04 March 2010

DJ wanted, 75+

Imagine a chef who was as thin as beanpole, a DJ aged 75, or a union leader of 18. Something just doesn’t fit. Or are we just prejudiced?

Imagine a chef who was as thin as beanpole, a DJ aged 75, or a union leader of 18. Something doesn’t fit. Maybe I am just prejudiced, but I suspect we all are, where jobs and looks are concerned.

Would you buy something in a health shop from someone who looked as if they were at death’s door? Now that I think about it, have you ever noticed that people who work in health shops often look worn out and extremely ill? Obviously there are some exceptions, but most of the ones I have seen look as if they are in dire need of every single product on their shelves. Right now.

Am I just being prejudiced, or what were these employers thinking?

And that’s just the thing. Employers do need to consider un-PC things such as age, appearance and gender when they employ new staff, despite what might be considered sexist or ageist. The society we live in often dictates these things. And we buy into them wholesale. And we haven’t even touched on the whole race issue or what it must be like to be disabled.

Beating around the bush
It’s quite interesting to see how employers get around this issue when advertising. ‘Experienced’ means older than 35, ‘vibey’ means no more than 20, ‘funky’ means thin and vibey, ‘full training given’ means about 18 and your salary will be minimal, ‘list qualifications and experience’ means at least middle-aged and definitely no longer funky. O yes, and then there’s ‘willing to work overtime’, which means no single mothers need apply.

It’s bad for business not to employ the kind of people who look the part. Few employers are brave enough to do so, unless their employees have minimal contact with the public.

Wasted talent
That’s the sad thing about our society. It could be that there are brilliant receptionists out there who don’t fit into a number 34-dress, exceptional 65-year-old waiters, and computer game freaks with blue rinses, who would play anyone in under the table. And all this talent gets wasted.

A moment of silence for people who do jobs for which they do not look the part: this includes female doctors, who are constantly mistaken for nurses by those they treat, or young-looking interns in state hospitals who are asked all the time by worried patients, “Are you sure you’re a doctor?”

We do judge on appearances. Our expectations also play a part. But perhaps as a society we are very narrow-minded when it comes to judging someone’s ability to do a job.

Maybe we, and this includes employers, should all learn to look at other things, such as skills level, experience, personality and interests rather than at whether someone should look the part and whether they are a direct advertisement for the product they represent.

But then I have to admit to a weakness in myself – I couldn’t help wonder how, recently on TV, a diet product could have a spokesman who was so clearly in need of the product himself. But then, I work for a health website, and I certainly do not envisage a career as a lingerie model. But in an ideal society, maybe they would make bikinis in my size. Surf’s up!

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated March 2010)


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