Does age determine wisdom? It might to some extent. In many businesses that have long-tenured employees, there is a tendency to hold back those people with fewer years of experience – only because they believe that this means they have less knowledge. This perception may be accurate in terms of life experience, a less-experienced individual may have critical knowledge for handling certain workplace challenges.
In my previous career with an engineering and construction business, years of service were considered to be an indicator of performance. Some clients shared this belief, as we had to provide resumes for their approval. Consequently, individuals with fewer than 20 years of project management experience might not have been chosen for certain projects.
However, in other areas of business, where projects were smaller and less complex, the client did not dictate the project leads. This allowed us to place high-achieving individuals in these positions – where they not only thrived but gained valuable experience from more seasoned colleagues who mentored them along the way.
Too often, we judge someone based solely on their perceived age, without taking the time to know them or ask questions that could enable their growth and demonstrate their capabilities equal to those of more experienced employees.
We can see a similar bias with sex. In male-dominated industries, it is challenging for women to excel or advance in roles beyond support departments like HR, Legal, or Finance. Women’s voices are frequently unheard, while their male counterparts’ opinions are always given attention. This is a regrettable characteristic of outdated business practices in which male dominance prevents women from having a seat at the table to express their ideas.
Personally, I grew up with strong women in my life, including my mother. She had a quiet demeanor, and I believed my father was the one running the household. When I got married, my wife pointed out that I should observe and listen to my mother, who was the one actually in charge. I also had an aunt who held several groundbreaking roles within the USDA and eventually reached the position of Deputy Director. She made her voice heard by being well-informed, presenting facts, and consistently expressing her opinions among her male colleagues.
As I reach the end of my own career, it is nice to see that industries are changing. Women have a seat at the table and are assuming leadership positions in various businesses.
Don’t Fall Victim to Pretty Woman Syndrome
If you’ve seen the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman” starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, you’ll understand what I mean. Too often, people are judged in business based on their clothing or accents.
In the movie, Julia Roberts’ character is dressed provocatively and goes shopping on Rodeo Drive in California, but the salespeople look down on her and ask her to leave the stores. When she returns to the hotel she is staying at and explains to Richard Gere’s character how she was treated, he takes her to another store and spends a significant amount of money on some new clothing. She returns to the store, dressed to the nines, and the salespeople realize what a mistake they made – and the potential sales they lost – in judging her. This happens in real life when trying to buy an expensive car or other expensive items where someone might not appear to afford the item but in reality, they can and will.
It happens all the time. We look at a person and instantly form judgments about someone’s abilities or capabilities, based solely on their appearance, without actually knowing the individual.