Two scenarios are unfolding before us if we don’t change societal beliefs and employee culture around age in the workplace. More older people will become impoverished. And, the younger worker will have a limited number of years to achieve financial security.
I share that message every chance I get. This time, I spoke to a group of 40–most were software engineers or in roles that support the growing tech company.
My message was not to induce a fear of the future; rather, I intended to underscore why age bias, assumptions, and stereotypes hurt all of us. And why we all need to work together to create a safe and accepting place to work in and age in.
The most significant disruption the workplace needs right now is the creation of a genuinely diverse, age-equitable work culture where employees are given the opportunities to develop and contribute meaningfully, regardless of age or any other dimension of diversity.
What’s the Challenge?
A large part of the challenge is the inability of society to adapt to the new reality of longevity, in particular, what that means for an older worker. It’s rooted in an outdated ideology of age bias, assumptions, and stereotypes that limit the time it is appropriate to be employed, contribute to a team, and offer any relevance to anyone younger.
Ageism exists because it has been woven into the fabric of our social construct.
So, while the traditional concept of retirement is no longer representative of today’s economic model, societal views about older people working longer have not changed. And because the workplace reflects cultural and societal ideology, without appropriate intervention, this “carry-over” ideology can lead to age bias, stereotyping, exclusion, and discrimination.
Why is this relevant to the younger worker?
This will be your future–unless you help redefine it.
What You Can Do
Beca Levy is a pioneer in age bias and the many ways it negatively impacts individuals and society. In her latest book, “Breaking the Age Code,” Levy suggests increasing awareness of the age beliefs all around us.
Active noticing is an exercise about noticing age beliefs in media. Levy suggests journaling every portrayal of age you hear and see over a week online, on television, and in the real world. Note whether the portrayal is positive or negative. Also, notice when older people are included and when they are missing. At the end of the week, tally the positives and negatives and the times they are included or left out. Levy calls this active noticing and attributes the practice to reducing ageism, exclusion, and marginalization.
At work, become an #ageequity advocate.
- If your company isn’t talking about #ageequity, ask why. Then point them to Age Equity Alliance. We can help.
- There’s a myriad of ways that age bias shows up across all ages. Do you know what they are?
- Do you know the difference between ageism and ableism? Do you know how this could be leading recruiters and hiring managers to discriminate?
- Do you know that age adds a layer of bias to other dimensions of diversity?
- There is a simple way to bring attention to the harmful effects of workplace age bias. Do you know what it is?
Change Takes Time
Even as we become more aware of age bias is in our daily lives, it will take time to create the change we need to see. Just ask those who’ve spent their lives trying to build racial or gender equity. We’ve been working on this for decades and still haven’t gotten it right.
When it comes to #ageequity, here’s what we know we need:
- Time to learn how age biases show up in the workplace and our lives.
- Time to shift away from myths, stereotypes, and assumptions interfering with #ageequity. What we need is a broader understanding and respect for age and aging in the workplace.
- Time to discern how we can adapt to a 60 – 80 work life while still ensuring health and wellness.
- Time to build bridges of trust across the ages and prove that talent doesn’t have an expiration date.
What’s more? There’s no time to lose.
Right on, Sheila!
Sheila Callaham says
Such a great read thank you!