Age discrimination doesn’t seem like an issue now for most college students. We’re in the prime of our youth and beauty, and getting hired at any part-time job or internship seems like an easy feat as long as we dress the part and show our credentials.
Considering how easy it seems, why are so many people unemployed or stuck at the same low-paying job they’ve had for years? The answer is simple: Employers aren’t as likely to hire someone middle-aged as they are a young and “attractive” applicant.
Let’s consider social expectations: How many servers or cashiers at a higher-end clothing store place middle-aged, “unattractive” people at the front of the store? Not many if ever. Every company has a marketing strategy, and especially in terms of customer service, people want to see what they expect to be the “face” of the company.
According to a 2006 interview with Salon Magazine, Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries said, “[Sex appeal] is almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”
This commentary reflects how most customer-service businesses operate, management included, even if nobody admits it.
As someone who works at Cracker Barrel, many of my coworkers are over the age of 40, if not significantly older, and the reason many of them have stayed where they are is because of workplace discrimination. Despite their decades of experience working in restaurants, other restaurants not marketing the same “family” brand as Cracker Barrel aren’t as likely to hire them because of their age or other “unattractive” qualities.
In any restaurant industry, consider who works as servers and who works as the cooks or dishwashers – typically older, often times non-white, men and women. If they asked to cross train as a server, would management allow them?
It is currently legal for employers to ask prospective employees for their age and graduating high school class, though it is illegal to discriminate by age before or after hiring an employee. Though the law forbids any workplace discrimination, it’s sometimes difficult for employees or prospective hires to prove a company’s offense, much less afford an attorney to take the case.
By law, the solution has already been written, but socially, there still remains a stigma in certain fields against age and requires certain qualities of “beauty.” When will our consumerism society change to include everyone, and what can we do as future employers to change the social workplace?