Friday, March 19, 2004

Workplace discrimination

Where did you think I might be going with this topic title?



Nope. Let's talk a little about age discrimination. Pretty boring, huh? Not really. There is a class of overachievers or, as I like to put it, people that have lived too fast or too soon that hit absolutely concrete ceilings in the workplace regarding title, compensation, you name it. I've always lived sooner than everyone else in my age bracket -- I managed a retail store and instructed SCUBA diving from age 13-18, worked as a computer consultant from age 15-20, worked as an operations manager for a security firm during college, and interned as a consultant summers during college. I must say that I feel I've been pretty lucky having bosses that have been able to look beyond my actual age and instead evaluated my performance and maturity.

I saw this post over at Ensight, and was somewhat surprised to see that Jeremy Wright was having problems because of his age. At 24, Jeremy is married, has a family, and is the author of a very well-read business blog. More interesting than the post itself is to look at Jeremy's follow-on comments to his post. Specifically this portion:

"It's interesting. After several more emails back and forth, it seems like the Recruiter's feeling is that my age really is a huge determining factor, and that I should be looking more at mid-entry stuff.

Things that most college students would be applying for, or those who are 2 years out.

I can see his perspective, as it really is a valid concern.

I know I'll find the ideal job for me eventually. It's just sad that it sounds like it might not be until I'm 30 and have 13 years experience and have finished my Masters. And then people will be wondering what took me so long to "rise to my potential".

I'm not bitter though, it's just a cause of ongoing frustration when an employer or recruiter will admit I'm qualified, admit I'd be worth investing into and admit I would be worth hiring (I've often heard "no question, we'd hire you in an instant if only...")... Just that my age gets in the way."

I guess that I have the advantage of looking older than my actual age, and I certainly do not make a point of bringing up my young age, although it does always seem to come up. Do I get shafted because of my age? You bet. And it sucks.

I think one of the major reasons for the "discrimination" is the fact that the people that are hiring you, that you are working with, that you are working for did no grow up as fast as current generations. Certainly, folks that are in upper management at many companies now were not making the kinds of salaries that we overachievers are asking for (wouldn't it be cooler if I could use the word "commanding" in place of "asking for"?). You can see the gears going in these guy's heads: "I wasn't making $100,000 when I was 24." Ok, and I'm sure that you had to walk to school . . . uphill (both ways) . . . in the snow . . . in flip flops.

So my advice to employers: Become gatherers of talent. Be blind to age. Take a page out of the Dell playbook and realize that you can combine your years of knowledge with youthful exuberance and new ideas and that you will ultimately be better off for it. Yes, change is painful. No, there's nothing written that says you have to make more than the people you hire (although you want to because it makes you feel good), nor is there anything set in stone that says you have to cap the pay of a young person to what you made at that age (listen, it's been 15-20 years since you were that age -- things got more expensive).

My advice to all of you people that have lived too soon: One of the benefits of being young and mature (or wise beyond your years) is the ability to develop a breadth of experience. To absolutely be able to experience all kinds of things. EXPERIENCE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN! I went into college thinking I wanted to be a consultant, interned as a consultant, and realized, based on experiences, that I didn't want to be a consultant at all. You will be the most lucky if you can find a job doing what you love to do. Turn this age "discrimination" into a positive and absolutely blow away those that are evaluating you. I truly believe that if you are doing what you love to do, then opportunity will come your way. Finally, treat others the same way once you have risen to the point where you are able to make those kinds of decisions -- I give young people chances all the time because people gave them to me.

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