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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