July 31, 2019
After a class action lawsuit in which 227 people accused Google of discriminating against job applicants based on their age, the parent company Alphabet Inc. just settled to pay $11 million and agreed to take other steps against ageism. Those steps include offering a training on age bias, establishing a committee on age diversity in recruiting practices, and investigating complaints about ageism appropriately. Google is far from being the only company to come under fire for ageist practices. A 2018 AARP survey revealed that “61 percent of respondents over age 45 reported seeing or experiencing age-based discrimination in the workplace.” Although tech companies often report difficulties in finding experienced talent, qualified older workers report difficulties finding work.
We found it interesting that one of the complainants, Cheryl Fillekes, accused Google of hiring younger workers based on cultural fit. Companies may be systematically discriminating based on age. They may also be inadvertently making ageist choices by using ambiguous and shifting criteria, like the infamous “cultural fit” Fillekes references. When such bias-prone criteria is used, tech recruiters and interviewers may think they’re picking the best candidates, but they’re actually picking the candidates most like them—in this case, the candidates closest to their age. Establishing more standardized and specific criteria can help recruiters and interviewers avoid this problem.
SHRM offers a checklist of ways to be more inclusive of age diversity in the workplace. A couple of suggestions include checking your language for ageist language like “digital native” and “fresh,” and starting a career re-entry program for those who have been out of the workforce for a while.
Queer Eye’s episode “Disabled But Not Really” features Wesley Hamilton, a Black disabled man, father, and founder of the nonprofit Disabled But Not Really, which aims to support the personal development of people with disabilities. While many white people in the disability community criticized Hamilton’s “limitless mindset” for “spreading internalized ableism and perpetuating a culture of shame around the disabled identity,” writer and blogger Imani Barbarin thinks this critique lacks racial awareness and insight.
She points out that Black people with disabilities experience micro- and macroaggressions that are dually racist and ableist. It makes sense, then, that Hamilton needs to promote the mindset of “disabled but not really” in order for Black people with disabilities “to access the support they need” without feeling like their disability is “just another piece of their identity that can be used to marginalize them.” Pointing to Hamilton’s pride in his own body and life, Barbarin calls the episode “an open invitation to Black disabled people to accept themselves...and seek joy in their disabled bodies” and “a step in the right direction for better representations of the diversity of disabled people.”
Barbarin said it best when she said, “Hamilton’s language regarding his experiences should not be policed for the comfort of white disabled people or anyone else.” Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s critical to apply an intersectional lens to issues of disability and other marginalized identities. That way, we can be more thoughtful about how best to meet the needs of all members of a community, like how Hamilton has brought disabled Black men into community by focusing on CrossFit and bodybuilding.
It can be tempting to cling to simple rules for inclusive behavior. But when we oversimplify, we erase the experiential realities of groups that are often the least represented and served. Continue to review your inclusive practices to ensure all groups, of all intersections, are seen and heard.
Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California, reflects on the changes he’s seen in students’ mental health in the last decade. He says that “every year, it seems, I encounter more stress, anxiety, and depression, and more students in crisis on campus.” He says his colleagues report the same trends. Research shows that one-third of undergraduate students struggle with mental health issues.
Soni thinks part of the reason is a lack of community and sense of belonging. He argues that higher education institutions should provide resources and an environment that helps students feel they belong and can thrive. He gives some examples of the steps being taken at USC: The school just hired their first director of belonging, and they offer classes that explore topics like emotional intelligence, self-care, and resiliency. Soni writes that “...colleges and universities can help empower students to transform the world by transforming themselves.”
This story is interesting from two different diversity and inclusion angles. First, Soni describes what schools can do to be more inclusive of students who are managing mental health issues. Those same steps can then build a sense of belongingness for everyone in the community. We love seeing examples of how inclusivity of some translates into benefits for all.
Whether your community is a campus or a workplace, USC’s actions can serve as inspiration for making your community more inclusive of mental health diversity and building a sense of belongingness for everyone.