There is considerable irony in job ads that proudly pronounce the employer is an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE/AA) but the words in the ad reflect anything but! Recently, I came across one that epitomized this scenario. See if you can spot the bias. For the sake of anonymity, I have changed references but the essence remains.
“Young, enthusiastic person with good marketing skills and technical acumen.
8-10 years of work experience
Manufacturing expertise is preferred
Yup, you got it. The very first word was discriminatory and yet this was an ad from an EOE/AA certified business.
Imagine starting an ad with “white” rather than “young”? Would that have alerted anyone more quickly to the fact that there was bias? It would have been considered shocking in today’s world. However, when references are made to age, no one seems to notice.
Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination is pervasive. Ageism continues to be widely accepted and is so well-tolerated that we often don’t recognize our own internal bias.
Many organizations and businesses are allegedly inclusive. No doubt they are as long as you are indigenous, LBGTQ2S, a woman, disabled, an immigrant or refugee, and ethnically diverse. But, if you are over a certain age and looking for work or you want to stay in your job, you can be sure that your age will come into play.
Age discrimination in both retention and recruitment is a serious obstacle. An American study involving 40,000 fictitious CVs sent in response to advertised vacancies for low-skilled jobs found that applicants between 49 and 51 had 19% fewer callbacks than those aged 29 to 31 with otherwise identical CVs. For the 64-66 age group, the difference was 35%. Source: Age Discrimination and Hiring of Older Workers, Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco 2017
What is most troubling is the lack of awareness about age diversity and inclusion. Routinely age is not part of the conversation, nor will it ever be if we don’t start to make a fuss and take ageism out of the closet.
Here are a few tips that will help you make a difference:
Observe the types of diversity being advertised. If age is missing, bring it to the attention of the advertiser.
Write to your local MPP or MP to raise their awareness of this gap in diversity and inclusion.
If you are currently employed, check out your employer’s diversity policies. Is age included?
With the shift to an older demographic, ageism is more topical than ever before. We all have a role to play in its elimination.
Do you know the distinctions among “chronological age”, “biological age”, and “subjective age”?
Simply put: “chronological age” refers to the number of birthdays we’ve celebrated; “biological age” is determined by measuring age-related biomarkers which include grip strength, blood pressure, the elasticity of the skin, etc.; and “subjective age” is the age we feel.
Increasingly, I hear contemporaries exclaim that they can’t believe that they are already _____(fill in the blank) years old! Many still feel infinitely younger than their chronological age. Granted, this only applies to those who are fortunate enough to enjoy good health, but the reality is that this generation of older adults (Boomers) is healthier, better educated and more tech-savvy than any previous generation. They do feel younger and their “biological” age is more youthful.
Top Sixty Over Sixty (T60 Strategies) conducted a research study in 2018. We were trying to ascertain how our program, ReSet, impacted feelings of internalized ageism on an entrepreneurial mindset. Our findings were closely aligned with those of other researchers. We concluded that most older adults weren’t aware of their own bias against ageing. They didn’t realize that this internalized feeling was self-limiting. It also impacted health and attitude.
Although not part of our study, we have systematically been collecting data on “subjective age”, finding that most people over 40 consider themselves to be 20 years younger than they are. They also consider old age to be 20 years beyond their actual age. Apparently, these feelings are indicative of our “subjective age” which are quite accurate predictors of our well-being and ageing prognosis. Our gut intuitively signals how cognitively aware we are, how physically able we are and how emotionally stable we are. Feeling more youthful means that we tend to be more optimistic and positive. Having a positive outlook has been proven to make a great difference when it comes to ageing.
Aside from genetic predispositions, we all have the ability to improve our chances of ageing well and actively. If we embrace healthy habits, eating well, exercising and seeing the cup as half full rather than half empty, we can control some of the variables that will affect us later in life. The first challenge is to recognize our own bias and then to understand how to change it.
