I hear it once a day…a euphemism for age, gender, race, faith, ethnicity…anything you can think of. Few folks will be absolutely open about it. They kind of mumble the words in an uncomfortable, low toned, embarrassing manner, with their revealing guilt. Sometimes, rarely, a good business reason underlies the discrimination. Thirty or so years ago, I remember the owner of a trucking company telling me he wanted to hire an overweight, older lady to do the front office scheduling and bookkeeping. He insisted that he didn’t want the drivers hanging around the front office ogling and flirting with the woman he hired. It wasn’t illegal to discriminate this way back then. Although it still might have been wrong, I totally understand his point.
I really understand the rationale behind this issue, though I disagree. A tribal mentality will always exist. Let’s face it, an employee with growing children probably wants to be home for dinner with the family in the evening rather than endless happy hours with younger peers and ‘clients’ with nothing better to do. And if that is a part of their business, it just may not fit some folks. It often, though, may never cross the mind of managers that happy hours may not be the only way of being effective.
Young, inexperienced managers often shy away from hiring very experienced, older employees for fear of being treated like a ‘kid’ instead of a boss. Older managers claim they don’t want to mess with ‘raising’ kids by putting up with the strains and distractions of youth…romances, social life, that is more important than work, etc. They say, “I’ve already raised my own children, don’t want to raise any again.” Both ends of the spectrum aren’t universal.
This ‘cultural fit’ issue is just one variable some employers refuse to deal with. I get it. Business is rough enough without having to worry about an issue that might become a problem. And if companies only hire the ‘same’ kind of folks, they’ll never know what else might work.
As a job seeker, it is useless to rail against this bias. It may not be right, but it ain’t gonna change. Quit expending energy on it. There are lots of wrong things in the world. As the need for good employees increases, these biases will decrease because of demand.
I’ve experienced European firms as well as East Indian firms who hire Americans simply because they need them in order to do business in America but I can tell in speaking with them that they have a disdain as well as a condescending attitude towards Americans and American businesses. They often look down their noses at us, implying that we really don’t know what we’re doing. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. I don’t know.
And then there are some cultures like my heritage, Middle Eastern, where it is simply accepted and assumed that everybody lies. Well, a milder way to put it is that they don’t always tell the truth or all the truth. That doesn’t mean that all Middle Eastern folks lie. Most of us don’t. It just means that bending the truth is a lot more accepted in the Middle East than in America. I know one president of a company who is East Indian who won’t do business with most East Indian companies because he says the way they are taught to do business in India isn’t the way he chooses to operate. Bending the truth, he says, or telling people that they will do something they don’t really intend to do is accepted in that culture.
The truth is that lots of people at any age act crazy. Lots of folks of different races, genders and ethnic backgrounds see the world differently than you. Some outright lie and some outright don’t like the rest of us.
Some of these issues are perceptions and some are total misperceptions. I placed a 64-year-old sales guy with a woman-owned sales organization where the 14 women who comprise the organization averaged 32 years old. He’s doing great and they all laugh about the perspective that he brings. (I doubt, though, it would be easy to get used to “cultural” lying.)
We’d all probably be a little better off if we’d simply forget employees fitting into the “culture” of our company. Just be aware, though, that as a job candidate you may very well run into cultural bias. Complaining about it probably won’t do you one bit of good. You are still not likely to be hired. Be aware, however, that you probably have some of those cultural biases yourself.