Ageism in the Workplace

June 22, 2010 at 7:53 am | Posted in Career Moves | 9 Comments
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Aren't we all just big kids anyway?

Being young with little to no experience may be beneficial when job hunting.  Even in a bad job market it seems to me that there are more openings for people with less experience than there are for people with lots of experience. But once a twenty something person is in the workplace, they are constantly reminded that they are young and inexperienced.

This was particularly obvious at my last job.  My boss always started sentences with, ‘you’re too young to know this…” Yes, I am aware that even five years into my career I am still considered a novice in many ways.   I actually graduated college early so I would have a leg up on the job market above my peers, and since then, I have busted my butt to get myself up the ladder, to be viewed as a respected professional in my field, and in many ways I am.  But somehow or another, I’m always reminded that I may be a young professional, but I have a long ways to go in the workplace to be seen as the seasoned professional I long to be.

When I read that AOL hired a 28-year-old Chief Marketing Officer, I was immediately impressed.  I don’t know the girl from Adam, but the fact that a reputable company gave such an important job to someone who is just a year older than me gave me hope. I imagine this girl to be a hard working, goal-oriented creative thinker who takes charge but also knows when to listen.  I imagine this girl to not be all too different from me.

In my field, younger workers are expected to be experts in social media.  Many of my older colleagues look to me for advice on social media projects.  What’s the new hot tool?  What’s your experience with Twitter?  Do you think we should have a Foursquare account? Luckily, I am pretty good at it, but there is just so much more I can do, but this seems to be the area that separates older workers from younger workers.

When I first thought up this idea for a post, I really wanted to rag on how put down I’ve been as one of the youngest in my office at my last job. But I’ve realized that ageism is a problem on both ends of the spectrum.  Companies are all supposed to be “equal opportunity” employers but so many of them focus on diversity in terms of race and sexual orientation, but what about age diversity?  The unemployment rate of older workers has never been higher and age discrimination lawsuits are climbing.

I’ve seen what this recession has done to families first hand, as my father lost his job at the very beginning of this recession and still, two and a half years later cannot find work.  He’s brilliant, kind, and an incredibly hard worker with ridiculous amounts of experience.  I actually model my work ethic off of his.  But his field is financial law, something I of course don’t understand at all other than that it’s a field that’s not hiring.  But he would do anything for a full time job, in any field that will hire him.

The work world is a dark, dirty and unfair place.  I wish we lived in a world where we were regarded not by our age group, but alas we are.  Every day you have to prove your value, show that you are more than a two-digit number with one-digit experience.  One day, when I’m in charge, I will look for employees who are dedicated, want to work, and are eager to learn, no matter their age.  I think we can learn a lot from people of all ages.


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  1. Dana, you’re right. Inexperienced does not imply being incapable and how can we blame a young person for not having experience? I think one problem with working in a place with such a huge spectrum in age is that our expectations of our coworkers does not match the reality. A great thing about working with people of the same age group is how easier it is to relate to one another and everyone looks at each other eye to eye, more or less. Such was my experience when I worked at a magazine in Malaysia; the median age was 22 and the oldest person in the company was the founder who was 33 years old. We were able to get along well together and relate as young professionals AND as 20-somethings trying to make the most out of this time in our lives.

    Great post!

    • Absolutely! The age issue was one of the reasons I fell in love with non-profit. There are always young people in non-profit going through the same learning experiences as you!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by S. Morillo, Dana Nachbar. Dana Nachbar said: Ageism in the Workplace: […]

  3. This is very true. Most of the time in my field I don’t even think about the how much $$$ factor I think about which job is going to appreciated me and my skills and that is even hard to find.

  4. BTW The “Big” picture is perfect for this.

  5. It’s true. I was at a career fair (this time on the other side of the table) and I saw a lot of older people coming in; at least more as compared to when I was looking for a job 5 years ago. And I guess there’s liability on both sides – take the young person and they don’t know what they are doing, but they are 30+ years from retiring; take the older person and they could retire tomorrow. The work force shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of age, so it’s just a matter of finding that happy medium. A more seasoned person may be new, but might pick up much quicker than a bright-eyed bushy-tailed straight out of college youngers.

    • but see, right there, that’s what I’m talking about. People assume that older people are going to retire tomorrow. The truth is, most people don’t have enough money to retire. They are working way beyond 65 because they have to. If you hire a 63 year old person, you can probably expect them to be around for another ten years. This is a stereotype that we need to break.

  6. great thoughts here!

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