How not to be a victim of ageism

How not to be a victim of ageism

There was a workshop I attended this week entitled, “Ageism and Feeling Invisible.” The organization hosting the event was one of the networking groups I joined since arriving in Chicago. This group is specifically for women over 50.

This subject was particularly interesting to me because I have felt as I look for jobs here (corporate coaching or consulting with non-profits), it feels like my age is working against me. There was a time in my career not long ago that I had no trouble working with a recruiter, being recommended for numerous jobs, and being offered a position after every interview. Now it seems, just getting the interview has become a major challenge – I have even been dismissed by recruiters for fundraising jobs!

Last week I had a phone interview with a consulting firm that works specifically with non-profits. I felt with over 20 years’ experience in the field (more than half in C-level positions), I would have a lot to offer this organization and their clients. Doing my research, I came across a photo on their LinkedIn page of a recent group of new hires. No one in the photo appeared to be older than 25. Furthermore, from the photos of key staff on their website, aside from a few of the senior partners, their staff appeared to be under 40. While I felt I did an adequate job outlining my qualifications during the interview, their youth was prominent in my subconscious for sure.

During the workshop, I learned that I am certainly not alone in my fears of ageism in my job search. The room was filled with women in their 50s and 60s with numerous stories that bordered on age-discrimination. The discussion, however, did bring me to consider another perspective. When asked to address the question, what will you do if you experience ageism? I told a story from much earlier in my career when I felt I was perceived as “too young” and not taken seriously. I also noticed as many women told their stories of experiencing ageism, they were in fact expressing some biases against a younger generation.

This got me thinking that the youth feel undervalued as well and perhaps the solution is to bridge the gap; maybe we can get more respect if we’re willing to give it. While there are certainly times I want to smack my “knows everything” teenager upside the head to bring her down to reality, most of the time – and especially now as she matures – I value her knowledge. The fresh new awareness college class discussion creates is always something I look forward to her sharing with me.  Plus, she is my go-to person for questions about social media, new music, what I should watch on Netflix, and celebrity gossip. Knowing her keeps me well rounded.

While I first thought “age-discrimination” when I got the dismissive e-mail from that consulting firm after my phone interview, this workshop helped me see it differently. I once had a boss who said, “If you can’t fix something, accentuate it!” That’s perhaps where we are falling short as people over 50. By succumbing to our fears of being victims of ageism, are we not becoming our own worst enemy?

I recently applied for a job at a local running retailer. It seemed like it might be a nice way to get out of the house, meet new people who shared my passion for running, and the small paycheck could support my habit. When I went in to interview with the store manager, I didn’t feel like there was a lot at stake and that helped me be less guarded in the conversation. I chose to hit the age-issue head on: “From what I’ve seen from shopping here, I imagine I am older than most of your employees. I’m in my 50s and this is why that’s a good thing for you…” I proceeded to demonstrate that I understood who their customers were and what I knew about the field of masters (over 40) runners. I got the job.

As I sat in the workshop this week, I started to wonder why I didn’t take that approach in my interview for the consulting position. What if I had acknowledged the photo of new hires from their LinkedIn page and went on to explain the value I could bring to a diverse team? What if I showed respect and admiration for their young staff, and added the value that a seasoned, non-profit executive who’s been in the trenches could contribute? Well the outcome wouldn’t have been any worse that it was, right?

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This what (almost) 54 looks like. Diversey Harbor. Chicago, Illinois. March 2019.

Someone pointed out that ageism, is probably the only “ism” (sexism, racism, etc.) that everyone will experience, although in the context of why young people should try to be more understanding. It would seem that we all need to be more understanding. I received a text message from my daughter the other day (she had no idea I was attending this workshop). It went like this:

Daughter: “I’m so ageist I hate old people”…”but I hate a specific kind of old person so you don’t fall into that category yet”

Me: “Yet :)”

Daughter: “it’s old people who think they’re smarter than me cause they’re old”

I remember those days early in my career trying to be taken seriously. Now, after a number of  years in a thriving career, I feel I’m back to lacking self-confidence. I don’t think I’m alone. And that’s just wrong! If we do not believe in our value, we’re playing the victim and doing nothing to help our cause.

Does ageism exist? Absolutely! So, steer clear of those organizations. You don’t want to work with them anyway. Let’s hold our heads high. Believe in our abilities and communicatee that value. The right people will take notice! But also have respect for the contributions of every generation. We all have so much to learn from one another. Diversity of all kinds makes our experiences so much richer.

And if you need some incentive, go back and look at my post from two weeks ago and the links I shared to stories of some “active seniors” defying their age.

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Last week, I also promised to be accountable to you and report back on my workouts for this week. I’m happy to report I did get out for 2 runs (total 5 miles) outdoors and 1 lap swim (800 meters) at my new gym. Warmer temps this week helped. Thanks for reading and keeping me motivated.

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