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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Earning Respect Means Working Twice as Hard

Karen DeLeon rose through the ranks of Blue Shield of California in Woodland Hills at a record pace, first as a sales associate and later as regional sales manager. But despite heaps of praise she was the top sales rep in every position she’s ever had DeLeon still faces a frequent hurdle when it comes to her job: her age. At 32, DeLeon sometimes finds herself not taken seriously. “With my peers not so much, with the producers, yes,” she says of those she deals with in the business. “They want to know how long you’ve been in the industry.” DeLeon’s experiences highlight an issue that affects many young business professionals in the San Fernando Valley region: age bias still exists. “It’s an issue where seniority is valued,” said Julie Ocegueda, 26, the economic development manager of the Valley Economic Development Center who got her start as a staffer in the county Community Development Commission. At that job, Ocegueda said, her young age was a major hurdle especially since pay, vacation time and promotions were all based on how long an employee had been on the job. But it also served as motivation, she said. “You had to work twice as hard,” Ocegueda said. “You come in earlier.” Once she demonstrated her work ethic, her older superiors accepted Ocegueda, she said. Despite that experience, the work environment of today is far friendlier to younger workers, she said. “There are more opportunities now with the job market,” said Ocegueda, who works with dozens of businesses through the VEDC. She said age seems to play a role in certain industries, but not others. “It really depends on the culture of the workplace,” she said. “It’s a cultural issue.” Age, for example, appears to have less impact on employees hired at a young age and then moved through the ranks. Chad Charton was still in high school when he started as a clerk at FMS Financial Partners in Encino, where his father worked. He continued working there while attending California State University Northridge, eventually becoming a part-time licensed health and life insurance agent. Today, he’s just 22, but unlike DeLeon, Charton said clients were willing to hear him out. “I don’t know if I look older, but I’d like to think I present myself professionally,” he said. Charton’s biggest asset, though, was the fact he was typically on the phone with clients. “With no visual it allowed me to be anybody I wanted to be,” he said. The age factor is also less at businesses that have a strong training program or a history of employing workers straight out of college. Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan, an Encino law firm, has an extensive internship program, which acts as a farm system for future hires and managers. Partner Sue M. Bendavid-Arbiv said it works because the firm likes to think of itself as close-knit and willing to help younger employees out. “Our firm tends to be like a family,” she said. “There’s families of all different ages.” Track record Accounting also appears to place more of an emphasis on one’s resume versus age. Jeff Bobrosky, 37 and a partner with the Sherman Oaks accounting firm Good Swartz Brown & Berns LLP, said he hasn’t experienced any age bias at his company. Instead, when he was hired, supervisors focused more on his professional track record. “People are more concerned about the experiences you have, not necessarily how old you are,” he said. It was a similar experience when Derek Berz was hired as a director of continuum of care for Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. He was just 30, but the interviewing process exposed him to many of those who would become his superiors, which made it easier once he was hired. In essence, they knew what they were getting into. Still, sometimes his age now 33 becomes an issue with clients or those that don’t know him. “It comes up as a question,” said Berz, who admits he looks even younger than his 33 years. “But once I have a discussion with someone, it goes away.” In fact, Berz said, his age can be an asset. “It helps me look at technology solutions,” he said. “Maybe because of my age, it allows me to walk into a situation and say, ‘Why are we doing it this way?'” Young and approachable Kerry Carmody, Berz’s boss and the administrator of Holy Cross, said Berz’s age often helps put co-workers at ease. “His age makes him very approachable,” he said. “He’s able to communicate (and) brings lots of energy.” John Bwarie, 27, a field deputy for Valley City Councilman Greig Smith agreed that being young can help break down barriers. “Sometimes in the business community it’s about that non-business relationship,” he said. “They see something in you as a young person. They see themselves. Someone connects with you.” In the end, though, it’s vital that you know what you’re talking about, regardless of age, said DeLeon, the Blue Shield broker. That’s how she gets ahead knowing more about her business than anyone else. “I know what I know. I know my competitors,” DeLeon said. “And I know I can definitely support them.”

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