Credit: BBC

Do Apprentice-style interviews disadvantage women?

Researchers suggest an old-fashioned panel grilling is better for tackling unconscious bias.

by Sunjay Kakar
Last Updated: 06 May 2016

Last night, two (relatively) diverse groups of business people met on opposite sides of the interview table in BBC’s The Apprentice. Two women (Vana Koutsomitis and Charleine Wain) and three men (Gary Poulton, Richard Woods and Joseph Valente) were individually grilled by Lord ‘Sralan’ Sugar’s four unnecessarily shouty sidekicks –  Claude Littner, Mike Soutar, Claudine Collins and Linda Plant.

Usually at MT, we wouldn’t care. But, despite the fact that, in The Apprentice’s oh so realistic, much edited, cameras rolling environment, one woman and one man got through (we won’t spoil it by telling you who), it does raise interesting questions about how men and women interview differently, and whether the usual way of running them could contribute to gender bias. Freelancer Sunjay Kakar had a look for us.

It may seem a generalisation, but according to the experts men and women do interview differently, and that could create a gender bias when it comes to recruitment. Psychologist Catherine Steele says men tend to be better at self-promotion than women. ‘This indicates that men could do better in an interview but we also know that female interviewers tend to see through this.’   

That might provide some consolation, but there are other differences that could disadvantage women, most notably that they are more likely to trust the interviewer and be open and self-disclosing. You’d have thought that would be a good thing...

‘It increases the likelihood of them revealing something less positive about themselves. Men are more likely to attribute success and achievement to their own efforts whereas women have been found to attribute success to their team as a whole,’ says Clive Fletcher of Goldsmiths. Not the women on that show perhaps, but then that’s hardly surprising.  

The greater willingness of men to boast and the greater willingness to be honest appears to put the female half of the workforce at a disadvantage. But is there anything that can be done about that? In The Apprentice, all the interviews are one on one. But academics say that this approach is less reliable than a good old-fashioned panel interview, which tends to reduce personal biases – especially when it’s competency based.

‘If you are going to interview, then panel interviews are the only way you can get reliability, if planned properly. Individual interviews can work with a very experienced interviewer but the reliability is poor,’ says psychologist Donald Ridley, who also neatly describes The Apprentice as ‘a cross between reality TV and a game show’.

You might groan at the thought of sitting through a panel interview for your next position, but if it does indeed reduce the unconscious biases of interviewers, then it might just help tackle the problem of employers hiring people who look like themselves rather than people who are best suited to the job.  

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