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In Mexico, Young and Thin Are Often Job Requirements

By Marla Dickerson & Meredith Mandell, Special to The Times
Los Angeles Times




October 23, 2006

MEXICO CITY — When Michigan-based automotive supplier Lear Corp. needed a secretary for its office in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, it placed a classified ad seeking a "female … aged 20 to 28 … preferably single … with excellent presentation."

And to ensure that it got the right candidate, Lear asked applicants to include a recent photo with their resumes.

In the United States, that ad might draw howls of protest and trigger lawsuits and hefty fines. But in Mexico, where jobs are scarce and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is all but nonexistent, employers routinely select staff on criteria more appropriate to a beauty contest.

Job seekers who are considered too old, too chunky or too dark are screened out by companies that sometimes specify the ideal candidate's marital status, height, weight, tone of voice, even the part of town in which the person should reside.

What is less known is that many American corporations — including Coca-Cola, Pepsi Bottling and Shell Oil — are engaging in hiring practices that appear to violate their fair-employment policies in the U.S.

They include companies that trumpet their diversity initiatives north of the border, including top-drawer U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie, and should be familiar with Mexican laws prohibiting discrimination.

"Why are so many of them not complying with the same standards they have to comply with in the United States? Because they can get away with it," said Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred, known for battling discrimination.

When contacted by The Times, U.S. companies said they did not know about the ads or blamed them on local managers or third parties.

Lear executives in the U.S. said they weren't aware of the Mexican job posting. Provided a copy, spokeswoman Andrea Puchalsky later issued a statement declaring that the ad was not in keeping with Lear's equal-employment policies and that references to gender, age and similar criteria would be removed.

"Unfortunately, it is very difficult for a global organization … to closely monitor the activities of our representatives in all regions of the world," Puchalsky said.

Mexico's constitution and federal labor code prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, religion, marital status, health and other factors. But legal experts say Mexicans rarely complain to authorities or file employment discrimination lawsuits, partly because seeking redress is a lengthy and expensive process.

Wilma Ramirez Santiago, deputy director of the complaints unit of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, said the Mexican public had grown so used to discriminatory hiring practices that most people were resigned to them.

Her federal agency was set up in 2003 to investigate discrimination complaints and raise awareness, but it has no power to prosecute scofflaws, and the government is cutting its 2007 budget 4%.

"We're a clearly discriminatory society, but no one wants to accept it," said Ramirez, who added that her organization would like to see a crackdown on employment classifieds.

That would make Mexico a pioneer in Latin America, where such ads are ubiquitous.

Some companies equate youth with higher productivity and lower costs in terms of salaries and healthcare.

Many male employers view single, attractive females as desirable — until they get married and have children. Then they mean costly pregnancy leave, children-related absences and turnover.

Married men often are seen as stable and less likely to be homosexual, still a major taboo. Good looks and fair skin are prized.

"They don't contract you if you don't have a pretty face or a pretty body," said Patricia Tellez, a plump lawyer who was among hundreds of anxious hopefuls packing a recent job fair in Tlajomulco, not far from Guadalajara.

Tellez said a recruiter at one table told her they preferred a man to a fill a debt-collector position for which she had applied. The 29-year-old lives with her parents and supports herself selling secondhand clothing in a flea market.

Thousands of underemployed Mexicans like Tellez represent a waste of human capital that is hurting the nation's competitiveness.

"You have very intelligent people forced to clean windshields and park cars," said Florencia Peña, a professor at Mexico City's National School of Anthropology and History who has studied employment discrimination. "That is very costly for the culture and for the country."

Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon has cited "equal opportunity" as one of the main platforms of his development plan.

Some employment classifieds cite bodily measurements with the breezy specificity of a dating service. An ad on one of Mexico's largest online job sites sought a man aged 25 to 30 to work in Mexico City.

The candidate must stand at least 5 feet 9 inches tall, weigh 154 to 176 pounds and be possessed of a "good presentation."

These exacting standards were for a route driver for Coca-Cola Femsa, Mexico's largest bottler, partly owned by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co.

Officials in Atlanta referred questions to Coca-Cola's Mexican affiliate. A spokesman for Monterrey-based Coca-Cola Femsa e-mailed a statement saying the company did not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, disability or other factors.

