A Dissident is Born: Connie Reacts to Her Experience of Ageism in the Workplace
Stung by a Millennial colleague who’d branded her an old lady, Connie did not drown her sorrows in a glass of Chardonnay. She took stock of the sobering situation with characteristic determination.
Until today, ageism at her company had presented itself benignly. She had accepted its minor indignities. But it was now time to reflect more seriously on the matter and define a course of action.
There were few choices. Disappearing into the background was not an acceptable option. She rejected the thought of not showing up to work fully dressed in the war paint of hard-fought experience. “Authenticity in all things” was her mantra.
It could prove to be her workplace Waterloo, but it didn’t take long for Connie to decide she’d remain a come-as-you-are employee – a fully engaged, best-in-class Baby Boomer.
What the plan might look like remained murky. Still Connie knew it would shine a light on the cultural inequities preventing the smart deliverance of knowledge by those nearing retirement to those rising up through the ranks.
Starting with the Woman in the Mirror
The world had become a challenging place with tsunamis of information and new technologies presenting at an unrelenting pace. For a time, Connie thought she could skip over the windstorm of change on the wings of her experience, but could she? Something was missing.
In line at the grocery store the next day, she overheard a well-dressed woman – likely ten years her senior – ask the young cashier for help navigating the digital checkout system.
This same clerk who’d ignored Connie’s confusion with the system just two days before was now graciously coaching the older woman through the payment steps. Connie wondered what accounted for the difference in demeanor.
The answer seemed brutally clear. She, herself, was the issue.
The woman seeking help today asked for support without a hint of condescension or embarrassment. Connie had made all sorts of excuses to cover up her inadequacies, even blaming the machine.
Is it so difficult to ask for help, she wondered? Had she used her tenure in business and life as a perch from which she could not climb down into a world now functioning more like supportive teams rather than individual performers?
First Step to Countering Ageism: Deal with It in Real Time
Connie was never one to shrink from a challenge. Back at work she went headfirst toward the source of her most recent discomfort – the colleague who’d insinuated she’d seen better days. His eyes widened as she neared with a fast clip.
“Ted,” Connie said. “I know you’re the right person to ask for help. Can you show me how to stop my phone from ringing during meetings? I’m sure it’s just a simple adjustment, but it’s avoiding me.”
Relieved to have escaped a well-deserved thrashing, Ted dutifully demonstrated the ease at which the deed could be done. Connie was casual with her thank you, purposefully not seeming too needy.
Now in more of a relaxed posture, Ted asked Connie if she had wisdom on how to move faster through the company’s cumbersome online expense process. She did.
A new relationship struck. A bond created.
Next Step Is Research – What Were Connie’s Boomer Colleagues Experiencing?
Dialing up Boomer work friends her age, within and outside of the company, produced a surprising rush of information and pent-up emotion about ageism. Assured of confidentiality, they were quick to share their experience:
“Are you kidding? I experience it every day. My own manager is constantly asking me when I might be retiring. He chuckles through the question. Thinks it’s a joke.”
“I have to work until I’m 70 to have a financially secure retirement. I do my work; I keep my head down. I’m scared to rock the boat in any way.”
“I’m only 55, and I’m being marginalized. The good projects go directly to the 30-year-olds.”
“My strongest ideas are now considered quaint. I’m well-read and current with technology. The only thing separating me from them is a shock of grey hair. Yet I often feel just… well… tolerated.”
“Last week I lost out on a management position to a 35-year-old with only a few years in the business. Skulking over to my desk, after the announcement, she sheepishly said: I know you have more experience and could do the job with your eyes closed. Would love to get your thoughts on how I might approach the challenges. Hmmm. Not gonna happen.”
A Dissident is Born – Connie Takes Up the Mantle of Ageism
Connie drove home dismayed by the feedback, but confident she was on the right track. Up until now, she’d only written checks for causes that mattered. But this was not some gauzy, separate experience being felt by someone else.
It was happening to her – to her friends. She needed to jump in with both feet. She’d begin a strategy map that very evening. Then she will develop a small team to help pursue the cause. She smiled to herself as she rounded the last curve toward home. Lesson learned.
Part one of Connie’s journey is also available to read.
Have you or someone that you know experienced ageism or discrimination in the workplace? How did you deal with it? In future posts, Connie begins to execute on her plans. How would you advise her to move forward? What might you do first if in her shoes? How do you handle ageism in other areas of your life? Please join the conversation below.