50+ Employment Discrimination is Alive and Well
Probably not in Hollywood? Last I checked, he was still busy making movies.
But would that be true if George Clooney’s career was in corporate America instead of Hollywood? Would he be employable at 54? Not likely, unless he was already a senior executive with the types of board level and other contacts that would enable him jump to another executive position if at any point he needed it.
That, unfortunately is the truth about unemployment today. If you are fifty or older today in America, you are considered over the hill by most corporate HR departments are concerned. In speaking with recruiters since the Great Recession, the story I have heard repeatedly is that frequently the most qualified candidates are in their 50’s and 60’s, but clients don’t want to see their resumes. Of course employers would say so publicly, but they ensure that recruiters understand that over fifty equates to ‘over the hill.’ What can the recruiters do? To keep their clients, they weed out those their clients deem ‘too old.’
Of course this employment practice is illegal, but it’s also rampant across corporate America. No one will admit it publicly, not HR professionals or recruiters, but it is an all too common reality. Otherwise, why have so many highly qualified and experienced professionals in this age range sought work for one, two, three or more years without gaining employment commensurate with their qualifications? Many with stellar resumes cannot even obtain meaningful interviews?
Federal and state government EEOC departments are turning a blind eye as well. For starters, how difficult would it be for them to conduct a study of some Fortune corporations to compare the age dispersion of those they have hired since 2008, with that of those unemployed nationally? Making an example of a few of our larger corporations would get the attention of companies nationwide.
Hollywood understands that ‘mastery of craft’ has great value, why not corporate America. Consider Maggie Smith. She is 80! Yes, that’s EIGHTY years old. But, have you seen any of her recent movies, such asThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or My Old Lady? She’s incredible! And she’s showing no signs of letting up, with more television and movie projects in the works. She is still at the top of her profession. Age hasn’t diminished her skills.
I have met my share of former managers and executives who are burnouts by their 50’s and 60’s. I certainly would not hire one of them. At the same time, I have also met many dynamic individuals who, due to company ‘right-sizings’ and plant closures, have suddenly found themselves unemployed. Smart companies have been bucking this trend and are gaining a strategic advantage over their competitors by hiring these highly valuable workers.
The past few years I have had the privilege of speaking annually for a local support and networking group comprised of long term unemployed workers, most in this age range. Watching their discouragement change to encouragement is is my reward for doing so.
Many are highly passionate, dynamic, skilled individuals possessing a wealth of experience and knowledge. It amazes me that corporate America is so very blind as to be oblivious to the waste of such a precious resource! Laid off two, three or more years now, some have given up and accepted forced retirement or accepted positions far below their ability, just to be employed.
It’s depressing for them and a loss for the organizations that are missing the opportunity to capitalize on the contribution they would make. They may not have an MBA or other advanced degree which is so highly prized by employers today, however their knowledge and experience gained over decades is far more valuable.
I graduated from college with a Business major and an Economics minor. I ‘thought’ I was prepared for the business world. But after six months on my first job, I came to the surprising revelation that what my education afforded me were fundamental tools by which I could begin to ‘learn the art of business.’ I am not downplaying the contribution of the 20 and 30 year olds in the workplace. My wife and I have five children and three son-in-laws all who have advanced degrees completed or are in process, including several at the MD / PhD levels. As valuable as their degrees are, they are only tools. Knowledge and experience must must be gained on the job.
Through the years that I have been consulting on Innovation and Strategy, I have on occasions encountered recent MBA’s who thought and acted as though their degree made them business experts. They assumed that the case studies they learned in school equated to actual business experience? Those business case studies were undoubtedly instructive, however, many of the currently unemployed, fifty plus years olds actually “lived” those case studies. Now who do you think is better prepared to most effectively apply the lessons learned?
I have taken more flights than I care to remember over the course of my career, including a few that very nearly ended in disaster. Today, as I board an airplane, I glance into the cockpit, hoping to see some gray hair. Nothing wrong with young pilots, everyone has to learn somewhere along the way. I’d just rather not be on one of their flights when serious trouble ensues.
In my college days, I had the opportunity to go sailing with the first TWA pilot to be qualified on the then brand new Boeing 747. He was TWA’s most senior pilot. He earned what I thought was an exorbitant salary and I naively asked him the question, “Do you really ‘earn’ that much money?” He smiled at me and said, “Not most of the time. In fact, most of the time, especially on transatlantic flights, I have to fight boredom in the cockpit. But then again, once or twice a year, when several hundred lives are in my hands for a few terrifying minutes of near catastrophe, I earn every penny of it!”
I never forgot his response. And I learned from it!