Do some forms of discrimination deserve priority over others? Or are all forms of discrimination equally wrong and equally deserving of correction?
I ask because at my workplace, and perhaps yours as well, there seems to exist a willful disregard of the presence of ageism.
Discrimination on the basis of age seems to be viewed as somehow less toxic than discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Such a view of ageism just increases the level of toxicity.
The older I get, the more I have been made to feel at work that what I do — I am a professor — doesn’t matter as much as it once did. Let me illustrate what I mean from a recent experience.
The ‘Managing Bias’ training program
I received an email from the college administration that faculty were required to complete an online training titled “Managing Bias.” As someone who has endured 40 years of workplace trainings, it was not something I exactly looked forward to doing.
I had, in fact, been ignoring the periodic emails I’d gotten reminding me to do the training by the end of the month. My resistance must have been secretly weakening. I logged in to the training program.
It turned out to be a slick commercial product. Users were presented with a series of video vignettes portraying various types of bias. After each, you were asked how you would respond to the situation. You’d be congratulated if your response was appropriate and gently chided if it was not.
During the 90 minutes it took to complete, the training dramatized discriminatory behavior against women, people of color, religious minorities, and lesbians, gay people and transgender people — and done so with Hollywood-style production values.
But moments after logging out, I belatedly realized something disturbing: The training made no reference to ageism.
The training had made no reference to ageism — not even a definition cribbed from Wikipedia: “Ageism…is stereotyping and/or discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic. The term was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism.”
Given that “Managing Bias” overlooked a form of bias that even Wikipedia recognizes, I thought it important to alert our Office of Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion.
Contacting the HR, Diversity and Inclusion Department
So, I emailed an Associate Vice President there, noting the irony that a training on bias was itself biased. Little did I know that things were going to get more ironic.
A month later, I was still waiting for a reply and feeling that the “Office of Human Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion” was a misnomer. Just about the last thing I felt was included. I felt marginalized, diminished, invisible. Being blown off can do that to you.