American firms are shortchanging themselves and helping to perpetuate inequality when they fail to tap into the widest pool of talent in foreign countries, said Aron Cramer, president and chief executive of Business for Social Responsibility, an ethics consulting firm in San Francisco.

"It's bad economic policy and it's bad social policy," he said.

Baker & McKenzie, a Chicago-based law firm, recently advertised for a real estate attorney — a male one — for its Monterrey office in northern Mexico. Celene Caballero, a company recruiter in Mexico, said Mexican clients feel more comfortable being represented by men.

The firm, which a California jury in 1994 ordered to pay millions to a former female secretary to settle a landmark sexual harassment case, said the online Mexican ad was "an aberration" that would be revised.

All applicants would be considered regardless of gender, and those responsible for the posting "have been reminded of the proper approach for this, and all future recruitment initiatives," read a statement e-mailed by spokesman Douglas MacDonald.

Other employers, though, don't view their Mexican recruitment practices as exclusionary.

Pepsi Bottling Group Inc., based in Somers, N.Y., recently advertised in Mexico for a human resources assistant who is male, unmarried and between the ages of 21 and 25. The company's website boasts that in 2005, it ranked 14th among DiversityInc magazine's Top 50 companies.

Pepsi spokeswoman Kelly McAndrew said the company did not believe that the posting violated Mexican law or the company's equal employment policy.

"This is not discrimination," she said. "The solicitation of candidates with these particular reference points [is] not the basis for any hiring decisions."

Many Mexicans say they have simply come to accept that being too old, too dark, too fat or having too many children trumps education and experience for many employers.

At the Tlajomulco job fair, Paulina Duran, 25, an unemployed mother of two, said the first question recruiters asked her was: "Who is going to watch the kids?"

Ismael Briseno was also having a tough day. Laid off early this year, the dapper, college-educated 50-year-old former airline worker said he had contacted 52 employment agencies and 27 Internet sites without receiving a nibble.

"They want young people so they can pay them less," Briseno said.

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marla.dickerson@latimes.com

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Staff writer Dickerson reported from Mexico City. Mandell is a special correspondent. Carlos Martinez in The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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Begin text of infobox

Down to specifics

These ads appeared in OCC Mundial (www.occ.com.mx), one of Mexico's largest online employment sites.

Quaker State

Position: sales manager

Education: bachelor's in business administration, marketing or commercial relations

Sex: male

Age: 30 to 45

Civil status: preferably married

Experience: minimum 5 years

Live: in the southeast zone of Mexico City

Other: don't apply if you don't meet this profile 100%

Company response

Houston-based Shell Oil Co., which owns the Quaker State brand, said the ad was taken out by an independent Mexican licensee/distributor, Comercial Importadora. A Shell spokeswoman said the ad would be pulled because it was "not acceptable" to the U.S. company, which would work with the Mexican firm to make sure that future ads "better align" with Shell's diversity policies.

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Coca-Cola Femsa

Position: route driver

Education: high school diploma or technical school

Sex: male

Age: 25 to 30

Height: minimum 5 feet, 9 inches

Weight: 154 to 176 pounds

Documents: proof of military service; truck license

Experience: driving a 3 1/2 -ton truck; knowledge of the metro area

Appearance: good presentation

Live: in or near the southwest side of Mexico City

Other: don't apply if you don't meet this profile 100%

Company response

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, which owns a minority stake in the Mexican bottler, referred inquiries to Monterrey, Mexico-based Coca-Cola Femsa. The Mexican firm issued an e-mail statement saying it did not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, religion or other factors.

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Lear Corp.

Position: bilingual secretary

Education: bachelor's degree or some college

Sex: female

Age: 20 to 28

Civil status: preferably single

Experience: English knowledge 70%; Microsoft Office software knowledge 80%

Appearance: excellent presentation

Live: preferably near the city of Silao

Other: please send resume with a recent photo

Company response

A spokeswoman for Michigan-based Lear said that the ad was not in keeping with the company's fair-employment policies and that it would be revised.

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Kimberly-Clark de Mexico

Position: process-control technician

Education: bachelor's in chemical engineering

Age: 22 to 28

Sex: preferably male

Civil status: preferably married

Experience: operation of evaporation systems; English knowledge 80%

Company response

A Kimberly-Clark spokesman in Texas said the company considered the ad to be in violation of the nondiscrimination policy of its Mexican affiliate. It said the ad and all future postings would be revised.

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