Blended Gen Think Tank: Ageism, Racism and Sexism in the Workplace

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As we round out the Think Tank series on Ageism, Racism, and Sexism in the Workplace, we brought together members of  3 generations to discuss their individual experiences. As we, at ARCOMPANY, continue to explore the Future of Work, these sensitive topics are a reality today. Have we truly progressed over time or do these “isms” exist in a different form?

The stats:

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

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, in 2013 black males earned $0.75 vs $1 white male while Hispanics made $.67 for every dollar made by a white male.

One number is still remarkable: Women today are still paid only $0.84 for every dollar paid to men.  And African American women and Latinas get even less.

In 2010, 36% of women ages 25 to 29 had attained at least a bachelor’s degree compared to just 28% of their male peers. While more women than men enroll in college today, when we look at the education levels, the greatest wage gap is seen between people with the most schooling under their belts and those without. Women with graduate degrees earn just 69.1% of what men with graduate degrees earn.

This week our diverse panel includes:

  • Sulemaan Ahmed – older GenXer, educator and works with senior executives and show them how to use digital technologies
  • Jermaine Young – older Millennial, online marketer as well as a direct care provider for MRDD
  • Ryan Pannell – middle GenXer and hedge fund manager
  • Diane Court – Boomer and Leadership and business executive coach
  • Carol Ann Dykes – Boomer, work with entrepreneurs in science and technology, as well as at manage an incubator program at Univeristy of Central Florida
  • Karima-Catherine Goudiam – middle GenXer, entrepreneur, and digital strategist

You can listen or view the hangout in its entirety below or follow the recap afterward.

Racism is less overt these days

While there is apparent progress when it comes to race, racism at work still exists. Both Sulemaan and Jermaine have not faced overt discrimination but have been discouraged from pursuing more advanced positions.

Jermaine’s spoke about his early experience working in a retail store where he was asked to show someone “the ropes” and train them on a managerial position. The individual was then hired as his manager a few weeks later. Jermaine recalls never being invited to apply for the opportunity but being qualified to train someone for the position to which he reported.

For Sulemaan, his parents have always taught him to work harder and smarter so people don’t have a reason to say no to you. He recalls one incident when he was younger, being told directly,

You’re never going to make director level because you are ***….   He thought: I have a Masters Degree in Computer Science and I’ll go someplace where people respect what I do and who I am [regardless]. Not everyone has that opportunity but I [continuously remind myself] how it felt at that moment.

On a previous hangout, Joe Cardillo, introduced the post by Erica Joy called, “The Other Side of Diversity.” In it she talks about her experience as a Black Female whose experience was largely in “homogenous” environments and what she had to do to fit in. She was the token “Black” and the token “Female”.

Tokenism does create this “appearance” of social inclusiveness and diversity. Wikipedia defines this as

…a policy and practice of making a perfunctory gesture towards the inclusion of members of minority groups to deflect accusations of social discrimination.

No panel member was ever put in this position. While the group agreed that inclusion was necessary, competency and skill sets needed to justify the move towards inclusion, first and foremost.

Sexism shows some positive signs of progression

It was refreshing to hear from both Carol Ann and Diane (both living in Orlando, FLA) who have not experienced, nor do they know of incidences of sex discrimination; most interesting because they work in tech.

There are many female CEOs in Orlando. Diane noted that sexism is much more prevalent in the gaming environment, however, most women felt very comfortable speaking up. Men are also more empathetic in Orlando than in Silicon Valley.  Diane echoed Carol Ann’s remarks that sexism, luckily, is not an issue where they live.

Ryan, who works in high finance, noted that women were not cultivated from an early age to pursue Math.  Women are less represented in the investment industry. Most “quants” are either Asian or East Indian.

Both Jermaine and Carol Anne agree with Ryan. “Parental discrimination” contribute to the “self-limiting attitude” that inflict women today. As per Carol Ann,

Parents buy into these notions [that girls aren’t well-versed in maths or sciences] and they don’t support their daughters and encourage them to go into these careers because of this. General societal views are that women aren’t as likely to succeed where it takes a lot of confidence to be successful.

