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Handling Discrimination in the IT Workplace? 918

Posted by Cliff
from the where-can-you-go-what-can-you-do dept.
RJ asks: "I would like to get some advice from others that may be going through the same situation I am. I am currently 19 and will be turning 20 in 1 week. I have held my current job, as Systems-Network Administrator, for almost a year now in very good standing according to my direct boss, the IT Manager. I have 5 years industry experience and a few certifications, yet I am more then qualified for my current position according to previous employers (and my work history/experience). It has recently come to my attention that our IT Director is trying to either find a way to get rid of me or transfer me into a miserable job position, all because of my age. My Boss explained to me he thinks it has to do with a bit of jealousy. Everyone I work with is over the age of 30 and the IT director is in his mid 40's." Either your too old, or your too young, or it's racial issues, sexual preference, and sometimes it can even be religion. Despite the fact that it's the 21st century discrimination still exists and many of us have had to face it in our careers. For most, it basically amounts to a career roadblock, while for others, it can also turn into an extremely humiliating and terrible experience. What options exist for those who experience it in any of the many forms it can take in the workplace?

"The IT Director has never approached me about any of this and treats me fine to my face, but seems to talk bad about me around my Boss, though my boss does his best to defend me. I have had no work problems (documented or not) and have a clean HR record. It's to the point I can't trust anyone at work anymore. Everywhere I work people like me but as soon as they learn my age they automatically hate me, become jealous, or try to find ways to get rid of me. I have learned to deal with this problem as I figured it went with the territory. However, I also have a new baby daughter and a new wife to support and I can't lose my job, especially in this economy. Needless to say I am polishing up the resume and starting to look for a new job, but can anyone offer any sound advice, or legal actions which I can take if I do get fired, or even suggest employers in the industry that are friendly to my age bracket?"

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Handling Discrimination in the IT Workplace?

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  • More details needed. (Score:5, Informative)

    by juuri (7678) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @11:43AM (#2764681) Homepage
    You are 19 and currently have 5 years experience?

    I don't buy it. Being on the net for 5 years or taking apart and playing with computers with your friends isn't real world(tm) job experience.

    Please, prove me wrong.
  • by The Pi-Guy (529892) <joshua+slashdot@jo s h u a w i s e . com> on Sunday December 30, 2001 @11:55AM (#2764729) Homepage
    Speaking as a 12-year-old who gets this stuff all the time for being a geek...

    My advice would be to confront the IT manager. Walk right up to him and say, "I've heard you've been saying some nasty stuff to my boss." Don't tell him who told you, you may only get that person on your bad side as well. Ask him what he's said about you. "I would like to know too, what have you said?" Or if you don't feel comfortable with asking, ask "What caused you to say this about me? What is wrong?" If he indeed confirms that you are young, ask why that should matter. "OK, I am a little younger then my co-workers. Does that make a difference in my performance? Have you seen a difference?"

    MAKE SURE TO REMAIN CALM. I can't stress that enough, don't raise your voice. Make sure to remain calm. If you don't, he will see you as a little immature arrogant brat, and treat you like such.

    A book I can recommend is "Dealing with Difficult People." I forget who it's by, however some of the sections could be of great value to you.

    I look forward to your response.
    --pi
    wiseguy586@yahoo.com [mailto]
  • Move on. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Genady (27988) <gary@rogers.mac@com> on Sunday December 30, 2001 @11:56AM (#2764733)
    I'm sorry to say it, maybe I'm a pessimist, but when things have come this far that you hear that people are trying to move you out, it's time to move on.

    You can try to talk to the HR Manager, if you feel that you can trust h(im|er) I'd do that. HR Managers that are worth their salt aren't just hire, fire, and benefits people. I've personally always had very good relations with HR Managers. The best ones are honest upstanding people that will tell you that 'yes get out of here on the first boat sailing.'

    I know it's tough looking around in this economic climet, believe me I know it's like the party's over and we're left paying the check. If you're as good as you say you are though it shouldn't be too bad, just expect some tough times while you transition and don't expect to find anything local.

    Don't expect to find another job that is equal to what you have though. You're spot on that there's descrimination against young people of your age. I can't believe that you've got a 4 year degree at your age, or even a 2 year degree. See the recent discussion about quick college degree's here. [slashdot.org]

    No one is going to believe that you're a SysAdmin god at 20 with no college and no tech school and only a year of experience. Unless maybe you're Evi Nemeth's grandson.

    My personal suggestion would be to find a company that needs a Jr. SysAdmin, and find a mentor. No one wants to one-man-band things, and wether you think so or not a mentor is always a good thing. If you're as good as you say you are you'll learn new and interesting things faster than you can imagine, which will prepare you for your next job as a SA, believe me there will be more.
  • by Zorkon (121860) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:21PM (#2764819) Homepage
    Well, I can't speak for the person who wrote the original post, but I can relate a little something of my background.

