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Everyday Ethics

I had a conversation last night that really got me fired up. I was chatting with a friend of mine, and she mentioned an offhand comment her boss had made during a staff meeting. It irritated her and infuriated me.

Her boss (in her 60’s and the head of the department), had mocked the solution my friend (in her early 20’s and a fairly recent college grad) had offered to a work-related problem.  As she shot down her down, the woman added that she was “too young to understand the nuances”.

Now, I’ve had the good fortune to work with this friend in the past, and I can say, with certainty, that she’s a highly intelligent and diligent employee. So, I have no doubt that her suggestion was at least decently sound, if perhaps not the one her boss was looking for.

When I suggested that it had been inappropriate of her boss to make that age-related slur, especially in front of her co-workers, my friend shrugged it off. “Oh, it’s normal. She’s always making comments like that to me.”

That’s when I got angry. Would this woman like it if it were suggested, even jokingly, that she was too old for her job? Too much of a fuddy-duddy, or too hardened and cynical? No, I wager she would scream ageism loud and clear.

There’s a fine line between proving yourself as a fresh graduate and putting up with prejudice in any form. In my friend’s case, she’s willing to deal with the snide remarks because she’s so happy to have a job. These days, it all comes down to that one phrase, usually said through clenched teeth and a forced smile, “Well, at least I have a job!”

In my very humble opinion, if my friend’s boss has concerns about her age and experience, there are appropriate ways to express that, and public mockery is not one. It’s counterproductive, demeaning and just plain wrong.

How would you handle such a delicate situation? Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget how vulnerable I felt in my first job – I was willing to do anything. And I certainly wouldn’t have set my boss straight for any untoward remarks. How about you?

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