This summer, I will hit an age milestone. (If you’re interested in getting me a gift, I like strong IPAs and cool running gear.) Nothing too big like the 30, 40, or 50 year mark, but it’s a speed limit. When I hit this milestone, I’ll also be joining a new age group when it comes to running races. If you’re not familiar with the age groups in races, there are age categories. 30-34, 40-44, you get the idea. They are also split by gender. So when you look for your time, you can see where you compare to others in your age group and gender. Many races also list what city you’re from. I compare myself to them just because of their age and their gender and assume I should be at a similar pace than them. But I have limited information and a limited view and make judgments based on that limited view. We do the same thing in the workplace. Whether it is in the recruiting process or when looking at the experience of our workforce, we make assumptions based on our own limited experiences and perceptions. And, we may not be making making the best or most fair decisions because of it.
Comparing yourself to other runners in your age group solely based on age gives you a limited view on how you are actually performing against them. You don’t know the actual experience level of each runner. Many are participating in their first race and many others have been running their whole lives. I have seen many 44 year olds out pace and win the 40-44 year old age group. You also don’t have any idea to each person’s training or preparation before the race. You don’t know how much rest they got the night before. Where they staying in their own bed or in a hotel or at a friend’s home? Or how they felt during the race. Did their fuel strategy not go so well? All you have is their age, gender, and location.
Similar judgments and assumptions are made in the workplace. We make a lot of assumptions based on the limited information we are presented. We take a look at a resume and make assumptions based on our biases and experiences. We assume a particular performance outcoume based on educational background, title, or previous employer. We make assumptions based on where somebody lives even though we aren’t supposed to. We may only see limited experience listed on a resume or LinkedIn profile and make a judgment. We won’t pick up the phone to seek to understand or find out more because we either think we are too busy or we think we already know the answer. Maybe someone entered the workforce at a different stage in their life. Maybe they are making a career change, but possess the exact qualities you are looking for to fill your position. Either way, our views are limited and biased.
We also judge others based on where we were at their current age or stage of their career. We will hold someone back because they couldn’t possibly be as advanced as we were at that age. Or we may expect more of an employee because of where we were at that age or stage of our career. No matter how much experience you have, how many countries you’ve visited, or how many companies you’ve worked for, your view is still biased and limited.
We all learn and progress at different paces based on a multitude of factors. Some are given more opportunity or access based on their age, race, or gender. Others value different things in the workplace and may progress laterally instead of vertically. Organizational structures vary and no one title is the same from company to company. But we make critical hiring decisions or pass on candidates solely based on this information.
Next time you are evaluating the talent of your organization or you find yourself judging an employee at a certain stage of their career, take a step back and check your biases. Run this through another filter or group of people and search for objectivity. While you may think you know the right answer based on your vast experiences, there’s a good chance your decision could be flawed. Take a little more time to get it right. Because we all run at different paces and we all finish the race.