Executive Search Firm Releases June 2015 Survey Findings: Age Discrimination Most Common Form

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Tier One Executive Search, a leading global automotive and manufacturing recruitment firm, finds that employment discrimination against people over the age of 40 is far more common than discrimination against any other group protected under US law.

Mark Thibodeau, Senior Partner, Tier One Executive Search

It's not as if a company sets out to discriminate against an older candidate, It's just that there is a real and legitimate need to hire someone who can also move into future roles...

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According to Mark Thibodeau, Senior Partner with Detroit-based Tier One Executive Search, his firm occasionally encounters hiring requests from prospective clients that are not above-board or aligned with US law. These cases were addressed in a survey of the firm's internal consultants. Thibodeau says it is, by far, most common for a company to want to have someone eliminated from consideration due to his or her age, while he can't recall any specific instance where there has been an obvious case of hiring discrimination based on sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., though he does suspect that these forms of discrimination still happen frequently, albeit with more discretion. “Age discrimination is far more blatant and overt when dealing with some European-based companies, which are coming from a place where the laws are quite different,” says Thibodeau.

He went on to add, “We have prospective European clients who will actually include an age range on their official company job description, something like, ‘ideal candidate will be between 32 and 38 years old,’ as an example; in these cases we then have to educate them on US law.” Tier One has a thriving recruitment practice for positions based in China, and in fact it has had an office in Shanghai since 2004. There are unique problems in that market as well, since foreign-owned companies doing business in China actually can't get a work visa for employees over the age of 60. But the problem is certainly not limited to overseas employers; the USA is far from immune to the practice of age discrimination. Tier One Executive Search finds that it is quite common for American companies to discriminate based on age, though they seem to do it in a less conspicuous fashion than their European and Asian counterparts. Aynk Murtty, Director of New Business Development at Tier One, who previously headed up the recruitment firm’s legal practice, says, “Here in the US, we tend to see language such as, ‘We need for this candidate to have some runway left in his career,’ or, ‘We'd really like to get a 2-stepper here.’” Murtty notes that a “2 stepper” refers to a candidate who can be promoted two levels above the position for which he or she is hired.

To fully understand this phenomenon, and to be fair, Thibodeau says that companies generally are not setting out to discriminate against candidates in their sixties, as an example. He claims that there are succession-planning problems within a lot of companies today. Often the reason a company goes to a headhunter such as Tier One Executive Search in the first place is that, for one reason or another, there is no existing employee ready to take over a senior position. The company might not have the leadership talent developed to take on positions of increased responsibility and scope. Thibodeau remarks, “It's not as if a company sets out to discriminate against an older candidate, it's just that there is a real and legitimate need to hire someone who can later move into future roles – the company may need to hire a Director of Purchasing, as an example, but really needs for that person to take on the role of Vice President of Purchasing in three years time, and then move up into the role of Senior Vice President of Global Purchasing. In other words, if the company is experiencing a succession problem and it hires someone who is going to retire in 2-3 years, it hasn't done anything to solve the succession problem.”

This is the conundrum: companies addressing real needs, while recruiting and hiring within the laws of the United States. The bottom line is that hiring managers usually try to do the right thing for their respective organizations, but in the attempt, sometimes overlook the rights of qualified, older professionals.

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Mark Thibodeau, Senior Partner

Mark Thibodeau
since: 03/2014
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