Female Programmer Elizabeth Bentivegna Allegedly Denied Job Because Her Outfit Was Too Revealing

The tech industry is notoriously male-dominated: The field’s dearth of women springs from a variety of causes, including a culture that discourages women from going into STEM fields, a frat culture within tech companies, and frequent allegations of overt and indirect sexism. One college student claims to have recently experienced first hand how unwelcoming tech companies can be to women, alleging that she was denied a programming job because of dressing inappropriately, a charge that she asserts is both untrue and evidence of a double standard.

Elizabeth Bentivegna is a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, where she majors in computer science. A recruiter for On Shift, a company based in Cleveland that develops software to aid with senior living and long-term health care, allegedly invited her to interview for a summer internship. Weeks after the interview, Bentivegna claims she was told that, in spite of her excellent qualifications, the company wouldn’t hire her, supposedly due to the fact that she “looked more like [she] was about to go clubbing than to an interview.” She later took to Facebook to vent, writing, “I literally just got denied a job on an all-male development team for what I was wearing.” A friend, Buzzfeed writer Alanna Bennett, posted the rant to Twitter, sparking a debate about interview appropriateness and the different standards to which men and women are held in professional situations.

On Shift has not responded to Bustle's request for comment.

Bentivegna explained what allegedly happened with On Shift to The Mary Sue, saying that she felt that the interview had gone well:

One of the engineers asked me a programming question and my answer was correct – he even complimented me on asking a question about the problem that none of the other candidates had asked. When I left, I felt very positive about my chances – I did not feel as though there had been anything wrong, and honestly I expected to get the job.

After waiting more than two weeks to find out if she got the job, the recruiter is said to have called Bentivegna, who recounts,

She told me that On Shift would love to hire me based on my technical skills and personality, but that they were not going to. These are the reasons she cited:

1) I “looked more like I was about to go clubbing than to an interview” 2) I “had a huge run in my tights” 3) I was late. I had told the hiring director beforehand that I would probably be a few minutes late, and then explained to her when I arrived that I had gotten mildly lost on my way).

In her Facebook post, Bentivegna describes what she says she was wearing: a black t-shirt, black tights and shoes, black cardigan, and a red shirt. She asks, “If I had been a man, would it have mattered what I was wearing? Would my red and black clothes have been criticized then?”

For reference, here's what the outfit supposedly looked like (Bentivegna also added a cardigan and opaque tights):

After Alanna Bennett posted her version of the story on Twitter, followers’ responses were varied. Some have expressed outrage at Bentivegna’s treatment, arguing that if, in fact, her version of events is an accurate portrayal of what happened, it’s yet another example of women being judged according to their appearance, to a degree that men simply aren’t. Others, however, have claimed that Bentivegna was dressed too informally and that the job recruiter was right not to hire her.

I’m not sure where to come down on this. In a perfect world, job interviews would be based on skill and experience alone, but in practice, interviewers rely a lot on first impressions, and that includes candidates’ appearances. Dressing for job interviews is always a tricky thing because, as an interviewee, you don’t know what the culture of the company is like or what they expect from applicants. There are certainly companies out there that, despite the casual attire of their workers, would still expect a job candidate to dress formally for an interview. I think that Bentivegna’s outfit is cute, well-coordinated, and not at all revealing, but it’s also an ensemble that wouldn’t be out of place in casual, non-professional settings. If On Shift’s recruiters are the type that expect their applicants to wear suits, then I can see how they might see Bentivegna’s clothing as inappropriate.

However, I do think that the recruiter’s alleged statement to Bentivegna that she “looked more like [she] was about to go clubbing than to an interview” is really problematic. “Clubbing” is associated with night life, flirtation, and sexiness, and for the recruiter to allegedly cite that as an issue suggests that the objection wasn’t simply that Bentivegna’s clothes were too casual, but that she was somehow distractingly sexual. Her clothes were informal, but they weren’t revealing, so one has to wonder if it’s simply her femaleness – the fact that she has breasts and hips and other lady-parts under her clothes – that was tagged as inappropriate, if indeed the story is true. If that’s the case, then that is completely, totally wrong.