Spotting an attractive young female at an accounting software conference is like finding a "needle in a haystack."

That’s what one attendee said at Microsoft Convergence 2008 in Orlando last week, describing how he and his co-workers played a game in which they attempted to find these needles. Pretty depressing considering the show drew 9,500 Dynamics partners, customers and employees—1,000 more than last year.   They also played another game called, “Best of Show” in which they hunted for the dorkiest older males.   OK, so it’s not politically correct, but the same person openly declared himself a geek and other attendees joked that anyone searching for resellers needed only to look for gray hair.   The channel is aging. That’s no laughing matter.   The question is whether these salt-and-pepper industry veterans have what it takes to appeal to and hold on to the promising young prospects who do exist, or even to recognize that unwrinkled skin does not equate to inexperience, or at least not to the inability to learn and mature—possibly with their company.   When I interviewed top women executives at some major accounting software vendors for an article last month entitled, “Climbing to the Top,” many of them relayed stories of feeling as though they were not being taken seriously by older men when they first started because they were female or young or blond. Ironically, someone who saw a photo of one of those executives admitted he and his co-worker referred to her as the, “hottie accountant.”   Today, many organizations have three generations of employees working together, but it seems as though a lot of the younger go-getters, both guys and girls, still feel as though they are being judged by their covers.   One 26-year-old is a channel sales manager for a growing Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and 2007 President’s Club member, a distinction which is based on top sales and customer satisfaction. Nevertheless, he heard attendees referring to him as “Booth Babe” and “Booth Boy” when passing by his station, which is likely the reason it took him awhile to admit his age.   Another 20-something PR specialist for Microsoft who normally conducts business with her clients over the phone went to dinner with a group of executives at the conference and was carded—an embarrassing situation when she had worked to appear mature and found that most people were surprised when they met her in person because they assumed she would be older.   The next evening, I attended an intimate reception and was forced to fumble through my purse for my license after ordering a Jack and Diet Coke as a group of resellers literally pointed at me and laughed. My next party stop yielded the same results as people collecting tickets at a local club refused me entrance until proving I was of legal drinking age, despite the fact I was on the V.I.P. list. I know I look young, and I can laugh it off, but it’s kind of awkward detailing my decade of professional experience to someone who just asked my boss whether his intern was around.   If finding young ambitious people who actually enjoy working in the accounting software industry is as difficult as it appears, maybe when potential employers find them they should treat them like gems, instead of needles in the haystack game.

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