Tuesday, September 8, 2009

R U Age Blind?

Guest blog by David Armstrong:

As an older worker, I’m sensitive to hiring issues regarding people of my vintage, however, as a manager, I always thought that I totally disregarded age when I was hiring or evaluating employees.

Recently, I had two experiences that gave me a wake-up call to own perceptions regarding age as it relates to jobs.

The first was when we were introduced to a friend of my daughter, a bright, pleasant, intelligent young man who was reviewing for his annual flight simulator qualification. He is an airline pilot and daily is responsible for the safety and hopefully uneventful shepherding of hundreds of passengers across the country. He is 27. As we left the meeting, my wife and I looked at each other and said, “”He’s too young to be a pilot”.

The other occurrence was a call I received from my niece, an accomplished musician and who has been a substitute teacher in California schools. She now expects to be out of a job due to the California budget situation. She is 51. In her call, she told me she was applying for a job as a musician on a cruise ship. When I told my wife, we both said, “She’s too old”.

There is no question that each of these individuals is fully qualified and capable to pursue their respective career interests. Yet, my experience showed to me that despite by belief that I was age “blind”, I had stereotypical notions about the “proper” age for certain positions. I am now much more sensitive to my own perception and hope that with my awareness, I will not be judgmental in the future.

Have you have a perception that certain positions can only be filled by people in a certain age range? Did you act on that perception or ignore it? What was the outcome?

David Armstrong is a Principal at Inventory Curve and a member of the LiaV community.


Steve Sussman said...

This is a common problem and most people are not age blind. The content of this post is great and on target; the problem is that it is impossible to overcome stereotypical perceptions until and if - you have interactions with a person. This can alter the OMG "first impression."

Amer N. Raja said...

Age can't beat talent. However, talent get refine with age. Therefore, age is one factor to be considered among others.

Thanks for sharing thoughts

Al McGovern said...

Thank you for your candid, and personal reflections on prejudice based on age. As a 53 year young man, I find age can be more a state of mind (a person feels old, therefore is old) than a reflection of the number of years since birth. We can all laugh at the videos of Grandma, or crazy Uncle Louie dancing on a table at a wedding reception, captured for all to see on Americas Funniest Videos! Young at heart, for sure, "but advanced in years".

However, as it relates to "work", or a profession, there is no real substitute for talent and wisdom together. One without the other is dangerous, from my experience. And, generally speaking, wisdom is acquired by experience, and that usually implies more "time in the saddle".

From my perspective, the discrimination occurs not by saying someone looks "too young to be a pilot" or "too old to be a cruise line musician" (I'm a bit jealous, though!), but rather when you act on that statement and don't evaluate a person based on their accomplishments and talents. Age is not a talent, and accomplishments can be found at every age.
For what it's worth, you can replace "age" with "race" or "creed" or "nationality" and have the same discussion--and the same conclusion that discrimination/prejudice is wrong!

All this writing has made me tired! Time for a nap!

Stuart Bishop said...

It is certainly desirable to be age blind for "skills" (for want of a better word), but, sadly, when developing leaders we have to be alive to the prejudice of others as well as ourselves.

Generally, I hope I subscribe to "if you're good enough, you're old enough". The exception is when considering appointing emerging talent to supervisory/managerial/leadership roles. You may see all the necessary skills in your mentee, but there are undoubted risks for your business and for your protoge in placing them too early into a senior position where their line reports will resent their (perceived) youth and inexperience.

Exposing your younger talent too soon to the lack of cooperation that can be the result of others' prejudices about age, can risk setting them up to fail. Finding ways to build their credibility before giving them "the title" is often a difficult but necessary stage of developing them.

Wim Stout said...

Ha.... that is interesting. I am thinking about a senior manager who had always hired "young and cheap" labor and disregarded older and more expensive employees. Now in the current situation, he lost his job and is now on the hunt. He can't get a job because he is too old. Dispite the fact he discriminated his employees when hiring on age, he always had a good nose for talent and actually is a great guy and very good at his work. He complained about not getting a fair chance when going for a job.... And this guy is worth the extra penny because of his senior age.

To me hiring is simple (at least the rules to follow, the execution is not so easy). It's all about preparring yourself. Get a profile, not only form your candidate position but from the group he/she needs to fit in. Is it a young bunch who really can use the rest and piece making qualities a senior aged peer can offer? Or is de room filled with old dusty/rusty workers who need a little spice. Do you want to prepare somebody for a senior position etc. Going through a list like that, you will get within your wishlist an age profile as well. In such a case, age perception is avoided and actually calculated. It takes time to get experienced, talent alone is often not enough. When you are talented but too green in certain circumstances, chances are pretty good that its going to the wrong direction sometimes.

One last comment, did anyone who is hiring actually asked the workfloor to input in the position profile as well... I would say that for every 100 employees hired, the direct peers were only consulted 5 times seriously, I mean not a coffee talk for 2 minutes while filling up your mug, no, I mean decently...

Suman said...

All things remaining equal, I realize I would always prefer and respect age to a younger person.
Ofcourse the topic or field of discussion also matters. I would probably rely on the young for physical labor and the older individual for a min related work.
Likeability is also another factor that transcends age for me but mostly not :)
I suppose my attitude is culture driven, always respect the elder person and personally also I feel I have improved over the years.
I do feel guilty though after reading the comments and although it is probably next to impossible, will try to be less age biased!

Jaana Valimaki said...

This is a problem we see in our everyday lives. I think it's crucial to combine the person's age with experience and accomplishments- those two tell you already a lot about the person. Of course, before we make any judgments, we should get to know these people that we are evaluating. I ran into the age stereotyping while pursuing my goal to get into the MBA program. I got comments such as "you are too young to go into the program", "you will not get the full scope of the material!" I strongly disagree. Yes, I’m young but I have done a lot with my life and believe I can use these experiences in the classroom, even teach others from my past life knowledge.
Thank you for sharing this interesting topic!

Oussama's Take said...

Age is a very thorny issue and no matter how much one tries to age blind or insensitive, it just does not work. The outcry for new blood and innovation and tech savvy talent is all associated with younger people. As if older people can not be innovative or tech savvy and new blood by definition should be young.

I try to look at maturity, something that is associated with age but not necessarily old age.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I think all great postings. Everyone has an element that I would agree with. To me age isn't that important if the person is capable/qualified and has the personality to get along with those they will be working with. You can be age old and young at heart. You can be young in age but mature beyond years. It boils down to me how well I or others would get along in the situation at hand.

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