Category Archives: Discrimination against the long-termed Unemployed

The long-term unemployed: Maybe it is high time companies placed compassion above logic when hiring

Back in the early 1980s, while working towards a graduate degree in biological anthropology, I held down a full-time job as EDP Operations Manager for a major portable oil rig manufacturer in Dallas (Texas.) When I joined the firm I had two computer operators and two data entry operators helping run a two (2) shift data processing operation. Our IBM computer was state-of-the-art for its time and primarily used to process financial, accounting, inventory and engineering data for company divisions throughout the US and overseas.  

As the firm grew my department got busier and as a result needed to hire additional personnel. I made a point of seeking out qualified people who basically had been passed over by local businesses. In the span of a year or so my staff grew from four to thirteen with most being minorities (like myself.) The systems engineering group that interfaced with those of us in operations were almost exclusively middle-aged white men and women, most of whom did not readily welcome my diverse crew into the fold as-it-were.

Did I hire people of color simply because I was a minority myself (American Indian)? Not at all. The fact is I felt what I was doing would in some small way help offset unwritten policies that had constrained the hiring of qualified minorities.   

What is interesting is that with the passage of time the all white systems crew and my racially, ethnically and religiously diverse operations group began moving from a guarded, formal “business only please” level of interaction into a warmer comfort zone characterized by friendly banter and even playful joking. This was exactly what I had hoped for and anticipated.

The director of MIS (Management Information Systems) for the company, a former NASA systems analyst who had moved into corporate management after leaving the space agency, was so impressed with how much of a family the entire information systems department had become that he held it up as a model to higher-ups including the board of directors.

Of course, young working professionals sometimes seize more lucrative opportunities elsewhere, a reality that was visited upon my department when my third shift computer operator was offered a fatter paycheck and shorter commute by a competitor.  I was sad to see her go but plowed ahead and began running ads in local newspapers and trade publications. Soon my mornings were filled with conducting interviews.

Now hang in with me – I have a point to make which ties into an egregious practice at work in companies across this Great Recession-ravaged nation.

During the course of conducting interviews a middle-aged gentlemen came through my office door clutching his resume. After handing me a one page summary of his impressive qualifications he told me straight up that he had lost his job when his former employer closed its doors and had been unemployed and interviewing for over six months. It took little time to realize why so many firms were not quick to snap this chap up: He had worked his way up into middle-management and was thus “overqualified” (AKA ill-suited) to fill a computer operator’s job. The logical thing to do was send him on his way. After all, if hired he would likely seize the first management job offered him and leave me back at square one – filling a slot on third shift.

This kind of logic undoubtedly had persuaded other prospective employers to quickly show this graying bespeckled soul the door. But I was less concerned about doing the logical thing then the human thing. So I hired the guy on-the-spot. It was a move I never regretted as he did the work of any 2 operators of my staff, went the extra mile when asked, never belly-ached and never missed a day’s work.  And he worked at the operator’s job for many years before finally moving on (Which means the company more than got its “money worth” out of him.)

Oh, and he was white – but still a minority to my way of thinking. That is, he belonged to the chronically unemployed and seemingly unemployable.  Which brings me at last to this: An article was posted to The Lookout blog earlier today (7-14-11) titled “Down but not out: Voices of the long-term unemployed.In it writer Zachery Roth shared this:

  • We asked whether employers were wary of hiring readers when they found out how long they’d been jobless — a form of discrimination that appears to have been on the rise lately. “Very much so,” replied Susan W. “As if it were my fault I was unemployed, regardless of the fact that I had put out hundreds of resumes and applications.”
  • An enormous number of older readers said they think their age is part of the problem for employers. Paula S., from Acworth, Georgia, who said she was “sixty-something,” described “two eye-opening experiences of blatant age discrimination . . . . One twenty-something supervisor asked me if I had ever thought about coloring my hair . . . . Another manager told his assistant with the door open when I showed up to complete an application and interview: ‘We can’t hire any more old people.’ “

I was in my mid-twenties when I hired that middle-aged seasoned computer pro to be a third shift computer operator (He was 55, the age I am now.) In hiring him I placed doing the human thing over the logical thing. I can only hope that some of the people trying to fill jobs across America will come across this account and then take it to heart and do likewise.

  Dr. Anthony G. Payne

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