over an otherwise very enjoyable too-many-beers.

And I hope these conversations are cause for contemplation, but in case you need things spelt out: you don't get to argue that it's an important role and that it's the face of the business. There are lots of positions in your company that are actually that: the CEO, the sales manager, the client services manager, the COO. If you are only asking for a photo from the receptionist (the role that is almost guaranteed to have a 98.7% female response rate and be possibly be paying under the living wage) and not Nathan, the new guy who is mostly in the delivery van ("Face of the Company" out on the road, folks!) as part of the application process; this is weird, and you should stop doing it right now.

So, for the next time you are hiring and considering asking for a photo again, I made you a handy flow chart to stick on your wall to remind you of what is an appropriate recruitment process and what is being a wee bit creepy.

I hope your wife sticks it on the fridge the next time she is cross with you.



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