The "Ability To Lift 50 Pounds" Is NOT A Sysadmin Skill

I had an interview, in a tough job market. It seemed to go well, I met their requirements, and the job had been open for six months. They were dying for someone who could do the work.

Yet I didn't get the job. They were "going to pursue other candidates".

Discrimination Without Saying It

I looked at their job listings the next week. Surprise, surprise! The job was still there - but with a new "requirement":

"Must be able to lift up to 50 lbs and work in tight spaces."
This is what I call the "we don't want to interview any fatties, gimps, oldsters or tiny women" requirement. Discrimination, but in the form of an apparently "reasonable" job requirement that supposedly is hard and fast, can't be accomodated, blah, blah.

For the record, I can lift a 50 pound case of paper (all it takes is a decent strap around it), or 2 bags each containing 6 full 2-liters (52.8 pounds), I fit in tighter spaces than a guy with buffed out shoulders, or a guy who is a foot taller, than my 5' 8". I just happen to not be diet freak, and suffered a stroke in 1995 that cost me the use of my right arm.

They never asked me how well I worked in tight spaces, or what sort of adaptations I made to working in small areas. Hint: only needing one arm on a tool means only having to get my shoulder in. Seriously, if you have concerns on how I would go about "racking a server" or whatever, ask me! Don't assume I can't because what you see is a chubby gimp.

This is not the first time I have had this happen, and I am tired of it. I am tired of the cult of the young jock ruling the server room.

But Equipment Is Heavy!!!

Yes, and it's expensive, too. I also know a lot of sysadmins with blown out backs from lifting heavy, expensive equipment. These are otherwise young, healthy, able bodied men who now can't lift more than 25 pounds.

A sysadmin in 2010 brings home around $1,000+ a week. It costs his/her employer at least twice that. If that sysadmin is off work for a week or two on workmans comp because they threw out their back lifting their required "50 pounds", their employer is wasting that $2,000 - $4,000. Add the increased workman's comp insurance costs due to the accident, plus the dropped and wrecked equipment, and your "requirement" has now cost you well over $5,000.

Smart People Use Tools To Ease The Burden

If you have to use brute force, you're doing it wrong! Geeks are creative tool users. We are the ones who try to "build a better mouse trap", not just do things the same old "hard way".

A hydraulic lift truck, available in 19" - 20" wide, costs around $1,000 Plus, you then become ADA compliant, you save time and manpower, and you protect your equipment from being dropped by tired and achy sysadmins!

Seriously, Global Industrial has them for under $1,000! Look at their "Manual Work Positioning Lift Trucks" - up to 59" high, and 18 1/2 " wide. "These lift trucks are ideal for use in narrow aisles and confined spaces. " Can you say "Data Center"??

ADA and OSHA Compliance Is Cheap

A lift truck is under $1,000, and doesn't care whether the person is able bodied or just wants to avoid being injured, avoid dropping that $5,000 RAID array, avoid aggravating a bad back, or only has one usable arm like me.

From a health and safety perspective, it's a winning tool. The entire idea behind workplace safety is avoiding injury. Lifting injuries are among the most common injuries, even before RSIs. While sysadmins are at risk for RSIs, due to the nature of their jobs, they should not be "required to" be at risk for lifting injuries too.

What About Fat People? The "50 Pounds" Thing Gets Rid Of Them

Before my stroke, I weighed almost the same as I do now, and could lift and carry 100 pounds. I still used a cart or lift, because it was safer. I may be "fat", but I don't change weight much, I don't do yo-yo diets, and my blood pressure and cholesterol are low normal.

I know fat sysadmins, I know skinny sysadmins. Computers don't care, actually. If your company doesn't like to hire "overweight" people, you are a lawsuit waiting to happen. Plus, there are some really talented people who have metabolic setpoints that are higher than you like to look at, or who have endocrine problems, or who are so geeky that they live at their keyboards and eat only pizza.

Why is not really your business. Whether they can run your servers is your business. As I've shown you above, even lifting heavy servers is not needed - that's what a lift truck is for.

The cult of the thin is not an excuse to write discrimination into a job description. The worship of youth and 'health' is not an excuse to write discrimination into a job description.

Don't Use Coded Requirements To Discriminate

I see through it. While I am not a litigious person, I do blog, and I do talk. Your application of stereotypes and assumptions is insulting to both your intelligence and mine.

When you try to eliminate me as either a woman (assumed to be weak) or a disabled person with "ability to lift 50 pounds" in your "requirements, I will tell people who you are, and what you've done.

Also, don't assume that a female has a bunch of "domestic" issues that would preclude them from traveling, by saying "must be willing to travel". Not every woman takes the mommy track. Again, it will get talked about.

Trying to make sure that your workforce is young and cheap is also discrimination, too, so only focusing on "recent college grads" is essentially saying "young people only need apply". Older people know what that game is - after all, we're older than you are, we have a little experience with living.


By Linda J Laubenheimer, ©2010
This page created May 25, 2010. Last updated 5/25/2010