Last week the Star published an article that I submitted, entitled “The (Old) Elephant in the Room”. Needless to say, this was very satisfying to me personally. What I hadn’t expected was the response I’d get.
Not long ago the Toronto Star published my article entitled “The (Old) Elephant in the Room”. For those of you who didn’t see it, you can find the link here or in the news section of our website. Needless to say, this was very satisfying to me personally. What I hadn’t expected was the response I’d get from many of the readers.
The subject obviously struck a chord with a silent segment of the readership. It ignited an unintended conversation about how many people out there have been and are affected by ageism. I heard from people who have cases in front of the Human Rights Tribunal currently; others who have been denied professional development and opportunities for promotion as well as from all those out there who are desperately seeking work but can’t find any.
Although the article resonated with many, I couldn’t help but think how profoundly sad it is that so many talented, capable and enthusiastic people are being denied a chance to fulfil their potential and at the same time contribute to Canada’s economic and social prosperity. Their work lives have been shortened, usually at around age 65 because of a number (established when average lifespans were 62) that describes nothing more than chronological age.
We wouldn’t ever say that a child is too young to be a genius. Why do we generalize and believe that one is too old to work, create, be productive? I am not naive. There are some professions that don’t lend themselves to continuing in the same capacity as earlier in a career. Clearly, if you have developed a tremor in your hands, your professional time as a surgeon is over. However, more roles than not are not as limiting at older stages in life. All that is required is the will on the part of employers to accommodate where necessary and make a shift. The research states repeatedly that these small accommodations and retaining older workers improve overall productivity.
As I found last week at yet another conference, diversity doesn’t seem to include age. It is still elusive and a misunderstood factor for most companies, organizations and governments. We have so successfully segregated age into silos and internalized age bias, that we can’t find our way out. If we don’t start looking more closely at the demographic shift that is already upon us, we will be even less prepared for the future of work. It’s time for all to start speaking up more loudly. Canada’s future prosperity depends on it.
All signs point to a future workforce that will span as many as four generations, but what can you do right now to stay competitive in a labour market that often favours youth? I asked Robynn Storey of Storyline Resumes to give her top three pieces of advice for job seekers over 50. As an experienced human resources person and LinkedIn influencer, you may be surprised at what she has to say.
Robynn’s advice to older workers:
Don't worry about your age, worry about how you are communicating your value. Never dumb down your resume or experience because you want to 'fit' into a lower-level job. Be you and don't be humble. You are accomplished. Show it and communicate it on your resume.
For your resume, only go into details that cover about 15 to 20 years of your history. At the end of your resume, you can list a few more jobs under an 'early career summary' including companies and job titles, but eliminating dates. Eliminate all dates on your education as well.
Use your network. One of the many great things about getting older is that you have built a strong network of peers, counterparts, friends, co-workers and influencers. Don't be afraid to ask for introductions or favours. You've earned it! And it is the best way to leapfrog other candidates and uncover the hidden job market.
If you’d like some direct support on your resume or LinkedIn profile from Robynn or her team you can find her on LinkedIn or you can call her at 724-832-8845.
For entrepreneurs, the job search may be over, but interviews with investors, lenders, and clients may just be starting. Check out T60’s Entrepreneur Interviews for tips on getting ready and staying sharp in interviews.
Increasingly, I am reading articles about our extended lifespans and how these will impact economies around the world. By 2050, there will be more people over the age of 65 than any other age group. Authors who tout a pessimistic perspective and emphasize how damaging the grey tsunami will be are mistaken; they have been proven wrong, time and time again. In fact, living longer has opened up what is commonly referred to as the Longevity Market.
Stria News, a media platform for the longevity market, refers to the longevity economy as “working toward a society that values, supports and serves older people.” In other words, anything that supports the 50+ population is part of this economy. It encompasses absolutely every sector and every service area from housing and learning to fashion and financial services.
