Millennial 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.

This past week it was our Millennial Think Tank’s turn to weigh in. 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
  • 29.3% Sex
  • 28.6 % Gender
  • 23.2% Age

Our panelists this week included:

Samantha Estoesta, a young Millennial working in Public Interest Research and published poet

Albert Qian, a young Millennial working in Tech

Helen Androlia, an older Millennial working in Social Media Marketing Strategy

Joe Cardillo,  an older Millennial, Content and Analytics specialist

John Graham, a middle Millennial and CEO of Egofree Media

Primary Insights:

Each of our Millennial panelists have experienced or witnessed ageism, racism, sexism, or a combination of the three in the workplace. Inappropriate racial / gender jokes are still being made, out loud, in Corporate America.

Gender Discrimination: The women on our panel spoke of regularly hearing comments like “oh aren’t you cute” in the workplace. Women in traditionally male roles (copywriting, strategy within advertising etc.) faced more overt sexism, often from older coworkers.

Those with experience in tech companies had stories of “Bro Culture,” a predominantly white male, and under 30, phenomenon.

Helen pointed to  “micro-aggressions,”  consisting of  subtle slights that, when called out, are often attributed to the victim’s imagination.  She also referenced the Ellen Pao lawsuit. Our panelists agreed that there was obvious discrimination in that case, but that legally, hunches don’t matter; even though women KNOW discrimination is occurring. When they speak up they are often described as “sensitive, hysterical, or emotional.”

Have “isms” gone underground in the corporate world? Our panel all agreed that corporate racism/sexism/ageism is harder to prove, even though you know it’s there.

John is a 6’3” African American and has a deep voice. He has been told more than once that he is ‘intimidating’ by his very presence. He and Tiffany, an African American female, told of commonly hearing remarks about how ‘educated’ they were; something not said to their similarly educated white colleagues.

John has also been called condescending, but never “uppity” – uppity would have been OVERT.

Joe believes that things that used to be out in the open are now often hidden. As a white male he is often “invisible,” and has experiences  where people assume he is ‘part of the shitty human being club.’ Discrimination is becoming institutionalized,  pushed underground, and harder to call out.

Ageism specifically: Our Millennials saw Boomers in particular as being unwilling to cede power, and reported dismissive attitudes to Millennial-suggested changes. Statements like:

 “How can we appeal to the Millennial demographic?” …but they don’t really want the Millennial input.

Our panelists believe these type of comments illustrate that although older workers value the Millennial as a target customer, they don’t put much weight into Millennial opinions when they’re crafting marketing campaigns or workplace policies.

All of our panelists have experienced blatant Millennial slurs, often in the form or jokes or repetition of the ‘entitled’ stereotypes.

Millennial Positive Ageism: Some of our Millennials have been told by recruiters and HR people that they are ‘looking for a Millennial.’

It is no surprise that Silicon Valley has serious ageism problems. Tech companies are seeking 90 hour/week workers, and the prevailing attitude is that they top out at 27. Bro Culture exists in start ups for certain, but not all Millennials want it. Our 20 something Millennials are already worried about being squeezed out by GenZ.

Dealing with a combination of isms: Some of our panelists are female and members of an ethnic minority group, which reminded Joe of a post by Erica Joy on Medium called The Other Side of Diversity. If you are black, and a woman – you have to deal with the “double whammy.”

Samantha spoke from experience, saying that immigrant women often feel like there’s only one spot at the table. All of our minority women told of trying to be the ‘perfect immigrant’ or ‘perfect minority’ so as not to give anyone an excuse to discriminate against their work.

Other stereotypes: We also discussed the stereotype of the Asian in IT. Our Asian panelists spoke of being treated as less valuable by their own peers because they weren’t in tech.

Samantha and Albert spoke to being the only Asians on their marketing teams, and experiencing pressure from home to conform as well. Albert described the ‘evil Asian’ often seen in Hollywood,  the ‘docile Asian,’ and the ‘too friendly Asian’ stereotypes that he believes impact him across the board in life, including at work.

Despite the long list of experiences in discrimination that our panel personally experienced, they all believe that we have come a long way. There is still a lot of work to be done.

Watch the entire hangout broadcast on video in its entirety below, or listen to the podcast:

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.

Photo credit: Equality via photopin (license).

VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany's Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.

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