I noted that women were the natural caregivers, and were not taught to take the other’s viewpoint, and not be aggressive. As women emerge in the workforce, especially in male-dominated “manager” environments, we learn to become more male or the anti-male: toggling between aggression and manipulation to get to the result we are looking for. Karima agreed that she’s seen incidences of women having to “play the game”. Those acting with confidence would be called “jerks or bitches”.  As per Karima,

Women who are manipulative are preferred [to those who are aggressive] because they don’t threaten people’s inadequacies and they keep the status quo.

For Ryan, having seen his mother struggle with sexism in her adult life opened his eyes to the reality of the issue. As the first female neurosurgeon in Canada, she fought against challenges,  not only as a female but an “older” doctor trying to make it in a typically “male” area of medicine.

If you were female, you were expected to be an OBGYN, a GP or a Pediatrician. But Neuro or Cardiac…. that was man territory…

Sulemaan and Karima both agreed that they don’t believe in quotas. Affirmative action needs to be grounded in competence.

Ageism discounts the value of individuals

There once was a time when people were expected to retire at 65. Some industries still mandate it. However, it is now an option and it poses challenges to those who do  not want to retire. For both Diane and Carol Ann (Boomers) the subtle hints of ageism occur in the implicit biases that they are too set in their ways… or they are too expensive to employ. Conversely, if you are willing to make less than your experience level, you are likewise judged on your actual level of expertise.

Jermaine points out that there was a time when Boomers and GenXers ran the show and his ideas were deemed “too creative” so he had to adapt to what was already existing. Now, with social media, his voice is getting more airplay because of the prevailing belief that Millennials understand the new media and technologies. Karima was quick to point out that she is seen as a good alternative to GenY because she speaks from experience not about tools. Sulemaan wisely added,

You can’t teach experience. Don’t discount people who are seasoned… At the same time when you are teaching older executives about the new media let them preserve their dignity.


Among the panellists within this hangout, there were fewer incidences of sexism. However, given the viewpoint from two more experienced ladies who live in a much more progressive ‘tech’ town where the female voice is heard loud and clear, this provides great promise that strides are happening in this sector, however anomalous from the “wretched” Valley.

Racism was less of a prevailing issue in this hangout.Previous generational hangouts on racism provided more significant findings with stronger and more poignant insights.  As Sulemaan noted, education and experience among minorities are the very weapons to combat it and move us all forward. However, the insidious subtle aggressions or “posturing” policies will just as ensure we take 10 steps back.

Ryan summed it up nicely when he spoke of ageism,

Ageism will always exist. When the old get old it’s sad. They should be the seen as the guardians of knowledge. The world of elders should come back. We discount their expertise because today, older people are not hip with the times… technology is that arbiter of currency.

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.

Image Source: Wikepedia

3 thoughts on “Blended Gen Think Tank: Ageism, Racism and Sexism in the Workplace

  1. Steve_Dodd says:

    What a terrific discussion, I’m sorry to have missed this. I am still particularly troubled by the comments about women in the workplace as I found some quite “sexist” in their own regard. They seemed to be very much about “teaching” women to play “games” of manipulation, aggression and confidence whereas I believe the goal should be leveraging and encouraging the power women naturally bring instead of trying to change them. I believe these suggested “changes” encourage the very attitudes that hold them back. I also believe men can learn a lot from the female “style” and approach. It was encouraging to hear that in some areas, women are seeing successes which seemed to be primarily because of leveraging natural abilities.

    • hessie jones says:

      Steve, I do believe that your comments are warranted. It’s the nature of the beast unfortunately. And, until women can have a seat at the boardroom table and welcomed from their male colleagues without any “guise” then women will need to proactively find approaches to earn that respect. It’s tough to see this today especially as a woman who has repeatedly experienced these incidences over the course of my career. The awareness is there. Companies are taking steps albeit “posturing” predominantly.

      • Steve_Dodd says:

        I agree. This is not something that’s going to happen quickly and we certainly have many obstacles to overcome. It’s taken thousands of years to get to this point but we are making progress and that progress seems to be escalating. There will be a “tipping point” and then we’ll see things evolve even faster. No one can predict when that will be but I feel we’re getting closer.

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