Ageism smacks Gen X right in the workplace face

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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?

a woman of color holds her left hand up so you can see the lines on her had yet not her face demonstrating what is ageism?
Photo by Sai Balaji Varma Gadhiraju on Unsplash

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

16 beige rolling office chairs surround an oval table in a meeting room with glass walls and begie carpet
Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

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

two black walls flank a young man of color looking our over a city skyline. He is wearing a black long sleeved shirt and grey jeans. and demonstrates what is ageism?
Photo by Shreyas Nadkar on Unsplash

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.

Reinventing self

a triangle shaped ightbulb is surrounded by orange streams of light swirling in circles outside of the bulb.
Photo by SUNBEAM PHOTOGRAPHY on Unsplash

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.

Shared experiences

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.

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8 Comments

Nikki G · August 19, 2021 at 9:26 am

Great read! I watched my mom struggle with ageism through her work career. She worked for a few different companies through the years….some good and some not so good. She would mention some coworkers comments about her age or how difficult it was for her to have her voice heard when she worked with much younger coworkers. When she got laid off in her early 50’s, it was very difficult for her to get a new job. She definitely thought it was due to her age. This was in the 1980’s and 90’s, so ageism has been a problem for a long time.

    cooldeb · August 19, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Nikki, thank you for sharing your perspective on your Mom’s experiences. Having your voice heard, asked for, and respected in the workplace should be automatic. I really don’t understand why we’ve grown accustomed to dismissing the thoughts and opinions of co-workers as they age. It’s the diversity of perspectives that keeps companies thriving, which includes 20 somethings to 70+.

Helen H · August 19, 2021 at 9:28 am

It’s very much alive. Like you stated the “ism” people don’t talk about until living it. Also, organizations seem to seek only technical skills(in required field) and not leadership development skills. At Miller we spent $$ & time on leadership development & succession planning. Today it’s give me it all now. (Can u tell I’m old:-)

    cooldeb · August 19, 2021 at 9:37 am

    Yes, I thought that was a good point made by Patti Temple Rocks. No matter our race, ethnicity, or gender, we’re all going to face ageism at some point. The workplace is common and in our personal lives as well. The beauty of gaining tenure and experience in the workplace is you learn to distinguish good leadership traits. It’s part of the journey and what “seasoned professionals” bring to the table. I hear ya Helen – thanks for sharing!

      Lynn Wright · August 20, 2021 at 10:59 pm

      Well Debbie, you’ve known me for a long time. You know that I usually speak up even when it’s difficult or awkward. I will SAY what other people wish they could say but I’m not ugly or disrespectful when I do it. People do not listen when you’re speaking hatefully.
      I work with mainly younger women ~ and I’m a baby boomer!! A lot of them are literally half my age. The main thing I notice is that they will sometimes talk over me and completely discount me being in the conversation. Ticks me off so I politely speak up and point out that I WILL be heard or I will point blank ask them to stop talking over me and interrupting (and that I do not do that to them). One topic of discussion in particular is that, I will admit that I sometimes need help with technology ~ it’s no secret. However, I have a wealth of knowledge and experience in dentistry. So it’s a trade off that all of the women have happily agreed to and it’s a mutual respect for each other’s talents. They help me with technology without criticism and I help them with lots of situations concerning difficult patients for example ~ or with insurance and billing questions and learning our dental program (which is new to them but I’ve worked on for years). So all of that to say ~ it’s doable, but clear communication is the key.

        cooldeb · August 22, 2021 at 11:13 am

        Lynn, excellent points. I applaud your confidence and understanding it’s a two-way street. When you notice your fellow co-workers are talking over you, and I love this, you “politely speak up and point out that I WILL be heard or I will point blank ask them to stop talking over me and interrupting.” This is what we should do when we recognize our Voice is being dismissed. Be polite and speak up to say this is unacceptable and this is why and here’s what I suggest. Mutual respect is key. Thank you for sharing, particularly from a private practice point of view.

Stacy T · August 26, 2021 at 6:00 pm

In nursing, I have not experienced ageism; probably because there is and has been a nursing shortage for a long time. With increased demands for resources, most of Healthcare cannot afford to discriminate on the basis of age; only based on educational prep, previous job experience and references. As a Nursing Educator, I worked for many years with newly graduated nurses. With this group, we found that those who had chosen nursing as a second career (typically older in age) brought more realistic expectations about the demands of their jobs than their younger colleagues. They often were better problem solvers. These nurses also realized that there is no perfect job and consequently did not experience the same degree of “culture shock” as their younger colleagues when the job demanded more than anticipated. All this being said, some nursing jobs are much more physically demanding than others. For example, the average age of nurses working in the hospital setting is around 45. That’s not because of Employer hiring practices but because older nurses prefer not to work long 12 hour shifts and be on their feet all day etc.

Debbie · August 27, 2021 at 12:27 pm

An interesting point to bring up Stacy – perhaps ageism isn’t an issue in industries or roles with shortages? And thank you for sharing your experiences as a Nursing Educator and the differences you observed between nurses of different ages. We all bring strengths that are indeed based on age, perspective, and lived experiences. It’s the diversity of these attributes that delivers value to organizations.

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