    I'm a senior Unix system administrator, 28 years old, and have been *working* in the "computer industry" for 15 years now.

    I purchased my first computer when I was 10 (a TI-99 4/A... and 16k was all you needed back then. ;) and "played" / taught myself to program, etc... until I was about 14.

    A local computer store that I frequented needed a part-time technician, and the owner offered me a job (after school of course, and "off the record" as I wasn't legally old enough to be employed). I learned a bit about small businesses, got some hands-on experience with hardware I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to work with, and made some money.

    When I was 16 I went to work (again, "part time" which translated to about 32 hours a week for me) for ComputerLand, a large Canadian VAR, again as a technician... and from there it snowballed (and I moved from technician to software development): SHL SystemHouse, Dell Computer Corp, Nortel, Mitel, Espial, and a few more. Eventually, I ended up going to school part time and working full-time... oddly enough, the hours didn't really change all that much. ;)

    I can honestly say that my 14 years of experience include nearly 13 years of "professional" experience - ie: client management, project proposals, justifications, reviews, functional specs, etc...

    I can relate to the poster - I often found that people didn't take me seriously at first because of my age. Never had a problem with someone trying to fire me though. 15 year-old "know it alls" often don't (at least, not everything), so I tried to remind myself of that now and then, and made an effort to at least listen to the other person, no matter how old (or wrong) I thought they were. :)

    I was also lucky enough to have some great mentors along the way, that schooled me in the fine art of memory management, OpenGL and more.

    So, it might not be common but 19 year olds with 5 years of experience *do* happen now and then.
  • by Karl Cocknozzle (514413) <kcocknozzle@hotmail . c om> on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:28PM (#2764846) Homepage
    Your chief responsibility is to make sure your boss doesn't make any mistakes, and that he/she looks like a hero. As long as that's the case, your boss will always go to the mat for you, no matter how old/young you are, and nobody else in the company will be able to override them.

    I can personally attest to this with two examples.

    Example the first: I worked for a woman with about a decade of managing tech support experience. If we had a conflict with a customer, she was available and knew how to handle it without compromising the support team. We worked well together and when it was review time she showed lots of appreciation.

    Example the second: Same company, different boss, similar job. Worked for a dude with about 3 years experience as a manager. He was unavailable most of the time and when you had a conflict with a customer, automatically sided with the customer even if they were wrong. (This often meant hours sometimes days of extra work cleaning up messes that weren't ours to begin with.) As a result the technical folks all knew him to be an idiot.

    (Note to non-tech support people: Conflicts are 99% of the time revolving around "we want you to do something" that the customer isn't paying for or that we don't know how to do because we don't sell/service that product.)

    But HR still backed him when he decided to fire me over a short list of said conflicts.

    Moral of the story: If your boss that you directly report to is an idiot, QUIT! Don't even bother trying to document anything and try to "take action with HR" becauses in this economy a bad boss will trump up a "performance-issue" and replace you like that. Better to find another position (even within the company) before you even consider blowing the whistle. Until the economy is chugging again, don't even think about it.

    It's a lesson I learned by getting fired a week before Christmas.
  • by brassrat77 (9533) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:30PM (#2764854)
    Unfortuantely for you, there are few laws regarding age discrimination for people under 40.

    Heh. I once attended an HR-sponsored meeting for managers and other "senior" (me) staff. The HR guy noted that I was the ONLY person in the room who did NOT fall into one of the "protected" categories (I was not female,a racial minority, over 50, disabled, or a veteran). The company was mostly retired military, therefore I was perpetually the "youngster" as well as the "token civilian". Fortunately, I showed the same work ethic the military guys did, let the retired Colonels handle the politics, had a name-brand college degree and experience and enough smarts in the IT area to be valuable to them. I was already much older than the original poster, and had an excellent track record with the senior managers, so there were no questions about my "maturity" from within the company. Plenty from the other contractors we worked with, but that's one reason we had the retired colonels around - "flak supression" (esp. the retired F-4 driver).

    Point is, you MUST understand and play the politics. Which comes with experience; few people are fortunate to have been born with the skill. If your boss wants you out badly enough, he or she will succeeed. With the exception of union jobs, most of us are "employees at will" and can be terminated for almost any reason with minimal recourse.

    Unless this is a "to die for" job (I doubt it), take this as a warning and start looking for a better gig. Proving any form of employment discrimination is extremly difficult, even in cases of egregious behavior by the employer. If the apparent reason is your age, proving discrimination in a legal sense is almost impossible - age/experience CAN be used as a bonifide occupational qualification.

    Start looking - NOW.

  • Re:Get real (Score:2, Informative)

    by standards (461431) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:40PM (#2764889)
    Oh, you're pessimistic! Yeah, sarcasm. Sorry, I thought the first line gave it away.

