Turning Tables on Discrimination

There are various laws in the workplace both nationally and globally that come into play from a patchwork of jurisdictions, as well as company policies and rules of ethics that may or may not come into play as you enter the hiring process. Unless you’re conducting a search in concert with your attorney with the expressed goal of building a discrimination lawsuit (yes, this is a popular shakedown racket), none of that will actually help you get hired, so let’s remember the mission and identify the tactics needed to win the war, not fight the battle.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission names ten types of discrimination that it protects against and it’s extremely likely that you could find yourself on the receiving end of one or more of these baseball bats during the course of your career, so let’s look at how you can effectively deal with the realities:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Equal Pay/compensation
  • Genetic Information
  • National Origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race/Color
  • Religion
  • Retaliation
  • Sex
  • Sexual Harassment

If you’re pursuing an opportunity and it becomes evident that the hiring team is looking for a token employee to fill the job with a young, old, “less ethnic” (oh, c’mon!), tall, or cheap, etc., you’re not playing your strong suit, because you should focus on the market that considers your particular persuasion to be the preferable one. In all cases, you would rather be discriminated for than against, right? For example, if you are applying for positions in the food wholesale business but you’ve never worked in that industry, people may look at your background and correctly determine that you’re “not a food guy (or gal, oops..)”. You may argue that your experience in wholesale distribution is completely transferrable, but now you’re arguing and you may just be barking up the wrong tree.

So common sense: go where you’re wanted and appreciated, where you and/or your qualifications/profile will be welcomed, and where people like you are regularly sought out, not screened out.

Sometimes, though, that just isn’t possible.

When The Barrett Group Client Selection team is reviewing candidates for our service, we always look at the client’s potential pitfalls in the marketplace, yet sometimes they are so formidable that they become the main focus of the search. The Barrett Group record for an age discrimination issue stands at age 84 where a CFO reentered the job market after being retired for some years. Having the established ability to provide a quick financial turnaround to troubled hospital systems, he was hired for short consulting assignments, three in succession, which turned out so well he was able to retire again within a year. The hiring committees truly didn’t care if he was 5 or 500: they were losing millions of dollars a month and just needed him to live long enough to save their hospitals. He was able to totally sidestep the age issue.

Every job search has elements of poker and chess during some stages of the campaign, and race/ethnicity can work for you or against you depending on how you play it. After all, diversity in large corporations is an ongoing, highly public issue that extends beyond the laws that inspired it.

Sometimes, you can use your race as a positive in the hiring process because you will be seen by HR and Diversity folks as a clear path to hitting their demographic quotas, while the Marketing/PR teams are looking forward to seeing your smiling face on the website and news releases showing pictures of the annual picnic. Cynicism aside, I suppose, and I can certainly understand how one might resent being the beneficiary of what results in reverse discrimination, but we live in a complicated world, and our program at The Barrett Group program is designed to help you advance in the real employment market of today.

As you might imagine, we have ongoing discussions with our clients in order to help them navigate what can sometimes be highly charged issues. I invite you to take a good look at who you are professionally, and how you are perceived by those who do not know you. Having a very clear picture of both is a crucial first step for entering into a job search or career change. Choose your battles, but win the war!

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