Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Discrimination that is Still Quietly Accepted

Do you know which one I am referring to?

• No, not racial
• No, not religion
• No, not weight
• No, not sexual orientation
• No, not physical disabilities

It is ageism. Once you cross the age of 40, your odds of getting a job decrease dramatically. When and IF you get the call for an interview, there is nothing worse than seeing the look on the twenty-something’s face. And during the conversation getting compared to the interviewer’s parent. I’ve heard the following:

• Your earrings are so nice. My mom has a pair just like them.
• How did you do all your research in the ‘old days’ before the Internet?
• Can you keep up with a fast paced office?
• What was your GPA in college?

I won’t name the companies whose HR reps asked those questions, but they were NOT small organizations. One of them was Google.

So, you know you have the experience. You know you have the expertise, the stamina, the enthusiasm that would make for a great employee, but you are judged by your age because even if you are the best candidate for the position, the thought that you might not fit in with the “just out of school” crowd. That would make for a bad hire.

I did a consulting gig for a very hip entertainment company not long ago and when I moved a cabinet, all the much younger boys and girls looked horrified saying “I would have done that.” Or “Why didn’t you ask me; I would have moved that for you.” I thought, “Dear God, I am 49; I’m in good shape; I look a little younger but clearly this staff thinks I’m a relic.”

To me, I’m 21…..I don’t feel “49”….although I am unsure as to what that is. I eat well, work out, watch “Family Guy” and “Celebrity Rehab” and I listen to Howard Stern. I’m married with three dogs (the kids), drive a sports car…I keep up with marketing trends, the economy, world news, business strategies….Oh, and my favorite singer is Lady GaGa.

But let’s get back to the core issue: Ageism is wrong and should not be tolerated…but if you become a victim of it, the biggest issue is PROVING IT.

The Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967. The law promotes employment based on ABILITY not AGE. It prohibits hiring and firing decisions based on age. The ADEA also forbids mandatory retirement at a certain age for nearly ALL employees. Further, many state laws forbid mandatory retirement for small employers not covered by the ADEA. Finally, you should know that the ADEA is an extension of the Civil Rights law of 1964.

OK, so now you know the basic facts of what the ADEA is but does it get enforced? Check the Las Vegas section of for marketing and promotions jobs. Most not only want your resume, they want a picture. A Picture!! Why? Because they don’t want someone who they perceive is less than perky, youthful and sexy to represent their clubs, restaurants, hotels or casinos. Most are publicly owned and should adhere to the law. But they have these huge legal departments….

There is a reason that both men and women -- in far greater numbers than in previous years -- are coloring their hair, working out with weights, injecting their faces with fillers, getting eyelash extensions and permanent make up not to mention getting the fat sucked out of pretty good bodies. The competition out there is brutal and even if you’ve got the best “pedigree”, if you don’t look the part, you don’t even get considered. “Next!”

For the record, I admit to doing a few of the items mentioned above because I felt pressured in our youth crazed culture….especially after a “lay off” at a major beverage company. I was over 40….didn’t fit the demographic they were after nor match the one internally.

One has to wonder that if some of the companies – going back to the bust – had had more senior, experienced executives, maybe, just maybe millions of dollars would not have been wasted on corporate retreats, foosball tables and Herman Miller chairs. Instead a little grey hair coupled with about 15 years experience could have saved some of the great ideas that went the way of the 8-track tape.

Bottom line: If you think you are being discriminated against, you CAN take it to the EEOC. Be prepared to fight and get legal counsel. If you are a “boomer”, if it hasn’t happened to you in this economy, it likely will.

Forty; Fifty; Sixty or Seventy is NOT old and NOT irrelevant. You have value, smarts, savvy, experience and substance to ride out the hard times. That’s what the world’s economy needs right now more than ever. Employers: Are you listening?

Mary Ann McQueen Butcher

1 comment:

coachsappho said...

I am so glad you blogged on ageism, because I may be encountering it in more subtle ways in terms of building my business. So it's not just a concept affecting 40 plus workers in big corporations.

I serve 35 plus lesbian women, so, you can imagine my challenges. Either way, there is really no one to 'sue', it's an issue of getting attention out there as to the value of what I can offer.

What are some suggestions on making the fact you are a 40plus professional serving the 40 plus market?