    I just wanted to emphasize what I've seen before ... people (both young and old) who are intellegent, but who don't quite understand the workplace.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2001 @12:48PM (#2764913)
    Do you have an HR department? If so, make an appointment with the HR person and make sure it's kept confidential. You don't want to piss off your IT director or your boss. Tell the HR manager that you're concerned about some rumors you've heard. Do not act angry, just concerned. Ask directly about termination policies and if there have been complaints made against you. Put your concerns in writing as well and ask that the HR manager include it in your file. Make sure you keep a copy.

    This is proactive and will put your view on record before (hopefully) anything negative shows up against you.

    Another approach would be to find out what makes the IT director tick. Talk to your boss about career growth, etc. and then ask if he would mind if you talked to the IT director (so he won't think you're going over his head). Ask the IT director about his career path and ask for advice on how you could continue your own development. This will do two things if you handled it correctly: 1) it will demonstrate that you are serious about your profession and 2) it will let your IT director know that you value other people's experiences.

    Good luck!
  • by cherrypi (71943) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @01:19PM (#2765007)
    My company hired me and the president of the company has a grudge against me. Maybe it's jealously, maybe he's just not around me enough get a grasp on my personality.

    Needless to say, the best way to get a promotion is to quit and get a new job. Seriously. The good ol' boy mentality that unions and massive corporations can afford aren't so afforded by smaller and medium sized companies.
  • by RJ277 (546954) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @01:41PM (#2765063)
    First off I apologize for my grammer. Secondly I have 5 years real world experince and I am not talking about running some pethetic highschool network.

    I was home schooled and graduated at 15. I got my first real full time Job at Best Buy Inc as A PC Tech, I worked there for 2 years. Then I worked at a Game Development company for 1.5 years. I then worked at another Software Developemnt company for .5 years and have worked at my currecnt job for 1 year. That is 5 years of real world experience.

    Third, I have my 6 month review that says other wise. I got almost all good remarks, true I got the usuall, late a few times, everyone gets that, but there is always room to improve IMHO, and I am not claiming to be anything I am not.

    I dont have a college degree but have started back to school to pursue my CS degree. I do have my MCSE, RHCE and am currently pursing some Cisco certification, but like others have said nothing is as good as a college degree except a college degree and I 100% agree with that.

    Lastly and I stress this fact would all the trolls and flamers that have no sound advice, just not say anything at all ? That would be nice.

    Oh, and one last thing, I am not one to sue for millions of dollars I am simply talking if they fire me because of my age I would simply want enough severance to take care of my family.

    Anyway thanks to everyone for some good advice.
  • by TheMCP (121589) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @01:56PM (#2765114) Homepage
    I got my first professional job at 16. I was offered the position at 14 but didn't accept it for two years. I did data analysis, 3d rendering, and helped a bit with some programming. I also did some general IT work.

    I'm 29 now and it's still on my resume. I also have a letter of reference from my employer to prove it.

    Nothing is more frustrating to the young person who takes his or her parents' advice and goes and gets a real job to get real experience than to have people tell them they must be a liar.

    I advise you to remember that these sorts of things do happen occasionally, and a much better attitude than "I don't believe you, prove it!" would be "here is how you can document your experience".

    For the young person in question, my advice is to talk to your direct supervisor(s), past and present if necessary, and get a letter of reference on company letterhead. These letters not only can be produced at any review or termination proceedings (give them a *copy*, not the original), but also can be of excellent use in future jobhunting: when an employer gets 20 resumes for a job, the one with several letters from past employers saying the person did a good job stands out, and such letters have gotten me several jobs in the past. (One employer looked at my letters and called to offer me the job.) If you actually do good work, usually the boss is more than happy to write you such a letter upon request.

    Tom
  • by kevinqtipreedy (450228) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @02:11PM (#2765171) Homepage
    I think you are wrong about the part-time experience. At 16 i worked the entire summer - usually a 50 hour week - at Lucent Technologies. I was a big part of the offices IT crew, which DID work with keeping up fiber backbones, etc. Now i work Part time keeping up a small network at a small business. They have 14 buildings with fiber there. I consider all of this experience, regarless of my age it is real life experience. It would be the same experience to someone who is 16 or someone who is 36.
  • by ToasterTester (95180) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @03:01PM (#2765308)
    I'm one of those old people you are bitching about, but we go through the same crap too.
    Corporate politics tends to control who gets what positions or transfers. People who know their technical chops are weak, play the political game to surivive. What sucks is it tends to work, because the people above making the decisions are even less technical, all they know is this guy is feeding them info, or its their friend. Reality is you can't survive on technical skills alone (unless your a guru level) you have to learn to play the political game too. Hard part is finding a balance so you don't end up becoming a technical zero and having to suck up to survive.

