The Most Effective Way To Combat Age Discrimination At Work

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock / contrastwerkstatt

By Michele Weldon

READ MORE: Discrimination, Women in the workplace, Workplace, Colleagues, Fairygodboss Inc., Leadership, Research, Yahoo!, American Association of Retired Persons, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ELLE Magazine, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

“Anti-aging” is the common tagline on many cosmetics brands for women. But it's not a good approach to have in the workplace.

The subtle forms age bias in the workplace may be as simple as ending conversations with, “You wouldn’t understand,” or the bias may be as overt as not allowing you to participate in a meeting or project because you are not “the right demographic.”

If you are over 40 years old—like me—and you notice behaviors at work by your colleagues or bosses that have you excluded from events, meetings, projects, assignments or raises, or referred to in language that dismisses your experience as out of touch, then you may just be experiencing discrimination because of your age. In fact, recent research conducted by Fairygodboss revealed that older women face discrimination from hiring managers as well.

And this is gendered. While older men in leadership can be seen as wiser, older women in leadership can be seen as ineffective. And dismissed.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  is the entity that protects workers over the age of 40 from age discrimination by law. Specifically it is through  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

The legal ramifications can happen for your employer or supervisor if you are on the receiving end of  “offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's age.” If the comments create “a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted),” then you can file charges.

But much can be done before your workplace reaches that impossible zone.

The flipside of transparency is discrimination. If you are part of a workplace culture that does not spell out the necessity to eliminate age discrimination, then you may just become a victim of it—or a contributor to the anti-aging workforce.

First, be sure your own language is reframed to avoid ageism and to address the reality of aging. This guide from The Frameworks Institute can help.

If you feel ageism is directed at you, the simplest and most effective response is for you to document every action, email or encounter that you believe slights you for your age. Report these well-documented instances to your supervisor or HR representative.

You never want to respond to offensive comments in kind with a matching insult. You may want to privately acknowledge a comment you find offensive. But do respond to an email that may have an ageist remark saying such language is not OK.

Women are not well-represented in the upper echelons of management. So role models and examples of women over 40 who are seen as highly successful may be lacking in your workplace.

On the 2017 Fortune 500 list, ranking  U.S. companies by fiscal 2016 revenues, only 6.4 percent of the companies were run by female CEOs. Those 32 women were mostly in the age range of 55-64, with the youngest in the group of leaders 42-year-old Marissa Mayer, who resigned this past June as president and CEO of Yahoo! Debra Crew, 46, CEO and president of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. is now the youngest women on the list.

The majority of the CEOs on the Fortune 500 list are men, or 468 of them, with only five on the list under 50 years old. Most all are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. So men over 40 are seen regularly in positions of authority and respect.

This matters.

According to 68-year-old, award-winning actress Jessica Lange, "Ageism is pervasive in this industry," she told AARP The Magazine. "It’s not a level playing field. You don’t often see women in their 60s playing romantic leads, yet you will see men in their 60s playing romantic leads with costars who are decades younger."

But that may be changing, according to actress Lilly Tomlin. "There's a lot more attention being paid to deeper, more serious subjects with older protagonists," Tomlin told Elle.

In Hollywood and far beyond, the reality of aging is the median age of the U.S. workforce was 42 years old in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the projected median age of all workers at 42.3 years old by 2026.

So the older the workforce is getting, perhaps the possibility of more ageism arises. Or we can work together on shifting the image of aging to one of “gaining momentum” and not one of decline and frailty.

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