What’s my age again?
Full disclosure—I’m guilty. My mother warned me about ageism before I was old enough to understand. She told me it was real and to expect it as I aged. I listened but didn’t really get it. I thought she was over-reacting because she was turning 40.
One day, years later, we discussed the topic again. It was her 60th birthday. My sisters and I celebrated it as her 50th because she never divulged her true age nor did she tell the truth when asked.
During her years as a clinical specialist/psychiatric nurse/PA, it never occurred to me that my mother would ever have trouble earning money, finding work, being promoted or ever being pushed aside because of her age. She fought it as long as possible because she was vibrant, highly respected in her field, had more energy than most people 20 years her junior and the genes to always look 10 years younger than her true age.
She was well into her 60’s before I finally understood. I was guilty of the ignorance of youth. I was guilty of not being able to provide my mother the support she needed as she slowly found herself on the outside of her career looking in.
In 2015, I wrote a LinkedIn blog article called “3 Confessions of a Baby Boomer – Birthday Blog.” Confession #2 was titled “Ageism”. In it I quoted a study from the National Bureau of Research article by Rebecca Greenfield which said that “women face age discrimination earlier and more often than men”.
Ageism for women is real and it is persistent. I learned it, really learned it, the hard way—by aging.
For those of us who are already suffering from rampant ageism, unable to find work following the layoffs of the great recession, losing jobs or promotions to younger, less expensive workers, attempting to re-enter the workforce as empty nesters and the list goes on—what’s next?
Is entrepreneurship the answer or is it retirement? Or something else?
According to the Kaufmann Foundation, people 55-64 started 23.4% of businesses in the US in 2012, up from 14.3% in 1996. Women in that age group led the pack, according to the State of Women Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN.
Retirement might not be an option for some women. “70 is the new retirement age,” personal finance maven Suze Orman writes on Money. “Not a month or year before.” (from CNBC Suze Orman says 70 is the new retirement age)
Something else—Go back to school, get certified in a new field? Cobble together part time jobs?
How do we combat ageism? There is one absolute truth, we all age. Those of us who are fortunate to age into our 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond, will face ageism.
In August, I read an article titled “Baby Boomers are taking on ageism – and losing” in the Washington Post and, yes, it was depressing.
To quote the author, Lydia DePillis, “At a time when conditions have vastly improved for women, gay people, disabled people and minorities in the workplace, prejudice against older workers remains among the most acceptable and pervasive “isms.” And it’s not clear that the next generations—ascendant Gen Xers and millennials—will be treated any better.”
Ashton Applewhite, creator of the blog, Yo, Is This Ageist?, thinks it’s important to examine the source of ageist attitudes. She says, “They come from corporate interests that want to medicalize ageing so they can sell you s— to cure it, or they want to treat it as a problem so they can sell you s— to fix it.” Her book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism gives three antidotes to ageism:
Awareness: the critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. Then we can start to see that “personal problems”—such as not being able to get a job or being belittled or feeling patronized—are widely shared social problems that require collective action.
Integration: connect with people of all ages. An equitable society for all ages requires intergenerational collaboration.
Activism: watch for ageist behaviors and attitudes in and around us, challenge them, and create language and models that support every stage of life.
This baby boomer is going to work on her own Awareness, Integration and Activism, one woman at a time. My own daughters are first, because, like me, I’m not sure they believe their mother.
Margye! Director of Corporate Development