On August 23rd Chris Farrell author of the Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life wrote that “the American economy would expand by over $815 billion if the U.S. increased its employment of the 55-to-64-year age group to New Zealand’s level according to PwC’s Golden Age Index.” This prompted me to take a look at the PwC Age Index which, among other OECD comparisons, compares how Canada fares when it comes to the employment of its older workers. Naively, I thought we would be close to the top of the chart, but Canada ranks 18th out of 36 OECD countries. Nothing really to be all that proud about.
Increasing older worker employment rates in OECD countries to the level of New Zealand (the top score in this index at 78%) has the potential of increasing GDP to 3.5 trillion. In other words, if more countries embraced new and more flexible structural and policy factors such as flexible pensions, varied working patterns and schedules, benefits for caregiving, a higher retirement age and more retraining or upskilling of older employees, our world would enjoy much healthier economies.
Canada is facing a shortage of skilled labour in the coming decades. This shortage could be minimized if, and that’s a big if, the value and potential of our ageing population were acknowledged instead of diminished and disrespected. Our world is getting older and we can benefit from the experiences of countries who have been managing older populations longer than we have. We have an opportunity to do better, we just have to learn from those older than us.
I am, and always have been, positive about intergenerational connections, collaboration, living, learning, working, etc. A big component of our business is about helping organizations take advantage of their multi-generational workforces by turning them into productive, intergenerational teams. What I find disheartening is that we need a national day (Intergenerational Day) dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of connecting across generations.
As a culture, we have become so age-siloed (new word) that we typically don’t have as many connections with those who are differently aged as us. In fact, some research shows that cities are becoming divided by age. It’s a strange evolution of behaviour when you consider that grandparents today are spending far more time with grandchildren than previous generations. Could it be because grandparents are living longer, healthier lives?
The American Association for Retired People (AARP) also has research to show that grandparents contribute quite a bit financially to their grandchildren. The multigenerational divide seems to happen when we move beyond familial relationships and the generations in between.
The problem doesn’t belong to any one generation. We have all grown up in a youth-obsessed culture where the experience and wisdom of an older generation aren’t valued and where media and tv images of the young reign supreme. These images accentuate the advantages of being young and youthful and view ageing as a disease to be conquered.
There is, however, a shift in the media industry; a slow and steady shift that is moving towards representing an older demographic in more positive ways. It makes sense. After all, which generation dominates demographically and which generation holds the purse strings?
When working recently with a youth council in Kuujjuaq, the youth invited an “elder” as a full participant of the group. It was unheard of to not to do so. When questions arose, young people often turned to the elder to ask for their advice. It was natural and normal, respectful with the understanding that longer life means more experience. This belief is venerated in many indigenous cultures. When did we (westerners) begin to move away from seeing experience as an advantage?
Research has proven that children who have had exposure to grandparents and other older relatives tend to have a more favourable view of ageing than those who had little connection with older adults. Other findings show: involved grandparents remain more mentally sharp; grandchildren learn first-hand the historical perspective about how things worked and how lives were lived in the past; and both older and younger benefit from more stable, emotional relationships with reduced depressive symptoms. Intergenerational relationships are a win-win in the personal and professional realms. It’s a shame these realities are not as well-known or recognized as they might be.
Interestingly, the Encore movement in the US has been focused on these intergenerational relationships for many years. The interventions of older adults as volunteers in the lives of younger school children has been proven to show positive gains for kids academically and behaviorally. For older adults, these connections have given them purpose and meaning.
Intergenerational Day in Canada is a novelty but it might encourage future positive interactions among all generations. I am genuinely looking forward to participating with Connected Canadians at Qlik from 10-12 on Saturday, June 1st. If you are interested in learning some digital literacy skills or finding out about the Top Sixty Over Sixty, join us from 10-12 at Qlik, 290 March Road, Kanata. Bring your digital devices to get the help you need and check out the iGen events portal to find other interesting opportunities.
