Saturday, January 6, 2018

Whack a Bigot

Normally, Carolyn Hax is one of the most sensible of advice columnists. Her daily column in the Washington Post is well worth the time and effort.

Today, however, Hax whiffs on a fastball straight down the middle. I hope you appreciate the sports metaphor.

The problem involves a middle age woman whose new team leader is young and female. In fact, said team leader is the same age as the letter writer’s children. 

Here is the letter:

I’ve been at my job for 14 years. We started a new, huge project so there are some new hires and new structuring. We are divided into four groups of about 10, each with a team leader, and there is one person who leads the team leaders.

This person used to be my direct boss, and we had a great working relationship.

I’ve been on my team for about three weeks and I’m having a hard time with my team leader, who is just out of business school and is the same age as my kids. She doesn’t do anything specifically insulting or difficult, I just have a really hard time taking a 25-year-old seriously at work.

I went to my old boss and asked to be switched to a different team, and he told me no. He also said there is no reason not to listen to my team leader.

Before examining Hax’s error, we note that the woman has no reason to respect a twenty-five year old, inexperienced, newly minted MBA. We recall the remark of Yao Puzhong… who noted admiringly that one of the nation’s best managed companies, Costco, does not hire MBAs.

Has the MBA earned anyone’s respect? No, she has not. Does she bring any experience to her position? No, she does not. She was apparently hired straight out of business school. While the letter writer limits herself to a mention of the woman’s age, we suspect, because we are of a suspicious temperament, that there are other reasons, more concrete, more palpable for her inability respect her new team leader. The man who hired her has a vested interest in his own bad decision, so clearly he does not want to hear about the problem. And he does not want to show a lack of confidence in the neophyte he hired. By the way, to assess the situation we would want to be able to see the team leader, to evaluate her attitude, her posture, her tone of voice, her decisiveness and her physical presence.

At your leisure, consider this. If the letter writer were a male and he was asked to report to a young woman just out of business school, would he respect her? Or would he begin to question how she had gotten her job? The letter writer is far too civil to raise such questions.

Anyway, Carolyn reads the same letter that you have read-- without my commentary-- and decides that the letter writer is being ageist. Yes, indeed, children… the problem is bigotry.

Allow Hax her opinion:

According to what you wrote, at least, there is in fact no reason not to listen to your team leader. So quit indulging these hard feelings before they cost you your job.

Imagine how you’d feel if she asked to have you transferred out because she doesn’t like working with someone her mother’s age.

Ageism is ageism. Your complaint is ageist.

Since no one has any reason to respect a whiny post-adolescent MBA, Hax is merely guilt tripping the letter writer. Doesn’t that sound like one of our culture’s most important symptoms? If you are working for someone who has never manifested any competence, or who is incompetent, who does not inspire her staff’s confidence, then the fault, dear reader, is you and you mindless bigotry. Such is the way that those who have drunk the politically correct Kool Aid have been told that they must think. They must imagine that the team leader is a woman of superior competence, extraordinary executive abilities... who is only being held back by bigotry.

We do not know why the team leader was hired? We do not know whether or not she was hired to fill a diversity quota. We do know that she is failing in the first basic aspect of her job: to inspire confidence in her staff.


Jack Fisher said...

Every newly commissioned officer faces this problem. Good officers - with mentoring - learn how to overcome it. The formal respect due the office and a well-tried mentoring system in place smoothes the road. If you've been there, you know what I mean.

In the article, I can't tell where the problem is, there just aren't enough facts, and there are always two sides to every story. The problem might lie with the new hire, but also might be the older woman with the attitude issue. It might mean both of them need counselling and my initial response to the old broad would be to respect the office unless and until you can give me specific instances of mismanagement/misconduct.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

All things considered, people hesitate before offering up more information... for fear of being accused of bigotry.

trigger warning said...

The basic problem here is the older broad got passed over in favor of a younger woman for a leadership position. And three weeks in she's already bitching to her former boss about the new arrangement.

Hanlon's Razor [Corollary A]: Never attribute to Ageism behavior that can be adequately explained by simple stupidity.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Even more basic is the notion that a 25 year old MBA is competent... which is based on the fact that she has never done anything for the company. I am surprised to see some of you buying the bigotry meme.

trigger warning said...

There are many flavors of MBA, Stuart. Some are extremely competent quantitative students of linear programming, operations research (a branch of applied mathematics), and critical path analytics. Others are touchy-feely management/diversity wookies.

While I suspect the new MBA is a wookie (most are), we have no way of knowing that. What we do know is the boss obviously preferred a new direct report.

David Foster said...

I would want to know what the newly-graduated MBA did *before* she went to B-school....many schools require some actual work experience before admission.

Also, the letter-writer said "I just have a really hard time taking a 25-year-old seriously at work"

...which tends to imply that she would be unconfortable with the situation *regardless* of demonstrated confidence on the part of the new team leader.

Sam L. said...

Three weeks is a short time, but not too short for first impressions, and for signs that might change those first impressions. I'm guessing the flipped coin is still in the air.

Sam L. said...

As to Hax, I have read some of her columns in the past,and I have to say that I view her much like you view Ask Polly. I am not impressed.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

True, as David Foster days, most MBAs have some business experience... but the woman is 25.. and if she did not graduate as a teenager she could not have had very much, if any. I will say that I would have a very difficult time taking an inexperienced 25 year old seriously as a team leader... which is not the same as giving the benefit of the doubt to a young colleague... which we do all the time.