Thursday, June 12, 2008

How Stereotypes Influence Employment Decisions

Research has found that Australian managers’ employment decisions can be related to the stereotypes they hold on different age-gender groups operating in their workplaces.

These mental images or stereotypes, house attributes on older females (45+ years of age) describing them as change resistant, unable to learn, lacking in potential and unable to think outside the box as readily as their younger colleagues. Stereotypes related to managers’ negative employment decisions on older females which have lead to them not being hired, promoted, or trained. Younger females (20-30 years of age), perceived as being harder working, more ready learners, more interpersonally skilled and as better training investments than their older colleagues were more likely to be employed, promoted and trained than their older colleagues.

This research confirmed that age and gender-based stereotyping is widespread and carrying essentially negative perceptions which highlight intergenerational differences between people. More recent social categorisation of those from the ‘gen. Y group by TV and print media has described the class as being: Techno savvy, environmentally aware, not interested in a career, highly mobile, disloyal, more likely to lose their job in the current economic environment, and to be obsessive shoppers. Stereotypes holding variations of these negative characteristics are now widely attributed to 20 to 29 year olds in our society. These negative attributes could hardly be true however for all those populating the category. Further, stereotypes have the ability to convert real people into artificial ones through the process of treating them as readily interchangeable components of fixed, a pre-judged category.

Concerns about Gen. Y behaviour have more recently migrated to the workplace with the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI, July 2008) calling for intergenerational policies to help HR managers better control working differences between Gen X and Y employees. Would such a discussion operate as freely in an environment where gender or racial differences were raised as the main point of contention? Should policies on intergenerational difference be considered as a means of selecting out on the basis of their age group membership those striving to enter the workforce or hold down jobs?

Age related biases, if mentioned at all in workplaces, can carry coded messages and be aided by the distorted imagery surrounding stereotypes. Perceived differences in age related characteristics have been found to drive managers’ employment decisions, actions not generally acknowledged by biased decision makers, nor by their organisation’s moral compass. How many older females have become buried in organisations, denied access to company sponsored training normally available to their younger colleagues, or not been granted access to career streams on the basis of their age related characteristics? Where age discrimination has become ‘the elephant in the kitchen’, workplace tensions fuelled by stereotypes have grown around perceived age-gender differences. Managers’ employment decisions can be biased when job irrelevant criteria such as age, or gender, or racial origin are used as job selection or retention criteria.