I hope these new intergenerational interactions will provide the impetus to value all generations more equitably.
I wonder if any of you caught David Wimsett’s powerful essay on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on January 25th? It was entitled, “64 and unemployed: One man's struggle to be taken seriously as a job applicant”. If you did, I hope you were as upset as I was. Hearing this man’s story was the epitome of what so many older adults experience and yet few people call out. His story reveals blatant ageism, the one remaining “ism” that hasn’t yet been addressed and will affect us all one day if we live long enough.
In brief, David is a 64 year old experienced and qualified man who has had a stellar employment record for 4 decades. He spends days and nights crafting his cover letters and resumes to meet the criteria of the job for which he is applying and he sometimes gets called in for an interview. Then, the shattering experience follows. No one says anything about his age or his experience but there is always an “acceptable” reason for not being the right fit. Age is never mentioned.
At this point he has been without work for so long that he has had to sell all his assets and is behind on all payments. He answers threatening calls from banks and creditors daily. He is experiencing deep emotional stress and feels isolated because he is ashamed to speak of his misfortunes. He has begun to question his abilities and self-worth and it is affecting his mental health as he realizes that he is heading for depression. Soon, not only his mental health will suffer but his general well-being will decline and he could become another lonely, older individual who depends on the government.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear a version of this story as I try to raise awareness about how pervasive ageism is. David is not a one off. He is the norm in a North American culture that is youth obsessed. Instead of valuing the assets that this generation of Boomers has on offer, their potential is often being minimized by so many of us who are unaware of what ageism is and of our own self-directed bias against ageing.
Are you conscious of your own bias? Try this quiz which will give you some insight into your beliefs and how they might be influencing you without you realizing it.
Not unlike a good wine, many of us over 60 improve as we age. We mellow out, become more compassionate and less competitive and generally have a broader perspective on life. We are interested in the well-being of future generations and have a desire to give back in one way or another.
Well, at long last, there seems to be increasing acceptance of this truth, especially as it pertains to older women. If any of you have watched the recent Golden Globes or seen the NY Times article on this topic, “I am (an Older) Woman. Watch me Roar”, you will understand why I say this.
When women over 60 gain power in positions that traditionally were held by men, the public begins to notice. In many ways it’s unfortunate that they have to gain acknowledgement in the public domain as “powerful” before anyone notices, but if it helps fight ageist bias against older women, I’ll take it.
This January has been an extraordinary start to what I believe will be a new movement. There’s a natural nexus with the women’s liberation and feminism movement of the 60s and 70s, the #Me Too movement and ageism. Nancy Pelosi at age 78 has become the most powerful elected woman in US history; Glenn Close, 71, won actress of the year for the Golden Globes; and Susan Zirinsky, 66, takes over CBC news in March.
These women are all terrific role models and will help start the conversation about how perceptions of age influence decisions that affect hiring, re-employment and general engagement of all older adults. It will help destigmatize some bias, but it isn’t and won’t be enough to penetrate other less privileged socio-economic groups.
It is incumbent on all of us to participate in breaking down these barriers in order to fulfill the real potential of older adults. Everyone has a role to play no matter how small. Starting conversations with younger folks, confronting older friends and relatives about their own internalized biases, and proclaiming with pride how old you are just a few ways to combat the negative understanding of what it means to age.
When my 21/2 year old little grandson started crying when his mother referenced growing up and getting older, he whimpered: ”I don’t want you to get old, mommy, and I want to stay a little boy”. Where does this perception come from so early in life? Obviously, we have to start this conversation at a very young age.
It’s time to change misperceptions about our elders and the ageing process. It’s also time that we begin to own the problem and challenge it personally, with friends, family and in the workplace.
We tend to be unconscious of our own bias against older people, often thinking that the designation of “senior” or “older person” doesn’t refer to us but to “them”. In fact, most healthy people who are over 60 still consider themselves very much younger than their chronological age. The reflection in the mirror does not tell how we perceive our own ages.
