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Home | Got a Minute | Career advice | No. 85 – I’m disrespected at work because I look so young: The Boss Baby problem

No. 85 – I’m disrespected at work because I look so young: The Boss Baby problem

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16 November 2022

I am 12 years into my career and a senior member of my team in a large organisation. I am highly experienced, as well as respected and liked by my superiors and clients. Over my career, I’ve achieved a lot, worked on high-profile projects, and gotten great results. The only problem? I am a young woman but look even younger than my age, and I am often met with disrespect. Over the past few months, I have been trying to dip my toe in the job market and feel I am sometimes met with disbelief when I detail my job history. In my current team, I’m often met with disrespect from those more junior than me. How can I convey my experience and authority better without resorting to wearing a 1980s power suit? I feel like I’m floundering.

Your situation brings back so many memories on a personal level and I understand precisely how you feel. It is frustrating, demeaning and, frankly, sexist, that women (and young women, in particular) are so often dismissed based on their appearance. You are in fine company – think of women like Jacinda Ardern, Grace Tame, Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg – who were all underestimated at some point and now changing the world.

When I was 21, I remember having men report to me who had worked with that particular employer for longer than I had been alive. It took all the courage in the world to be able to earn their respect, but you can and will. Keep doing what you are doing. You don’t need power suits or (as I recall thinking once) early-onset grey hair to earn respect. The most important sentence in your question is your belief that you are experienced, respected and liked. That is all you need to remember and focus on. You can only control what you think, feel, say and do and nothing will change the minds of those who decide to dismiss you based on your appearance. Being underestimated can become a superpower if you just keep focused on continuing to do what you do brilliantly.

Two decades ago, I committed a crime in NSW that is not eligible for quashing. I have continuously worked for 20 years as I was able to choose roles that do not require a criminal history check. I am about to move interstate and now need to get a new job, but I am finding every job requires a criminal history check. Can you please advise me on what my options are, if any?

My advice is if a potential employer mentions there will be a criminal history check, be honest and upfront about what the check will show. You can seek to reassure a potential employer you are now a different person by explaining how you have changed. Focus on what you have learnt over the past 20 years, the changes you have made to your life and the decades of work experience you now have and can apply to their workplace. Try to ensure you have references from various employers you have worked with over the last two decades. There may be some employers who can’t get past your history but don’t be disheartened. Keep applying for roles and tackle this head-on.

I live in a fairly small town and worked for my former employer for more than five years. I was made redundant but was treated respectfully and given a lovely sendoff. My CEO offered to be my referee in the future, even though admittedly, I had had a few years of low performance due to personal reasons. Recently, I re-applied for a role with my old employer as it has been two years since I left. While the recruiter put me forward, my former CEO said no, so I didn’t get the job. Should I ask my former CEO why she said no? How do I ask her? I’m now wondering what she may have said to other potential employers and how to restore my career.

I don’t think it would be appropriate to get in touch with your former CEO since that could be a difficult conversation, and you may never get an honest answer about why she has said no to you for this role. Find a new referee though, if you can, so you are not having doubts about why you may not be having success seeking employment elsewhere. The other person to speak with is the recruiter who put you forward for this position. They clearly felt you were qualified and suitable so perhaps ask them for as much feedback as you can and seek their advice on where to next for your career.

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