It was quite disheartening to read the recent coverage of the appointment of the new Chief Flight Director at NASA. The successful candidate has worked at NASA since 1998, was the “outstanding leader in the group” and the unanimous choice. She also happens to be a woman.
This is not newsworthy. If a child, or a chimpanzee, or a single cell amoeba had been appointed to the role, that is newsworthy. The headlines should have read “most appropriate person gets job”, but that’s not very interesting is it?
At the end of the day, what this highlights is the misogyny that is still prevalent across all senior appointments. The best person for the job is the best person for the job, regardless of age, colour, creed or sex. It highlights that people are still shocked that a woman can be as good as, if not better than, a man. And it highlights still how far we have to go in terms of genuine equality in the work place.
Don’t get me wrong, we have come a long way in a relatively short space of time. I remember in the 1990s when a former employer opened an office in Belfast, and the discussions about how they were going to get round sectaranism when putting candidates forward for a role. That was easily solved by removing the names of schools from CVs, but you couldn’t help wondering occasionally whether that influenced hiring decisions once this information came out.
Very few people put their dates of birth on CVs nowadays, and quite rightly you are not allowed to ask. However, I still get clients asking “how old would you say he/she is”, with particular concerns raised about any candidate who appears to be over the age of 55, and married women in their late 20s/early 30s.
(Interestingly, many candidates are happy to put on their CV or LinkedIn the dates they attended senior school – quick point, we all start there at the age of 11, so the maths is not tricky……)
I was gently accused of ageism during a recent assignment. The candidate in question was, admittedly, the oldest person I met, and clearly felt that his age was being held against him by other recruitment consultants. However, the shortlist I put forward to the client consisted entirely of candidates over the age of 50, and the successful candidate was 60. I also pointed out to him that the next candidate I placed was also approaching 60.
The point is, every individual is different. We are working longer, living longer, being healthy and active for longer and, if we are being brutally honest, it is only the more active professions (police, fire, armed services) where enforced retirement does still make sense. Most candidates I meet want to continue to contribute, to continue to feel valued and part of a team for as long as possible. And the experience that they have garnered over the years can be vital to any business facing up to the current set of economic challenges.
So let’s just accept that the best person for the job is the best person for the job. And let’s not be surprised when the best qualified person for the role gets the role.
We know we have finally broken through when 9 year old Sheldon Cooper is appointed NASA Director.