Ageism In The Workplace
Can you identify when ageism in the workplace occurs? Very often ageism is very subtle or veiled in language that on first blush is acceptable but after some reflection, you might say “they said I was too old”.
In the first post in this series, I discussed how to define ageism in the workplace. Ageism is a relatively new phenomenon and the term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by Robert N. Butler, M.D.
If you have not read the first post, Ageism – What It Is, How to Identify It and What to Do About It, I suggest you do that now.
How to Identify Ageism in the Workplace
I found a great article from Sherman Law called 11 Ways to Identify Age Discrimination in the Workplace [+ FAQs].
Here is their list:
- Facing Harassment Based on Your Age
- Seeing a Pattern of Hiring Only Younger Employees
- Hearing Age-Related Remarks
- Getting Turned Down For a Promotion
- Being Overlooked for Challenging Work Assignments
- Becoming Isolated or Left Out
- Being Encouraged or Forced to Retire
- Experiencing Layoffs
- Having Your Position Eliminated
- Receiving an Employment Improvement Plan
- Facing Unfair Discipline
Have you experienced any of these forms of ageism in the workplace?
Let me take you through some examples of ageism in the workplace that I have experienced or have been told about.
Facing Harassment Based on Your Age
At both of the tech startups where I worked, I was much older than many of my colleagues. At my last “job”, I had a boss that was 15 or so years younger than myself and was very immature for his age, and level of experience. I wrote about this once before in the post When Your Ethical Boundaries are Crossed [Updated].
I made a trip to Australia, to teach a week-long series of classes, and I decided to grow a mustache during that time. I decided to keep it very well trimmed and it was somewhat “old school” in appearance. Even though my hair color had faded a bit from the flaming red I had in my youth, my hair is not gray. Well, my facial hair was very gray. It made me look older but I was fine with that.
When I walked into a meeting soon after returning, I watched with amazement as my boss and one of my colleagues snickered at my appearance. It was like a couple of young school girls gossiping off in the corner. I remember the event to this day as I found their behavior insulting but … I did nothing. I was already planning my departure from the company but this was plainly harassment in the most basic form.
Unfortunately, harassment, in general, was overlooked at this company and it was best for me just to move on.
Seeing a Pattern of Hiring Only Younger Employees
I have several members of the Career Pivot Community who have been working on making a pivot into big data. They have some great experience from their past careers that would make them ideal candidates but they keep on getting passed over for recent graduates.
The hiring managers are looking for someone with textbook knowledge with little experience but will not look at someone with lots of experience but no textbook knowledge.
Similarly, when I left the corporate world to teach high school math in my late 40s, school districts had no interest in hiring men over 40. Every single guy who was over 40 in my teaching certification program could not get interviews. Everyone under 30 had a job before any of us were able to land an interview.
I was able to land a position but only because there was no one else available. By the way, I was a phenomenally good Algebra I and II teacher for 2 years in an inner-city high school but left exhausted.
Getting Turned Down For a Promotion
I remember having a discussion with a colleague at one of my tech startups. We both had long careers at the same major tech employer. I left when they made major changes to the pension plan and I no longer trusted them that they had my best interest in mind. My colleague stayed on but his career just stalled.
He was passed over multiple times for a promotion and he assumed it was ageism, as the person who got the promotion, was always 10-15 years younger.
He cornered his boss one day and asked why he had repetitively been passed over and his boss finally responded:
You do not have enough career runway left!
Another way of saying it is:
You are too old to invest in.
My colleague had no intention of retiring for many more years. He wanted to keep working and more importantly, he wanted to be challenged. He left the following year because he knew ageism in the workplace existed at the company.
Being Encouraged or Forced to Retire
I know multiple people who have been asked, so what are your retirement plans? These are people who were in their mid to late 60s and really do not want to retire. This often comes out of the blue and completely out of context. Frequently, this is followed by some form of resource action where they are either laid off or duties curtailed.
A few past colleagues were offered a transition to retirement program and there was not an option to say no. For several of my past colleagues, this was actually a good thing as they were consummate workaholics. This was a pathway to stop some of the behaviors that would eventually kill them.
The still wanted a choice which was not offered. They could take the transition program or be laid off.
Experiencing Layoffs or Having Your Position Eliminated
I have not directly experienced this but in my years as a board member for Launch Pad Job Club, I saw where companies would layoff an entire group of employees only to hire a new group several months later for less money.
Companies have gotten very good at hiding this behavior. IBM has been accused of this behavior. More can be found in the Forbes article The IBM Age Discrimination Lawsuit Sheds Light On A Harrowing Employment Trend.
Not Being Hired Because of Your Age
This was not on Sherman Law’s list but I have 2 great examples of not being hired because of the candidate’s age and in each case, neither the candidate or I saw it until later.
We had a recruiter present at Launch Pad and he told the story of being courted by a major tech employer in the pacific northwest. They flew him out and he interviewed for 10 grueling hours. They asked him to stay another day so that he could interview with one of the key executives.
In that interview, he asked the exec if they had apprehensions about hiring him. The hiring exec said she was not sure he had the energy for the job.
He left and soon was on the plane when it hit him – she said he was too old!
He was not offered the position!
Another example was when I was trying to hire a technical trainer. I was 95% through the process when my boss hired someone over me and took away much of my managerial responsibilities. The gentleman I wanted to hire was about the same age as myself and I was in my mid-50s at the time.
I was ready to make an offer when my new boss balked and told me my candidate just did not have the energy to meet his requirements.
It hit much later that he said the candidate was too old. Had I picked this up immediately I would have thrown the age discrimination card back at him. I was already planning my exit and wanted to make sure I had a replacement that would carry on my work. That did not happen!
Both are examples of ageism in the workplace where on the surface it did not immediately appear to be ageism.
Do You Have Examples?
I have given lots of examples of ageism in the workplace that are not strictly overt. I am sure many of you have examples that I would love for you to share in the comments below.
In my next post, I will discuss what you can do about ageism when you see it.
Tell us about your experience with ageism in the workplace.