It was a moment I could never forget.
I was part of a team that was working on an ecommerce startup. I was the head of creative marketing and was the oldest member of the team at 39 years old. Funny that I didn’t feel old at that age, but some people I was working with saw me as old and reminded me of it each time they had the chance.
There was a meeting to discuss improvements in the system. Very technical, I knew, but since I was ever-curious, I wanted to sit in, listen, and learn.
“No, just sit here and leave it to us,” said my colleague and seatmate, the head of merchandising who was 10 years younger than me. “Let the young ones handle it.”
That was my first encounter with ageism and it hit me to the core. Why would you limit me based on my age? What makes you think I won’t understand it as well as you do?
What ageism is
Small Biz Daily defines ageism as “a discriminatory practice on the basis of age. It can be seen everywhere from how bosses talk to their employees to how new people are recruited.” Another term for ageism is age discrimination.
Another term connected to ageism is “lookism,” which Small Biz Daily explains by citing research by Catalyst that states “older women face marginalization based on ‘lookism.’”
They look older and might not perfectly fit the company’s perception of beauty in the workplace, which is another invisible pressure women experience every day.
And when do these invisible struggles for women begin? At age 40, according to Financial Times.
How does ageism look like?
According to Top Resume, if you have experienced or encountered any of these scenarios at work, then you have experienced ageism or age discrimination:
I have personally experienced 3 out of these 6 scenarios, and I admit that — at the time — I was in denial even to myself that it was actually happening. I even made excuses for what people did and said, because I did not want to accept the fact that my age had become a handicap.
And why should it be?
I am now 41, and have a solid 21 years of work experience in various fields and nuances of journalism, content, creatives, marketing, advertising, branding, people and culture, and growth. This has also given me a solid network in different industries; relationships with different people from different fields that I can turn to if I have to.
Nope, being above 40 does not make a woman an obsolete dinosaur. It actually makes her a deep well of knowledge, wisdom, and experience from which the organization, its heads, and younger employees can draw from. Not to mention the patience to manage different kinds of people and the grace to handle different kinds of situations.
No drama, no entitlement. Just getting things done.
Sadly, though, ageism is forcing vibrant and high-value women out.
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How to fight ageism
In my opinion, “fighting” ageism is not so much for your boss or your peers to appreciate you still. It’s more about you continuing to grow and learn so that your value increases, you remain current and knowledgeable, and you keep your dignity intact.
It’s all about self-respect. You’ll feel good about yourself, too.
Keep track of your productivity, your accomplishments, and your biggest contributions to the organizations. Your boss might need reminding of your value from time to time, and it is not bad to keep your resume updated with these pieces of information.
This is easier said than done, because different generations seem to think and work differently, like the Boomers and Millennials. It might be more challenging to appreciate them and work with them, but remember that everyone you meet is a teacher. So reach out and try to make friends.
What does your boss need? Be that. Who is in her circle of advisers? Be there for them, too. Have advocates who appreciate you, know your worth, and have your back. The band Mr. Big was right when they sang, “Oooh baby, baby, it’s a wild world.” So make this wild world work for you.
Sometimes how we feel about ourselves is what we project to others and so that is how the world will see us. If we keep saying we “are too old” to learn something new, to do a certain task, or for any form of educational experience, that we are our own worst enemy, and we are teaching others to see us that way.
In the US, there is the The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 which protects employees above age 40 from age discrimination. Age discrimination is unlawful, so when you document instances where you feel it has taken place, you can leverage this to find yourself in a better place in the organization (or, simply, remind people to stop being jerks).
If racism makes you wince, so should ageism (and sexism). So take care of yourself, enrich your mind, keep working on your self-improvement, and break the stereotype. Handle everything with grace, and show them what an asset you are in the company.
Kai Magsanoc is the Head of Content at BizScale. She handles strategy and writes and edits copy for BizScale’s clients. If you need help with content, branding, and design, complete the form on this page, email email@example.com, call 833-722-5310, or book time on Calendly today.