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These letters respond to Time for Action.

Thursday, July 29, 2010
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Yes, but when are there going to be real consequences for the discrimination of "older" workers, who don't identify with the stereotypical notions of what employers regard as "old."

This is the biggest problem we face in managing talent. Discrimination abounds and it is the baby boomers who have the talent that is not being recognized and retained, because some employer thinks "we are old." It is "Time for Action" and I would appreciate you writing about this.  

P.S. I've been an HR professional for 32 years and still going strong at 56 ... but no one will hire me, because "I'm old"?? I'm sorry, I am a person of color, a woman, a VP of HR for two international companies and can't figure out how to "dumb it up" enough on my resume, to not threaten the 25-year-old HR Manager

Got any ideas?

Eva Martini

* * * * *

I enjoyed Susan Meisinger's article, and agree with many points. I value her tremendous track record and contribution to HR and society more broadly.  I agree that in regards to talent management, this is a time for action, and we truly do need to focus on the important and ignore the irrelevant.  

What prompts my response, however, is the proposed solution for the problem she describes, after highlighting to me what are more important and valuable responses and solutions.

Susan states, "Without creating a legal right to protection against such discrimination, there's no remedy for the discrimination."  

This argument presupposes that the only remedy is a legal remedy, despite her already noting the increasingly pervasive non-discrimination policies within corporations. Companies are getting out ahead of this.  

I would submit that there is something even more key to preventing such discrimination, and that is behavior change tied to a strong business case for ethical conduct and even corporate success from a financial standpoint.

Cynics may argue that corporations' non-discrimination policies are little more than shields against liability, and thus the need for the legislation. I would argue that a more effective approach has nothing to do with the stick of legal repercussions, but rather a focus on the financial benefits that diversity brings to the table and the ethics of our talent practices.  

When trying to get corporations and managers and employees to "do the right thing," we can threaten them with negative consequences and/or show them the wins in doing things the right way. Teach and train what right looks like, let them see the benefit in doing what right looks like.

Numerous presenters at the recent SHRM conference in San Diego seized upon the growing wave of positive psychology and perhaps what some might call enlightened HR, practices such as those described in the Ulrich and Ulrich "Why of Work" presentation and Vineet Nayar's descriptions of how he puts employees first. Empowerment, engagement and playing to strengths.  

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I'm not so naive to believe that all corporations and their managers and employees will always do the right thing. Clearly profit motives and other motives lead to bad outcomes and ethical failures.

I feel however that the belief that we can legislate morality, even in the workplace, is dangerous. Loopholes and ways around laws can readily be found.  When companies look only to the law for their standards, their focus becomes exploitation, and the danger only increases -- Enron's shipping of electricity in and out of California comes to mind -- legal, yes, ethical? 

More important than legally compliant corporations, we need ethical corporations and leaders.  

Even with the recent and ongoing economic challenges we face this same question -- would tighter regulation and greater oversight have prevented the housing and financial crises? My belief is that a lax regulatory environment certainly contributed to it, but an even greater factor was the willingness of corporations and leaders to take actions that were legal, but imprudent in the long term or for the economy as a whole in order to maximize profits in the short term. Get in, get ours, and get out, let someone else get hurt.  

In any case, yes, Susan is right that we should not discriminate on irrelevant factors in our talent practices. I simply disagree on the best approach to getting there.  

Dana L. Tucker

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