According to CNBC, Gen X is experiencing ageism as they look for work post COVID. This includes job seekers aged 45 and older. As a Gen Xer, I found this shocking. And yet, not so much. According to a study conducted by Generation, a nonprofit employment organization, their findings also include:
- Across countries spanning multiple continents, workers between the ages of 45-60 are the most overlooked
- Mid-career professionals comprise a large percentage of the long-term unemployed
- Hiring managers find this age bracket to be “the worst cohort in terms of application readiness, fitness, and previous experience”
- Evidence states workers in this age bracket often outperform their younger peers
What is ageism?
Over the last year, I’ve developed an interest in the topic of ageism and have found myself wondering: What is it? When does it start in life? And who declares the age it shows up? Recently, I listened to the But What About Me podcast hosted by Jennifer Tardy. Her guest was Patti Temple Rocks, author of I’m Not Done. Temple Rocks states ageism is the “socially acceptable ‘ism’ in our society. Yet no one is organizing anti-ageism marches.” She points out ageism affects all genders, races, classes, and ethnicities. So no matter who we are or where we come from, we’re likely to experience it in our lives.
Ashton Applewhite, speaker, author, and activist, defines ageism as “the relegation of older people to second-class citizenship,” extending it to age discrimination and stereotyping. She continues, “We know that diversity means including people of different races, genders, abilities, and sexual orientation. Why is age typically omitted?”
Reevaluating the corporate ladder climb
After a successful 20+ year career run in large organizations, I went out on my own in 2018 to launch Seachange Branding. I’d worked diligently to move upward and onward, progressing through new roles with increased leadership requirements. Earning my business chops, so to speak. It was these very chops that inspired me to launch my business.
As I seek short and long-term contracts as part of my business mix, I’m starting to notice a trend. Being a “seasoned professional,” I’m presumed to be “too expensive, digitally outdated, and not available for long-term work.” As I speak with fellow 40 and 50-year-olds, these are repeated misperceptions. So why do we climb the corporate ladder if the climb doesn’t serve the longevity of our career goals?
Gen X and disrupting the view of ageism
On behalf of my fellow Gen X brethren, I’m tackling these fallacies and dismantling them.
One, let’s talk money. More Gen Xers are starting their own businesses. As owners, we set the rate. We’re not always fixated on the bottom line; sometimes purposeful work means more. Truth: Don’t count us out thinking Millenials are more affordable. You might be surprised.
Two, let’s get digital. Digital businesses were the top startup this year for Gen X. We’re living in the gap between Baby Boomers and Gen Y. Digital advances are not outside our realm. Truth: Don’t presume we’re unfamiliar or inept regarding technology. Ask about our leadership and contributions.
Third, recognize loyal intentions. We’re not chasing after the latest shiny thing. So when we say we’re in, believe it. For business owners, particularly solopreneurs and small business owners, we’re seeking partnerships based on aligned core values. Truth: Ask us what we know about you or your company and how we align with your mission.
No doubt, COVID has impacted and shifted our identities, which isn’t necessarily a generational thing. Aren’t we all constantly reinventing ourselves across our life experiences of career, marriage, children, moves, industry changes, and role shifts?
John Tarnoff, a career strategist, defines reinvention as “the process that gets us to that second set in our work lives.” So it’s not an end in itself. Rather, it’s a means to a better, more effective, more rewarding life and career. He further explains, “The point is to be able to make confident decisions about what you want to do with your life and career decisions that are heartfelt, authentic, and deeply rooted in who you are.”
For Gen X, ageism certainly impacts this process. For those let go from a corporate role with a decade or more of workable years, it’s time to reconfigure the work journey. Carpe diem, my friends! For those who chose to walk away from big business to launch a startup, reflect and align with your core values. Create that perfect work/life balance and fulfill your purpose.
Have you experienced ageism and if so, how did you manage? Did you realize what was happening or was it a cumulative experience? Perhaps you witnessed it with others? For those who think they may be currently facing ageism, reach out to me. Even though this is outside my realm of expertise, I have an amazing network of people I can connect you with to talk through what you’re facing to determine the next steps.
Debbie Schallock is a content and brand strategist, DEI ally, communication thought leader, and content marketing partner to agencies. She’s the founder of Seachange Branding, arming startups and SMBs with the right tools to clarify business positioning and carve a competitive advantage. She blogs on the topics of branding and inclusion. Her research has been published in the International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities & Nations – A Space for Gray: The Value of Difference.