    Bottom line, nothing in life is fair. I know in my career sometimes when in a sucky situation like yours, I ended up getting a better job or position afterwards. You just need to decide if its going to be at that company or another.

    Last one comment on your (and others) were young and smarter comments. In the real world it's more than technical sharpness that matters. Knowing how the business world works, understanding why companies make the decisions they do from a marketing, business, HR and other perspectives is important. Take a look at the people moving up the food chain. Unless they are a technical god, they are people who know the business world as well as their area of expertice. They have also networked with others above them to let them know they are well rounded. You can't survive on technical chops alone.
  • by RJ277 (546954) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @03:15PM (#2765341)
    5 Years is very true ! 2 Years as A PC Tech at Best Buy. 1.5 Years as a Admin-Developer for a Game Dev/Publisher .5 Years as a Dev-Analyst at another Software Company. 1 Year at my current job. You may find it hard to belive but I don't.I am the one living it. I was home schooled and graduated at 15. I immediatelly started working at Best Buy, true Best Buy is not the greatest of jobs but it's a foot in the door. I have a family now and I feel I have had just as much "life experience" as any 25 year old. As for background, MCSE, RHCE, working on CISCO. Starting college this spring.
  • by owlmeat (197799) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @04:24PM (#2765543)
    Welcome to the real world. It seems that any attempt to redress discrimination ends up with more discrimination.

    A very real possibility here is that the manager is going to have to choose between the baby geek (who has no legal grounds for an age discimination case) and an old geek, who does. It's not like the manager would have much choice.
  • Congratulations. (Score:3, Informative)

    by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Sunday December 30, 2001 @05:01PM (#2765627) Journal
    I am a lawyer, but this is not legal advice. If you get your legal advice from slashdot, you get nonsense like the parent to this. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.


    You just committed legal malpractice. That is not the law in the United States, though it may be state law in one or two cases.


    This should not have been moderated up as insightful, but down as "just plain wrong" or "ignorant."


    hawk, exq.

  • by Ardias (544478) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @08:35PM (#2766141) Homepage
    Read "Every Employee's Guide To The Law" by Lewin G. Joel III. It's published by Pantheon Books in the USA. It contains a chapter on what to do if you have been wrongly fired. It also contains a lot of advice on how to handle discrimination issues before somebody ends up getting fired.
  • by digitalamish (449285) on Sunday December 30, 2001 @09:33PM (#2766241)
    Why did you tell them your age? Legally they only need to know that you are 18+. That's where your response should end (if you care). I also question 5 years experience at age 20. Did you drop out of highschool? Maybe that's why they are going to fire you.

    Corporate america sucks. At least you are learning this while you are young. As a person who has been there, take this advice: DON'T QUIT. Keep a record of your projects for future resumes, I've learned that when you leave a company, most of them cannot give you any kind of a recommendation besides 'Yes, they worked here from X to Y.' Leagally any recommendations could come back to bite them. Ride it out, and pick the right time to strike.
    ---
    "That's Homer Simpson sir. One of your drones from sector 7G."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 30, 2001 @09:49PM (#2766270)
    1. Unless you have a contract stating this is improper, it is completely legal in the united states. Age discrimination is only actionable if you are over a certain age,usually around 40. He can say to your face, in front of the entire company, "I am treating you this way because you are 19. If you were older I would not." You still would not be able to do anything about it.

    2. Age discrimination is the last legal form of discrimination in the united states. You can no longer fire someone for being homosexual, black or old, but if they are too young or lack experience, have at them. It is also perfectly reasonable to show preference to people with experience, even if it is not relevant to the job. In the fast paced world of IT, do you think it matters if someone has 1 year or 5 years of experience? If you think that is reasonable, the same applies to people who work on assembly lines. There is no value to this hueristic, but it is still socially acceptable. This is analagous to people who choose not to employ minorities because they considered their work ethic suspect. Listen to the comments posted and replace youth with a minority status and see how you feel.

    3. The youth in this country have it far harder than we did 30 years ago. Home ownership and other measures of real wealth show this disadvantage.

    4. The solution, rise up!
  • by suicidal (111181) on Monday December 31, 2001 @11:17AM (#2767352)
    "...Discrimination (age, race, sex, marital status...) is never legal..." -Myth.

    The Nineteenth Century Civil Rights Acts, amended in 1993, ensure all persons equal rights under the law and outline the damages available to complainants in actions brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

    The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of age. The prohibited practices are nearly identical to those outlined in Title 7. An employee is protected from discrimination based on age if he or she is over 40. The ADEA contains explicit guidelines for benefit, pension and retirement plans.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/topics/employment_discr imination.html [cornell.edu]

    It's sad, and it sucks, but it's true,

    -Benjamin

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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