So, I’m embracing mid 30s. Reflecting on the 20s. And where I am now versus where I used to be. I have some things I’d like to say to all the 20 something people starting out in the workforce. Here’s a few things to mentally prepare yourself for:
Know Thy Forms of Harassment in the Workforce – Especially Age Discrimination.
Basically, harassment is anything that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Laws of 1964, other fed regulations and equal employment opportunities. Unless you are a lawyer, you may know when you are caught up in an act that violates one of these situations.
As a brief guideline, most workforce handbooks in the entire country, define harassment as “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior that is based on race, color, religion, sex, gender/gender identity, nationality, age, physical or mental disability or genetic information.”
Think it can’t happen to you? Think again.
Here’s where the workforce handbook and I completely disagree. Age discrimination is only applicable if you are 40 or older. I can perfectly recall a situation when I was a new supervisor and manager at the age of 24. And tossed into a ring of pit bulls (over 40 year olds, heck, they were mostly +60).
Faithfully, I would eagerly come to management meetings. Presenting my ideas. Areas of efficiencies I identified. I prepared up to 8 hours for these meetings on Sundays so I could respond with affirmation at any questions tossed my way. However, my ideas and changes often fell flat. Know why? One person’s response, “You are one lucky little girl to be here. You’re only 24. You don’t really know how things work yet.”
When you’re 24. Have 60K in student loans. The job market and area is super slim in your field. And you have long-term career goals. You cower. And start agreeing, “You’re right. What do I know. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be here.”
Time and time again this person went out of their way to make my life miserable. Constantly reminding me of my age, in front of others. Completely embarrassing me and putting me down. Sometimes others would notice and even pull me aside later, “She’s really hard on you. And doesn’t treat you like her other employees. You know you’re better than this right?” In like so many abuse situations, the victim starts defending them, “No. It’s OK. She’s right. I know what side my bread is buttered on.” ~ yup, exact quote. It was hers. If I ever pushed back or questioned her, she often reminded me of which side my bread was buttered on. Naturally, I interpreted that as where my paycheck and performance reviews came from.
Don’t Let It Happen To You
When your direct Supervisor is a f***’in bully, and everyone above them also thinks they walk on water, it can make life a little rough. But there are some ways to deal with it.
I reached out to employee relations. Told them all about my situation. Which oddly, they weren’t surprised. (Hmm, was this a recurring issue and a reason no one else wanted my job?! They would never confirm). But, the person who was my go-to guy was an amazing, wise man, formerly military so he had seen his fair share of s*** in life. Let’s just say he had been around the block and me complaining about a Supervisor was an eye roll for him.
He laid all my options out to me, and the play-outs of how each would be. Used terms like “Alternative Dispute Resolution.” But put it pretty plainly I didn’t have a case, “You’re not over 40.” What the what? This person is making me miserable! But I didn’t have a case. I had favorable performance reviews. Received many awards and acknowledgements. And no other forms of discrimination. Besides being called a young, little girl once in a while publicly and having my ideas fall flat (though, they’d implement them later when it was her idea), I couldn’t check any other boxes in the workforce handbook.
Don’t Stay Up All Night Being Mad, Stay Up All Night Plotting Your Revenge!
Naturally, I grew a pair. My skin became as thick as an alligator’s. And I learned how NOT to lead and manage people by that person’s examples. I’m pretty proud to say that employees of mine from 10 years ago are still asking me to write letters of recommendation for them. And I’m happy to see where they are going in life…and that I’m still a part of theirs! I credit the employee relations person for helping me earn my thick skin, tiger stripes, whatever it was that helped me keep my cool in a hostile work environment that I couldn’t change at that time.
Eventually, just like the show Survivor (oh man, throw back), I learned how to Outwit, Outlast and Outplay. That supervisor made it 2 years before they decided to retire after Supervising me. I’ll never forget when she mentioned she didn’t want to retire because she lost her @$$ in the market crash of 2008. Guess how many F***s I gave them? Dat’s right. Zero. “Oh. So sorry for your loss.”
~ inner thoughts in my head: “Don’t let you hit the door in your @$$ on the way out.”
Sink or Swim. S*** or Get Off the Pot. Quit being a Negative Nelly. ~ Fill in with all other applicable quotes.
If you don’t have a good mentor like my employee relations/hero guy in your workforce, I hope you can find someone else to lead you through a negative situation. In reflection on that era in my life, I certainly wish I would have handled myself differently. I wish I would have not have been so blind, negative, and more confident in myself.
You see, I was better than them. I knew not only my s***, but theirs. And I should have totally thrown it back in their faces. If you are ever discredited because of your age for being awesomely young, dish it back. “You hired me. Obviously because I was the most qualified person. Buckle up because you are in for a good ride.”
~ What forms of harassment have you had in the workplace and how did you make it through? This was ONE of the few examples I had over the years where I can check a box in the workforce handbook. Maybe I’ll write about a few more at a later time. I’m sure you have something to contribute as well?