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Size and age: Do they matter in the workplace?

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People have certain perceptions and expectations of how they think other people should look, sound and act. When an employer is hiring, he/she has certain ideas of what they are looking for in a candidate and that can be very specific, to the point of being unfair to the person applying for the job.{{more}} After 14 years in the business of employee development and motivational speaking, I’ve grown accustomed to some people’s reaction when they meet me for the first time. Quite frankly, it’s become amusing to see others’ reaction when I walk into a room or walk off a stage after a presentation. Their idea of what I should look like and sound like is usually very different from the reality before them. Someone’s size, sex and age do not and should not define their intellectual capabilities.

I was expecting someone bigger. This seems to be the most common comment I’ve received. At 5’2-1¼4” most people usually just see a headshot of me and then when they meet me for some there is a hint of disappointment, disbelief, call it whatever you wish, but the conversation usually starts with “I was expecting someone bigger (in height and size.)” I’ve learned to ignore the comment or turn it back on the person, making the comment, but are perceptions like this causing others to miss opportunities? Maybe an employer is hiring a secretary and they want someone pretty, young and petite for the position and when an older, stocky woman applies, she is denied the position, or maybe it’s a guy who applies for a position usually held by a woman and he is denied as well. Is that fair?

You are not that old. When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I remember the resistance I would meet when asked to train employees who were old enough to be my parents. The looks and comments of resentment and disrespect were quite obvious. I would immediately joke about my age and then get right to the work at hand. I did not dwell on it, as that was their bias, not mine. There is a generation of young capable people who are eager to learn, serve and demonstrate their expertise, but many are hindered by the perception of how old one needs to be to hold positions or assume certain responsibilities. Yes, employees should pay their dues and prove they are capable, but promotions should not be agebased. If the person is mature enough and qualified to perform the duties, then remove the arbitrary stumbling blocks. Young people have fresh ideas and insights that can move organizations forward when they are guided properly. Provide a nurturing mentor to fill in the gaps so that person can grow faster.

People should be measured by their track record and qualifications, not by things they have no control over such as their size, sex and age. Have you examined your biases and perceptions lately? We all have them.

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