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I've been with a small tech company just over 4 years now, and was one of the first employees with the company, creating the prototype for what ultimately became the first product. I was one of about 5 initial employees along with the founder. Since then we've growth to 20+, and almost all hires have worked with the key group before.

The concept of favoritism started emerging about 1-2 years in when we hired a new employee that others had worked with at a past company. This type of hiring is normal within our company. In this case the person was already known, well liked, and privy to various inside jokes. Professionally it also meant the person was buddy-buddy with the key players at the company immediately, invited to various small meetings that others were not, included in core decision making, etc. More subtly, this worker was praised for small tasks that wouldn't have been praised by a variety of other longer term employees, and shown excessive professional affection generally, to the point of what seemed like coworker-crushing.

While this is all good hearted, 2 years later it is starting to be seen in professional aspects. While the favorites get more attention, as more of an outsider to that circle I feel like similar ideas are either ignored, or given less attention when I present them. Various leadership initiatives I've tried have fallen flat, not being on the inner group. Two years in a row I've spoken about leadership initiatives and goals in my professional reviews, and both times the boss was moderately interested at best, despite having decent past experience in these. At times I feel like I'm professionally ignored, and need to speak up to be included in various meetings. In reviewing this with my boss, he suggested just that, to get involved by speaking up and requesting to audit various meetings not related to my immediate task. That worked to some degree, but by far not as much as the company favorites I speak of. We are both experienced professionals as well, but there is a definite bias that his opinions are always exceptional, while mine not-relevant. My initiatives toward leadership are generally ignored, which can be frustrating.

I'm also starting to get older. I'm one of the oldest developers at the company, probably 6-10 yrs older than the avg age. The inner circle seems to sit around this average age at the company. And while age discrimination is never as obvious as someone saying, "You're too old to work on this", it can play out in common culture, and social acceptances. I'm at a different place in life (married/kid) vs these unmarried co-workers, though that doesn't affect our actual work. Our impressions of anything from pop-culture to social media vary as well, as do most across the age spectrum. All these play out in how we relate, social inclusion, and ultimately the favoritism that plays out. The younger guys socialize outside work, visit each others houses, etc-- as most friendly people of the same age do. Unless its a work gathering, I'm less likely to be in those situations.

And overall the company is a young one, with young leadership. Certain challenges that are routine in the industry, are new to them, but I've experienced in my deeper past roles. Yet instead of leaning towards my experienced advice, or even seeking it at times, they are more likely to let a young worker make best guesses and learn his way through these challenges for the first time.

How should I react when it starts being evident in these favorites moving forward and my feeling excluded to an outer circle? Is feeling excluded based on perceived age and culture difference something to worry about?

  • So to be clear: are you saying that all of these issues are linked to this new employee who is receiving preferential treatment? Or are you asking what to do about a job with four unrelated negative points? – TheSoundDefense Jun 10 at 17:18
  • I'm asking how to navigate within a company where certain past colleagues enter as favorites, receive preferential professional tracks. And despite always trying to keep my career progression independent of my colleagues, when this stuff starts obstructing or limiting my career, I question how to deal with it. Leaving a job is the easy out, facing the challenge is why I seek feedback. – Miro Jun 10 at 17:37
  • 42 yrs old in USA. I don't pretend that there is any provable age discrimination. But perceived ageism is another story. There is the "old boys club" of gender discrimination, and there is "young man's inner age group" of ageism. – Miro Jun 10 at 18:21
  • The protected class by age in the US starts at age 40. And you certainly don't have to hire a lawyer. Start by visiting the web site of your state Commission Against Discrimination if you want to go that route. AND, there are plenty of companies looking for experienced software engineers. – O. Jones Jun 10 at 21:09
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Age based discrimination may be (and probably is) illegal where you are, but that's a question for an attorney, and my guess is that the burden of proof would be on you.

To be honest though , much of this sounds like sour grapes. There's probably nothing inherently illegal about the company favoring other people over you, regardless of age. It may seem unfair and undeserved for others to get preferential treatment, but there really is no concept of fairness in the workplace, let alone a mechanism to combat or prevent it.

I hate to be the party pooper, but short of finding another job, there probably isn't much you can do about it. You've already tried, with limited or no results.

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Is feeling excluded based on perceived age and culture difference something to worry about?

Ageism is indeed alive and well in the tech industry, and probably others too. Being an aging software engineer I have seen it many times. It is something to keep in mind, but not worry about as you simply cannot change this.

Do you know how you combat that phenomenon?

Be better technically.

Remember our minds are our greatest weapon against that threat, along with some hopefully useful industry experience.

How should I react when it starts being evident in these favorites moving forward and my feeling excluded to an outer circle?

Outshine them technically. Build a better widget. Productivity prevails here.

If that is not enough to allow your career to progress, then its time for you to move on sadly as proving ageism in court is nearly impossible - and expensive.

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How should I react when it starts being evident in these favorites moving forward and my feeling excluded to an outer circle?

It's normal to be sad in your circumstance.

You were one of the 5 first employees. By definition, you felt special. Now that there are more employees, you are no longer "one of 5".

As tiny companies grow, they hire people who have affiliations with others all the time. New circles develop. Sometimes you are in the "inner circle". Sometimes not.

In general, try to focus on you, rather than the company favorite.

Is feeling excluded based on perceived age and culture difference something to worry about?

If you have a great relationship with your boss, you may want to discuss this feeling. If not, you may just want to vent with a friend. That may help ease your worry.

And if your feelings are strong enough, you may wish to find a newer startup where you can be part of the inner circle again - at least for a while.

If you are management material, it's fairly common for startups to start hiring managers at some point. And often managers skew a bit older. Those companies may value your leadership more than this one.

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After reading your question, it sounds like your major gripe is not being included in this social group at work. You also said you are married and have children. I believe your priorities are messed up here. You should be concentrating on providing for your family and not worried about what social group you belong to at work. If switching jobs make you a better provider at home, then do it. There's no need to worry about fitting into some group at work.

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    This is dangerous, as you have to play the social game at work to some extent in a professional environment, or you can come off as not caring. – Mister Positive Jun 10 at 18:26
  • Also, keep in mind, that wanting to have a good day at work and socialize with other people is not "messed up priorities". In order to be a good husband/father you also need to feel good at work and all people have a need for socializing. – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Jun 11 at 8:14

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