Thriving Despite Ageism in the Workplace

I recently left a role that I loved with our sister company and moved into a role I love even more with Projectline, which, as a colleague of mine likes to say, “has a healthy obsession with diversity and inclusion.” As a part of my onboarding, I’m learning a lot about diversity and inclusion, as well as inherent bias. One area I feel passionate about is ageism. As someone in the “upper-middle” of my career, I must admit I have grown more sensitive over time around the topic.

Recent economic statistics are mixed. According to AARP, the robust economy and tight labor market over the last several years have brought a lot of positives to workers over the age of 55. For example, while the unemployment rate for those 55+ increased from 2.9% in December 2018 to 3.2% in January 2019, it is still much lower than the national average of 4%. Time spent looking for a job has fallen across all age groups since the 2007 recession. However, those over 55 who are actively seeking employment will spend six to seven months looking for a new job.

Income also decreases with age. According to the Federal Reserve of Atlanta, hourly pay for full-time workers starts to decline at about age 60. So, even though older workers may have a wealth of experience in terms of time on the job or in a particular industry, that doesn’t always translate into the ability to hold their current income or grow it as they come closer to retirement.

What’s worse, the AARP “Value of Experience” survey recently found that that nearly 2 out of 3 workers age 45 and older have experienced age-related bias on the job. The study went on to note that as many as 16% of those surveyed felt like they did not get a job they applied for, and 7% felt they were forced out of a role, due to age discrimination.

So what can be done?

  1. Showcase your talents. Develop a “brag book” of your accomplishments ahead of any mid-year or annual review. For many of us, this means stepping outside of our comfort zone to talk about our contributions, rather than to quietly contribute. This is imperative because even the best of engaged managers might not be aware of everything you do.
  2. Deliver value. Think about the work you are doing now. How would you articulate the value? How else can you contribute to the company to deliver additional value? Perhaps volunteer to take on a new assignment that may be above and beyond your current role. Or, consider exploring an adjacent technology that you might not work with but some of your other colleagues do. For example, in a Program Management role, you likely wouldn’t use Marketo, but some of your peers in other departments do. Having knowledge of this tool increases your value to your current company. This could even open you up to new work and opportunities.
  3. Improve yourself. Seek out new ways to gain knowledge, sharpen your skills, and stay excited about the work you’re doing. Take a class online or at a local college, enroll in a certificate program, or consider low-cost or no-cost options like LinkedIn Learning.
  4. Be ready. No matter what your efforts may be, if you are not working for an inclusive organization, you may be at risk. Don’t ignore that “spidey sense.” Start by engaging your network. According to PayScale, as many as 85% of open positions are filled by networking. Refresh your resume, or engage a resume writer. Update your LinkedIn profile and continue expanding your network within companies that look interesting to you.
  5. Fight back. Age discrimination is illegal under federal and state law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) provides federal protection for those age 40 and over from age-based discrimination, and every state in the US also offers additional protection. If you feel you have been discriminated against due to your age, consider filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or contacting an attorney.

The strength of our workforce depends on bringing together diverse talent. Employees in their “upper-middle” era of their careers make strong contributions. Together, we can ensure voices across all age bands have a seat at the table.

Want to chat more about this topic? Find me on LinkedIn.