I never worried about age discrimination.
I love to work and I work hard. I see great value in a job well done. Perhaps my love for work has blinded me to the fact that age discrimination or ageism exists and is alive and well in the work place. Whenever I hear or read about discrimination, it is someone else facing it, not I. As I age and as younger generations surround me with their mad skills and crazy knowledge, as well as their seemingly easy grasp of today’s technologies, I realize that though I still feel it, I am no longer eighteen.
Never Say Never.
I recently made a job change and up until that final interview, I hadn’t yet considered that maybe my age would be a factor. I did consider the fact that I had years of experience and wisdom that only age could bring – but I thought of this as a benefit. It was only as I sat alone in my hotel room after that fateful last interview did I think, “What if they think I am too old?” – strikes the harsh chord of fear in my heart. I know many who have been subjected to age discrimination – so I know, sadly, it does exists. I just never thought I could be subjected to it and luckily, I wasn’t.
I have friends and family who struggled for serious lengths of time to secure work and of course, they questioned if it was their age. A few even held senior leadership positions for most of their adult lives and now find themselves “over-qualified” and unemployable. I still feel new to the business world and am ever intrigued and plagued by the desire to learn as much as I can every day, there have been times when I have looked around a workplace and realized that I was the elder in the room. And while I have never considered dying my hair or injecting botox into my face, I wonder if someday I might.
Every candidate who doesn’t become the placement, who doesn’t get the job has been discriminated against in some form or another – that is the nature of the interview and selection process.
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Many years ago, I attended my first conference as a recruiter. I was nervous and had pieced together an outfit as I didn’t even own a full-fledged suit. My company (an executive search firm) was exhibiting and we were getting ready to “educate” attendees as to why our services were better than any other firm. The doors to the Expo Hall opened and throngs of HR Professionals entered. My boss leaned over and whispered in my ear, pointing up the aisle, “We want to work for her.” A woman was making her way toward us, I felt like I was waiting to meet the queen.
She stepped into our booth and shook my hand. I was blown away by her poise and character, her knowledge and grace. Turning to me as she left, “It was nice to meet you, Rayanne,” remembering my name. She had been, at the time, the Chief Human Resource Officer for a very large health care system overseeing four states, 45,000 employees with 8,000 under her direct purview. My firm completed several executive search assignments for her and I have since considered it a great privilege and feel lucky – many years later – to still call her my friend.
Age Discrimination Has No Bias
Not long after this first encounter, my friend Nancy entered a sketchy job market and the painful process of a protracted job search that would last nearly two years.
Why? She was/is kind, intelligent, holds great wisdom, an expert in HR laws and processes, and is a consummate businesswoman with an outstanding reputation. She consistently networked with her recruitment and HR friends, cruised through the job boards, had interviewed with top executive search firms but to no avail.
Again, why? Because she was 58 years old. I asked her why she thought it was taking so long, “Ageism…, a recruiter actually told me I was too old. I have heard it all: that I didn’t know what a hard operational HR job was, that I was over-qualified, they were looking for a different profile…”
She has never misrepresented her age but, still, she was surprised to hear it actually said out loud considering the legalities attached to this kind of statement. The recruiter who said the words “too old” was representing a hospital that had recently settled a $30 million lawsuit, “I would have thought they would want someone who could help them avoid additional legal issues. They want someone mid-career, not someone who has been there, done that. This did wake me up and it is definitely an issue.”
Options? “There are not very many. I could hang out my own shingle and someone has talked to me about working with outplacement. I just keep networking and going back to job boards. The ideal position would be with talent development or consulting, strategic planning, or organizational development. And yes, the economy definitely contributes. In the past, I might have been hired temporarily, they would have taken a chance.”
Bad Candidate Experience Exists, Even for HR Professionals
I find it ironic that the same people who once bowed down to Nancy as she walked through Expo Halls, who consistently wooed her, and yearned to have her business were gone – nowhere. Friends with smaller firms stayed in touch and called every once in a while to see how she is doing. But it was the bigger firms who disappointed – they just disappeared. “During my career, I have given them each a considerable amount of work.” Nancy continued, “It is a good lesson that you are not just your work. You have more value in the world, this would be twenty times more difficult if you didn’t.”
“I think it is typical of those in HR to put others way ahead and keep themselves at the bottom of the list. Push yourself to the top and always have your resume ready to go. Always network, even when you are not looking for a job. You cannot afford to not do these things, you never do know…” My friend added, “If there is ever a time in your life when you need to ask friends and family for help and support, you have to go ahead and do it. You need to do it, humble yourself and don’t give up.”
Unlike many others, Nancy’s story has a happy ending – she is the VP of HR for MPTV.com, the health care provider of choice for the California Entertainment Industry. And she takes her lesson with her, every day to her world of work in HR.
You can Beat Bias
Know your value.
Expand your network.
Do not let discrimination win or a bad candidate experience get the better of you.
And if you are in HR or Recruiting, look beyond the gray hair and wrinkles, you might find just what you need – and learn a lesson or two yourself.
Never give up, never stop learning. I won’t either.
by Rayanne Thorn
Talent Management Series
Part 1: The Greatest Challenge for Businesses Today? Talent Management
Part 2: Successful Talent Management Requires Creative Retention
Part 3: Culture Breeds Commitment: The Truth about Talent Loyalty
Part 4: 5 Simple Reasons You Didn’t Get The Job
Part 5: The Impact of The Social Jobseeker
**Some information presented in this series comes from the book, Ups and Downs of Talent Management in Challenging Business Environments. If you’d like a free copy of this quick read, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to send you a copy. Thanks!