GenX Think Tank: Ageism, Racism and Sexism in the Workplace

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On our Think Tanks this month we are tackling HR Challenges, in particular: ageism, sexism, racism, and their impact on the workplace. We are looking at the topic from each generation’s viewpoint in order to measure how much progress has been made, and what challenges still exist.

Our Boomer Think Tank weighed in, as did our Millennial Think Tank; this post focuses on the insights from our GenX Think Tank. Before I give you the overall insights, here are a few relevant statistics to be aware of:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had 93,727 discrimination charges in 2013, with the primary areas of complaint being:

  • 35% Race
  • 3% Sex
  • 6 % Gender
  • 2% Age

Our panelists this week included:

  • Jason Konopinski – A younger GenXer, entrepreneur, and digital marketer
  • Amy McCloskey Tobin – an older GenXer and VP of Content & Strategy at ARCOMPANY
  • Jewel Taylor – a middle GenXer and Chain Supply Analyst
  • Stephan Thompson – older GenXer and Claims Supervisor

You may have noticed Google+ Hangouts’ quality deteriorating as of late; sadly, we fell victim to the use of free technology when the on-air hangout failed to record. Therefore I have neither a hangout recording nor a podcast to share, but I can provide you with the insights we gathered.


Primary Insights

Our panelists have experienced or witnessed ageism, racism, sexism, or a combination of the three in the workplace, but in varying degrees.

Gender Discrimination: Both women on our panel reported a fair amount of gender discrimination throughout their careers. As both Jewel and I self-describe as ‘outspoken,’ we wondered if perhaps we were more overt targets of gender discrimination than women who were not as direct, and therefore not as ‘threatening.’

I worked in a very male dominated industry where women in executive positions were rare to non-existent; I have first-hand evidence of being paid considerably less than my male counterparts with lesser skills, experience, and success.

The majority of Jason’s bosses have been women; to him that was a normal situation.

Jule added that her greatest challenges were with female colleagues. Our panel considered that gender discrimination in the workplace causes women to feel at competition with each other for fewer positions at the top, since there is still not parity in management.

Racism: Stephan and Jewel both experienced things that our panel judged to be coded racism. Both told of repeatedly hearing comments like:

“I don’t think of you as black.”

“You don’t sound black.”

“You are so articulate.”

Just as we heard in our Millenial panel, many think that racism has ‘gone underground,’ which makes it more difficult to call out even as you experience it.

Ageism: Jason, the youngest member of our panel, clearly remembered his ideas being dismissed by older workers as if he were too young to offer anything of merit. Early in his career older employees and supervisors forced him to prove himself over and over because he was ‘too young,’ and his approach reinforced that.

As aging Xers our panel has Millennials nipping at their heels; all are intensely aware that being over 40 puts them in a different segment of the employee workforce.

When I was in management at a previous job I was cautioned by my superiors about hiring anyone over 40, as they are in a protected class and more difficult to fire.


Overall, our Gen Xers seemed to have fewer incidents of racism, ageism or sexism to discuss than our Millennial Think Tank; Helen Androlia, our moderator,  doubts that it is due to their experience and wondered if it were perhaps due to individual personality types and their reticence to discuss it. I think that 20+ years in the workforce may mean that our Xers have come to accept certain discriminations as part of everyday work life.

There was a recurring theme of ‘not quite’ when we pressed our panel. It was as if their experiences weren’t overtly racist, sexist, or ageist, but as if steps towards minimal inclusion of women in management, or minorities in the workplace, acted as a shield for corporations against charges if ‘isms.’ Our Gen X TT felt it, saw it, but never quite so overtly that they felt that they could call it out.
At ARCOMPANY we  analyze data gathered from social media, websites, forums and search. This research helps inform and guide the communication efforts of many brands. If you want to learn more about implementing meaningful insights, we’re here to help.

One thought on “GenX Think Tank: Ageism, Racism and Sexism in the Workplace

  1. Steve_Dodd says:

    TARGET ALERT! I’ve been following ARCompany’s work regarding the “isms” (racism, sexism, ageism and I’ll add a new one, bullyism) and after hearing all of the discussion am really beginning to wonder about the reality of all of this. Of course it is “real” but I’m beginning to think it’s more of a fundamental human condition,
    nature and psychological thing than than just an “attitude”. If so, it can never be “fixed” just “managed” by individuals.

    I am really begin to believe that those who learn to manage these “isms” and learn how to react and respond (or unfortunately deliver) will succeed. Those who don’t, won’t and will be forever “blaming” their lack of “success” on the “isms”. We are what we are but IMHO how we learn what we are and learn how to leverage what we are is the key to the personal cure for whatever it is we feel “ismed” by.

    I also can’t help but think the changes we are seeing are directly related to how people are learning to react and manage their responses to these situations, not legislative enforcement or other “controlling” methods.

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