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Ageism in the Workplace
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Ageism in the workplace In a 2013 survey by AARP, 64% of workers said they had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace

Ageism is not a new phenomenon. Almost forty years ago, in 1969, world-renowned gerontologist, psychiatrist and founding director of the National Institute on Aging, Dr. Robert Butler coined the term. Ageism is the act of stereotyping and discriminating because of one's age.

Not limited to only older individuals, ageism is alive and well in the media and workplace today. Younger millennials often cast as inexperienced and lazy while baby boomers are often considered expensive to employ, stuck in their ways, and lacking in tech skills. 

With baby boomers accounting for the largest growth in the workforce since 2000 and the generation behind them being smaller, boomers will continue to play a vital role in the economy.  

In addition, companies with a diverse workforce (including but not limited to, race, gender, and age) better meet customer needs, are overall, better places to work, and often see greater productivity and profits when compared to less diverse companies. 

Before we can work to resolve the issue of ageism - we first need to understand it.   

As with all -ism's, ageism operates by pitting one group against another (i.e. stay-at-home vs working moms, and white vs people of color). In the case of ageism, it's older vs younger. 

We recently spoke with Ashton Applewhite and Kerry Hannon about ageism on a Mom Corps YOU podcast. They addressed some common myths and shared tips on how both employers and employees can tackle ageism in the workplace. 

Myth: Older workers take jobs away from younger workers.
Fact: Research shows just the opposite; employing older workers leads to increased employment and higher wages for younger employees

Myth: An older (aka more experienced) worker will want too much money and get bored with a lower position.
Fact: Make and offer and don't assume. There are many reasons why an older worker may be applying to your job opening. At this stage in their life, they may have room for more flexibility, needing less income, and valuing other benefits such as vacation time and telecommuting options.  

Myth: Shop for trendy clothing and color your hair before your interview. Dressing and looking younger will help you when seeking work.
Fact: Your physical and mental/spiritual health are equally, if not more, important. Staying physically fit, eating right, and practicing meditation or yoga can help you to bring energy and positivity to the table.  Potential employers will see it, yet not be able to pinpoint what it is. As Kerry mentioned on our podcast, "Aspire to health, not youth. No one can be any younger than they are." 

How can employers help combat ageism? 

  • Check your own age bias. Stop assuming whole groups are alike. Spend time with people who aren't your age. Ashton spoke of age cafes hosted by the Radical Age Movement. These roundtable discussions with people of various ages help to challenge one's assumptions and force you to look at a person as an individual.
  • Take the shoe test. Look under the meeting table. If you see all the same style shoe (be it all wingtips, heels or Birkenstocks) - you have a problem.
  • Be explicit. When talking about hiring a diverse workforce, don't assume everyone thinks of age when they’re thinking about diversity. Include it in your criteria for diversity.
  • Take AARP's Employer Pledge 

As an individual, what can you do to improve your marketability in spite of ageism?  

  • Stay positive! As Kerry mentions, a faith lift can do more for you than a facelift.
  • Get financially fit. Paying down debt opens the door to more flexibility and options you can consider.
  • Go get those essential skills you need for the job you desire. Don't assume you can always learn them on the job. A lifelong learning mindset is an asset...even if what you're learning isn't a skill needed in your field.
  • Volunteer! It can add or keep your skills sharp, improve your mood, and help build your network.
  • Look for employers who value experienced workers. AARP put out a list a few years ago of best employers for those over 50
  • Be open to contract and part-time jobs. They can help you stay relevant, and may lead to permanent/full-time opportunities. At Corps Team we can help. Create a profile on our site. Our clients are often seeking individuals with experience, and we always reach out to candidates in our database first.
  • Consider entrepreneurship...and the idea of partnering with someone from a younger generation. 

For individuals feeling rejected, Ashton cited her op-ed in the New York Times, “Confronting ageism means joining forces. We need to see older people not as aliens and other, but as us – future us.” She reminded us that ageism does exist and is a possibility. To combat it, we need to take a page from the women's movement. Noting that these are not personal problems - but political problems. It is critical that we come together, share notes and take collective action. 

You can listen to our full podcast conversation with Ashton Applewhite and Kerry Hannon here

Connect with Ashton and Kerry through their respective websites: www.thischairrocks.com and www.kerryhannon.com

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