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Porn Preference and More Asked of Job-Seekers at Gates Ventures


Woman with a disgusted expression on her face

One of the questions allegedly posed to a woman seeking a job at billionaire Bill Gates’ private office was whether she had ever “danced for dollars.” Others reported questions involved the job candidates’ sexual proclivities, past drug use, and psychological and medical history.


News of the explicit -— and in some cases unlawful questions — were recently detailed in a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal. Women who were interviewed for jobs at Gates’ private investment office alleged they were asked to discuss these details with a security firm that screened candidates for employment. Male job candidates were not asked similar questions, the newspaper reported.


The newspaper indicated the questions were asked to determine whether the job-seekers were at risk of being blackmailed while working for Gates Ventures. The job-seekers also said they were asked to complete pre-employment assessment forms about mental and medical health as a condition of any job offer. Questions about a job candidate’s psychiatric history or health before a job offer is prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The Gates Foundation told the newspaper such practices would be “unacceptable,” while the third-party contractor conducting the interviews, Concentric Advisors, was quoted saying “its protocols comply with applicable laws.” A spokesman for Gates Ventures said all background checks were “identical for men and women,” according to People magazine.


While background checks of public records, verification of resume content, and reference checks are standard vetting practices conducted by employers, employment lawyers told the Wall Street Journal the alleged questions about sexual history were highly unusual and offensive. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking pre-employment medical questions or asking prospective employees to take medical exams before making a job offer. Asking job-seekers about past drug use could also violate the same federal law, because drug addiction is considered a disability. Even when a job candidate signs a consent form, the questions about medical or psychiatric history remain illegal.


This is where Alphy’s Reflect AI has value. Reflect AI is a communications tool that is trained to help detect language that is harmful, helpful, and even unlawful. Reflect AI works in email and video communications to provide users an objective view of what they’re saying and how it might be interpreted by others.


Here’s what would happen by asking the following questions in a video interview using Reflect AI:



In considering you for this job, we'd like to ask: Have you ever had an extramarital affair?

A Reflect AI response bubble with a warning emoji and the words "gender discrimination?"

We like to ask all of our prospective employees what kind of pornography they watch?

A Reflect AI response bubble with a warning emoji and the words "gender discrimination?"

In order to hire you, we need you to take a medical assessment

A Reflect AI response bubble with a warning emoji and the words "disabilities discrimination?"

We don’t want to hire anyone who’s ever had an STD

A Reflect AI response bubble with a warning emoji and the words "disabilities discrimination?"

Before we make any job offers, we need to know whether you’ve ever danced for dollars as a stripper?

A Reflect AI response bubble with a warning emoji and the words "gender discrimination?"

A spokeswoman for Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who is worth $108 billion and ranks as the world’s fifth wealthiest man, told the Journal: “We have never received information from any vendor or interviewee that inappropriate questions were asked during the screening process.” Gates himself is known to have had at least one extramarital affair and questionable interactions with female employees, according to reports by the New York Times and other publications.


While it’s unclear what will happen in the aftermath of the allegations, there are sure to be lawsuits and further scrutiny on job screening questions. American businesses spend $1.2 trillion a year on employee miscommunication, with nearly a half-billion dollars going to legal fees.



Carolyne Zinko is the editorial director of Alphy.


Photo by OSPAN ALI on Unsplash


Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails prior to send, flags conversational missteps (and successes) in video meetings in real-time, and upskills individual communication with targeted and personalized microlearning.


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