Monday, October 25, 2021

Write off pale, aged males 45 and older at your peril!

Text by Barry Greville-Eyres


Reflections, based on recent international and in-Australia job search efforts spanning several months, are shared. Harsh realities, within the context of a staccato COVID-19 pandemic recovery, impacting upon Official Development Assistance (ODA) – international development and humanitarian aid are listed. Cash-strapped nations have reduced aid-spend; project pipelines have narrowed, and delivery delays are commonplace; in the face of the Afghan debacle there is, hopefully, a collective conscience and re-think on issues of policy, aid effectiveness, conditionality, accountability, localization; and a resurgence of nationalization has seen most countries reasserting their own agendas (in their national interest) and hiring nationals first within a reduced funding and job market.

The parochial domestic job market, COVID-cloistered, has been shaken and stirred by a blockade on incoming skilled migrant labour and a corresponding outflow or brain drain. Early reports were of a shortage of 500,000 skilled labour to a more recent estimate or call for an ‘explosive, country-wide post-World War II-style immigration surge’ that could bring in 2 million people over five years to rebuild the faltering economy and address crippling labour shortages. Fortress Australia stands resolute, and we all wait, with bated breath, to see how the stately dominoes will tumble post-lockdown in the newest scramble and surge.  The pale, male and stale (PMS) stereotype along with the prevailing human resources management preoccupation of Gender, Equality, Diversity and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) are touched upon. It is against this backdrop that observations, trends and considerations – solutions are thrown into the mix.   

Trending: Talent Acquisition 

Donotreply and automated responses generated by talent acquisition specialists and their sophisticated recruitment - careers software are previewed below.

After careful consideration, we advise that on this occasion, your application has been unsuccessful. We have decided to progress with other candidates more closely suited to our requirements at this time.

At G&&&&&, we seek candidates who can genuinely add value to our business.

We assessed that the breadth of your skills and experience were not at the same level as those of the shortlisted candidates.

Your resume will be maintained in our database for future positions, and if a strong match is found between your skills, experience and requirements of a position a member of the resourcing team will be in touch with you. We encourage you to spend a few minutes periodically to ensure that your information is up to date.

Some compelling questions for consideration.

 What does this generic, robotic jargon mean? Should it be taken at face value?

Is there more conspiratorial – subliminal messaging therein?  Could it be that embedded in these codified and nuanced phrases are measures of woke-Manship, and in vogue GEDSI parlance with promising intent yet less applied knowledge and experience on how to make this happen?

Or could it be the folly of job markets where perhaps supply outstrips demand and recruiters are phishing in deep, yet opaque talent pools to try and draw out whoppers as opposed to minnows - candidates that can genuinely add value? 

This seems to contradict current and anticipated labour market shortages (domestic and international) flagged above? Even in the face of almost Australia-wide lockdowns and job seeker/keeper economic stimuli, the flood of job advertisements and re-advertisement continue unabated.  Speculative, shots in the dark or displacement activity? 

In relation to the issues of PMS and GEDSI, this is a case of déjà vu since its was a lived reality (as a senior public servant, management consultant, scholar, development practitioner) I contended with daily in the post-Apartheid South Africa (1996-2005). Only then, in my role as Deputy Director: HR Training and Development - Office of the Premier, I was the sole white male albeit much younger. Best described at the time as:

‘Experienced, firsthand, workplace social re-engineering/accelerated transformation initiatives and the implications thereof. Attempts include Apartheid – racism and reverse racism; gender mainstreaming, Peter Principle; Imposter Syndrome (elaborated on further) affirmative action; black economic empowerment (BEE) preferential procurement; and other guises, overt or covert, of redress laid bare, often, as blatant discrimination.’

Then, as now, there are many 'lips to be serviced' but the absence of a clear, pragmatic, and coherent ‘how’ to do this in a measured, common sense and sustainable way. Jerky knees! 

Peter Principle - notes that employees, in a typical corporate structure, tend to advance to 'a level of respective incompetence' - personnel are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) in one job does not necessarily translate to another. Indiscriminate accelerated development and promotion, often within historically marginalized groups, often compounds workplace incompetence with negative consequences of mainstream organizational resistance and dissatisfaction. Some beneficiaries thrive in this context but others wilt under this immense pressure and scrutiny to perform and live up to unrealistic expectations. Job-hopping often results in order to stay ahead of the in-competence curve and as upward mobility is increasingly and artificially sweetened

Imposter Syndrome - nagging and persistent emotions of inadequacy despite demonstrable markers of achievement. Imposters suffer from 'chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external verification of their competence.'

