Dan Lyons Nails the Diversity Issue, but the Challenge is Broader, the Opportunity Greater

diversity signKudos to Dan Lyons on his recent post regarding diversity—and in particular age discrimination in the tech industry—on LinkedIn. Except, I pose that the challenge here is more diverse that Dan lays out.

When I was in my mid-twenties and had launched a business, I was discriminated against by older folks. I even had several people respond to my statement that I ran a sustainability strategy consultancy state, “You? That’s not possible at your age.”

Now that I’m in my mid-forties and see the tremendous value I could bring to a larger company in the energy industry, it’s not hard to see that many of the people I interact with in informational and position interviews see my age as a risk.

I’ve been openly discriminated against because of my gender. I have colleagues that have faced the same challenge due to their color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, and more. I’ve even had people imply a “lack of fit” because I have curly hair and refuse to straighten it or because I’m vegetarian.

We don’t want it to, but all of this discrimination happens. I fall into it, too—that little voice in my head creeps in with the phrase, “people like that” before I realize it and can see the absurdity of the thought. Us. Them.

It is simply easier and faster to build trust and rapport with someone who is like us. And, since today’s work environment moves at the speed of light, we have to build that relationship fast and make a decision on hiring. We have less time to see what the diversity represented by the person in front of us could really bring to our business. The “fit” of homogeneity feels like it comes more quickly.

So, thank you Dan for laying this out so clearly. And, trust me… this happens in some form or another in every industry, because it is so easy to fall into. In hindsight, I know that my fledgling business would have been even more robust if I had had deeper involvement from folks who brought greater diversity, especially culture and age.

I have struggled with this challenge intensely in the past few years and I know many colleagues who have done the same: People with great transferable skills and deep experience. People who are bright, capable, hardworking, demanding of themselves and others but ultimately compassionate, kind, and fun.

People whose value is great but who may be difficult to pigeon-hole because they offer so much—and are undervalued by the marketplace in general. But, we all just keep having those conversations to find that person who will take a deep break and see past the “fit” of homogeneity.

For the aging energy industries, being able to reap the value of a diversity of candidates, their deep experience, work ethic, and fresh perspectives couldn’t come at a better time. That’s true even in the “younger” (and perhaps more diverse?) renewables and energy efficiency industries, which are in growth and maturation cycles that demand an open mind when it comes to hiring and the need for fresh yet experienced perspectives.

And, when the right person in any of these industries does see us: boy will they get the deal of a lifetime for their firm!

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