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Cancelling ageism in the future of work: 3 age myths debunked

by | Nov 10, 2020

Cactus coming from old man's head.
Image Credit: Rosie - Christine Utterberg
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“Seasoned” — the dreaded word to describe people who are experienced, skillful, expert, accomplished, gifted, good, proficient, etc. I prefer any of those choices over “seasoned”! 

Like many, I was recently laid off as a result of the pandemic and faced with the challenge of finding a job in a stalled economy — at 56. I searched first in the industry that I came from and then to those that were booming and despite the current job market, available positions for Creative Directors abound! I couldn’t help but believe I’d be employed in no time! 

During my job search, I kept my skills at the forefront of my process and applied to those that I was interested in and a good fit for; after all, I was skillful, able, capable, experienced and most of all relevant. So why wasn’t I employed nearly 4 months later? Not for a second did I consider my age any more than I would my gender. I’ve always been a firm believer that the secret to any great team is making sure that it is composed of a diverse group of people. 

I applaud all the long overdue diversity and inclusion initiatives that are making headway, but ageism continues to plague many organizations and teams. In an interview with The Rosie Report, Cindy Gallop shares that, “Ageism has long been the one ‘ism’ less focused on – and yet it’s the one ‘ism’ that applies to all of us, at every point along the age spectrum.” She continues to explain how age and gender can contribute to controversial hiring decisions or other issues. “Being deemed ‘too young’ in the workplace can be just as problematic as being deemed ‘too old’ – especially for women,” she says.

A fact, I now had to consider in my job search; discrimination based on myths and negative attitudes and behavior based solely on my age. Didn’t the 25+ years of hard work honing my craft and inspiring others equate to opening doors instead of shutting them? 

According to the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA), by 2022, more than one-third of the workforce will be over 50 — most of whom will not only still need to work but come with a long track record in their chosen fields and viable candidates for those positions they seek. Never one to accept what is not acceptable,  I sought out tips for applicants to consider when looking for a job. A web cast offered by Indeed, “Avoiding Ageism When Searching for Jobs,” explains why age bias exists, tips for both resume and interviews but more importantly, support. Support that I wasn’t alone and that while my age couldn’t be overcome, I could shed some light on why many myths around age which are just that — myths:

We aren’t counting the days until retirement. The average retirement age in the US is 62 to 65. However, some consider working part-time, pursue second careers or even return to full-time work. Reasons vary but less often have to do with financial status and more with the desire to infuse a team with learnings from successes and challenges that can offer new perspectives. 

Older workers will only work for higher salaries. Older workers work because they want to and can provide inspiration that their experience brings to younger workers — potentially leading to long-term stability — in turn, a decrease in job turnover. That saves money. Considering that an older worker isn’t job hopping can actually save an employer money from frequent turnovers and the need for constant recruitment. 

Older workers lack skills or are averse to learning them. Oh contraire! Keeping skills honed is part of what makes us ‘seasoned’ and most Boomers are very comfortable using computers and are very tech savvy and eager to keep learning. Our self-sufficiency and ability to communicate effectively empowers others to take a natural direction into roles that help coworkers realize their paths. 

I started my career in publishing as a graphic designer laying out magazines on boards. Equipped with X-ACTO knives and sheets of rubylith to prep pages for print, there was no ‘command Z’ if I made a mistake — just more, real, cutting and pasting. Yet these are the very same foundational skills that trained me to be meticulous with details and granted me the ability to consider design elements independently in order to process how they would work together in telling a visual story. 

Throughout our careers we are asked where we want to be in 5 or 10 years. We are encouraged to look forward in order to advance our careers and achieve our goals. That question often provides us with the ability to envision our future and encourages us to keep going. I’ve had the privilege of advancing my career through evolving technology. The learning process does not stop at any age and nor do ideas, energy or the practical experience to get things done. 

While hiring managers may not intend to discriminate against candidates based upon their age, it happens. AARP’s Multicultural Work and Jobs Study found that 61% of workers aged 45+ have witnessed or experienced age discrimination. According to Dr. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School, this discrimination has “common roots in fear of differences.” As teams continue to encourage diversity and inclusion, measurement matters, and it is important to gather and include ageism into these measurements so all groups can be accounted for, equally. 

I’ve found that small shifts like being mindful of language that could be construed as offensive, can create a big impact. Organizations like One Digital, offer management tips on combating ageism in the workplace:

  1. Remain vigilant, recognize stereotyping and avoid making assumptions.
  2. Offer training and promotional opportunities.
  3. Watch for social cues in the workplace
  4. Open the dialogue with employees.
  5. Implement mentorship programs.

Though fostering an inclusive workplace isn’t just for the 40 and up club, it’s the right thing to do — and the legal thing to do. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects people who are age 40+, by forbidding age discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training and benefits. 

For more information on the ADEA, visit the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission here.

And for the record, we’re not “seasoned” — we’re “timeless.”

Robin’s Socials: Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram 

Editor’s Socials – Dominque Dajer: LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram

Topic: Inclusion
Written by Robin Sodaro
Brand Marketer and Creative Director

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