Here are some ideas that will help build confidence and defy the notion of your “best before” date:
Don’t shy away from questions about your age. Embrace it and let whoever is interested know the actual number of years you have been around. Be proud of getting to this point in your life and avoid feeling less than adequate.
Change the question about age from “how old are you” to “what is your age”?
Interact frequently with children, youth and adults of other generations, including those older than you.
Move outside your comfort zone and feel the exhilaration of a new experience.
Role-model how satisfying this stage of life can be by talking about the many exciting opportunities you now have.
Foster awareness of ageing with young children so that they don’t fear it themselves. When children as young as 4 are asked if they want to grow old, they tend to reply negatively.
Invite longevity awareness in schools.
Redefine your life course by engaging rather than being enraged.
Take a later in life “Gap” Year or return to university or college to take other courses.
Try out new and different hair styles.
When you forget something, don’t refer to it as a “senior” moment. This just reinforces the misperception that older folks are more forgetful than younger people. Our brains are plastic but like hard drives in computers, they sometimes reach capacity.
I wonder how many of us realize that the impact of loneliness as we age is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes daily? Or that by the year 2050, 30% of Canada’s population will exceed 60 years of age? These realities have enormous implications for us as individuals and as a society.
Loneliness is extended solitude. Unlike solitude, however, which is often a conscious choice, loneliness usually results from some kind of loss --- personal, physical, professional or societal. Obviously, with age, we see friends and family pass away. What compounds this loss is the demise of the nuclear family. Children are as mobile as their devices and frequently live far away from their older relatives.
Add to these realities the once revered notion of retirement. Unwittingly, retirement often adds to a sense of isolation. Retirement was meant to be that time when we would be able to focus on travel, our hobbies or other enjoyable pursuits. Instead, retirement often signifies the loss of a network of colleagues and friends who are difficult to replace and who intentionally, or not, contributed to a sense of community. It is this sense of togetherness, unity, the social connectedness that is often missing post retirement and the resulting loneliness is one of the most significant contributors to failing health: specifically, heart disease, dementia and diabetes.
If our culture valued our elders for their numerous contributions instead of exclusively revering youth, individuals who once felt positively about themselves might feel more confident about engaging more in meaninful ways. It’s the diminished value that older people experience that makes them vulnerable to a loss of self-esteem, feeling positive about themselves and what they once were able to contribute to society. Their sense of purpose and meaning is questioned by a society that advertises remedies for aging instead of viewing older people as having something to offer.
Ageism (negative stereotyping based on age) is baked into our DNA the way sexism once was. It is so deeply embedded in our language and our psyche that even older adults have internalized the negative impressions that are inherent in ageist comments. We are unaware ourselves.
Ashton Applewhite expresses it better than anyone: “It's not the passage of time that makes it so hard to get older. It's ageism, a prejudice that pits us against our future selves -- and each other." Ashton Applewhite urges us to dismantle the dread and mobilize against the last socially acceptable prejudice. "Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured," she says. "It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all."
To avoid the harmful effects of isolation consider the following:
Talk to Family and Friends: Reach out to family and friends every day, even if only by phone. Don’t be a reluctant to use technology to connect; virtual connections are also good for you.
Get a Pet: From small birds to big dogs, pets provide wonderful company.
Stay Fit: Get some exercise! Not only is it good for your mental health and contribute to your self-image, it can also involve social engagement.
Join a Club: Look for a club or Meet-Up of interest to you. Volunteer for an organization you find interesting.
Access Transportation: If you don’t have a car or access to transportation, reach out to your Local Health Integration Network and ask about transportation for the elderly (http://www.lhins.on.ca).
Start a Business or Not-for-Profit: if you can’t find a club or organization that you want to become part of, start one!
For one of the best TED talks and 11 minutes and 37 seconds that you might spend, I’d suggest listening to this.