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?