As with the Peter Principle and the Imposter Syndrome, the Pale, Male and Stale (PMS) stereotype and caricature has occupied the HR and organizational development space for decades. It is often attributed to Nasa administrator Daniel Goldin who, in 1992, criticised the lack of diversity in the space agency. More recently, as GEDSI strategies gather implementation momentum, the dominant view is that they - PMS should stand aside, and no longer be seen and heard. 

Toss in a healthy dose of ageism as well and a further layer is added to an already complex conundrum. Whilst acknowledging we cannot maintain the workplace status quo – auto-repeating ‘same old same,’ there are countless experiences and lessons out there to learn from. Ever tried excluding your age as a ‘mandatory field’ and having your online application stopped in its tracks or perhaps fudging it (the algorithm) only then to be thwarted, at the final click, by the requirement to make an honest, accurate and truthful disclosure of private information. Strange is it not, that you can fudge or decline from disclosing 'voluntary information' related to your race - ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, disability status, special accommodation(s) etc.

Making sense of non-sense

Although an enduring challenge, fittingly described as the 'disconnect' between executive, senior management and human resource units, this is clearly exacerbated by the recent pandemic with the unprecedented pace and complexity of change. With the former exec-cadre not always 'understanding or investing’ in the optional extras - contemporary transformative agendas/roles including (People, Culture, Community, Social Performance, Environment, Engagement, Leadership and Learning, Learning and Development, Policing of Pronouns, Wellbeing and Wellness - Mental Health). Arguably, their perspective is more about the bottom line and short term survival and less about equity and sustainability? What ever happened seasoned General Managers? The perennial, organizational development, argument of generalist versus specialist is perhaps entirely a different topic of conversation for another time.

Have executives – senior managers (PMS) dropped some balls?

In addition to keeping all these balls in the air, human resource units are required to fathom out a response to the omni-present COVID-19 pandemic and the issue of making remote work successful/combating alienation.  

Having said this, there are several reasons not to write off the PMS pariah generation just yet. 

6 Reasons not to write off, pale males aged 45 onwards

  • Provide an organizational steady, stable ‘homeostasis’ state. Cohesive – adhesive glue.   
  • Often constitute the institutional memory and the tacit – experiential (intangible - personal wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition) knowledge base of organizations spanning several years. This includes catastrophic events such as mergers and acquisitions; global financial and other crises i.e. lived change which infuses the institution and staff with confidence, resilience, resolve, patience and expert knowledge.
  • Can prove to be invaluable allies and catalysts for change - the quiet and sensibility in the storm of transformational change. The caveat is to build change programs (GEDSI etc) with and around them not as a stand alone event but as a creative, dynamic and inclusive collaboration. There needs to be a collective acknowledgement, within organizations, that they are on an enduring change trajectory for more frequent, more momentous, more variable, more opportunistic change where adaptive management becomes the default response.    
  •  They can, generally, hustle and hack it – once again the resilience theme!
  • Many are also at the career point where they've made their respective mark(s), and perhaps, have reflected upon work and life, personal and organizational legacies with hopefully a corresponding receptiveness to change, add value and give others a fair go. 
  • Tacit knowledge - wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition is the traditional mainstay of most societies and cultures. It is indispensable - it means and counts for something adding gravitas and respect.   

Conversely, aged pale males can also serve as gatekeepers, highly resistant to change and as active saboteurs retarding progressive transformation. If anything else, these mutterings are a veiled threat - a rocket up the Khyber Pass to stale males that the 'age of entitlement' is over, and that their games need considerable lifting if they wish to remain a force in the workplace.   

What do you identify, most, with?

Mediocrity or Excellence?

Level playing fields at all – what cost?

I identify with pale males aged 45 years and older - less so with the derogatory 'stale' moniker. With life-long learning behind and ahead I'm still able to make a contribution in an empowering, energetic and enabling fashion. I embrace change and challenge and shy away from neither. I also accept that there are four (4) or more sides to every argument.

They say age is but a number (and a state of mind), so according to my calculations I still have another highly productive and professional 15 years to early retirement. Having reached my prime, the very  best years are clearly ahead of me. I identify with creative collaborations between HR, senior management, and other organizational units, spearheaded by a credible manager, who leads transformation as a strategic and social imperative. I can relate to the young, restless, impatient, and ambitious as I’ve young adult offspring  of my own. However, we all need to bide and do our time, there is no quick-fix or substitute for experience. Journeys and destinations are inseparable - they are part of the same continuum!

Post Script: I celebrate my 59th birthday in the month of November and whereas celebratory greetings will not be amiss, I’d far prefer a few promising job prospects AND OR concrete offers.    

General Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. Sentiments reflected are solely those of the blogger and do not represent those of people, institutions and organizations that the blogger may or may not be associated with in his personal and professional capacities. This includes previous, current and any future employers. Expressed views and opinions are not intended to malign anyone. 

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