Age Discrimination and Discovering Our Power After 50September 2, 2019
My darlings, I’d like to introduce our newest monthly contributor, Paula Marie Usrey. Paula founded Boomer Best U to promote positive aging and to fight age discrimination. I’m so happy to have her here and I can’t wait for you to learn from her wisdom. Happy reading!
Interviewing At 50
At 50, I felt as youthful and energetic as I did when I was in my 30s. I also had the right background and experience for a position I was seeking. It never occurred to me that my age would become an obstacle in landing my dream position.
It wasn’t until I started meeting with interview committees comprised of people my children’s age that I realized there were people who thought I was too old to be hired. I could see forced smiles and uninterested expressions on their younger faces. Finally, when I walked into interview rooms and met with committee members my own age, I knew I would get the job I wanted.
Becoming Invisible in a Youth-Focused Culture
While age discrimination is technically illegal, most people perceive that it is a problem in the workplace. A 2017 AARP report indicated that 72% of mature women recognized age discrimination in the workplace. However, only 57% of men in the same age group deemed workplace age discrimination a problem.
We live in a youth-centric culture. As women, we’ve historically been valued for how we look. Once we start nearing menopause, our youthful appearance usually starts fading. Once our looks go, our perceived workplace and social value can be affected. At this point, some women may start feeling as though they are invisible.
I first experienced feeling invisible when I reached my late 50s. I had felt respected and valued until a younger colleague tried to talk over me in a meeting. Then I noticed a few of my younger colleagues excluded me from some conversations that mattered to me. I felt as though I was gradually fading from view; I could see others, but they couldn’t see me.
Women Turning to Plastic Surgery
It is a frightening feeling to become invisible. Some women become concerned about getting promoted or even keeping their jobs as they age.
Others try to turn back the clock. A recent study revealed that age discrimination is related to increased demand for cosmetic procedures. And, no surprise, it is women who are getting the majority of those procedures.
I’ll confess, I also gave plastic surgery serious consideration until I realized I would be doing it because of perceived pressure from others, not because of the pleasure it would give me.
Each of Us Has the Power to Promote Positive Attitudes about Aging
In reality, we are all aging. In fact, global aging is one of the most important trends of our time. For women, in particular, this means we need to make some choices about how we respond to age discrimination and all the anti-aging messages that target our fears about getting older.
My current work involves positive aging and standing up to ageism. I’ve discovered that most of us are far better off embracing positive aging rather than denying it. We can also take a stand against ageism when we see it. Here are some thoughts for your consideration:
Be proud of the years you’ve lived, the wisdom you’ve gained, and the experience you have to offer.
Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, argues that women need to own their age. I couldn’t agree more. I love telling people I’m 67. Other women have told me I’m now their mentor or guide. Yes, it is a new role, but it’s a role I’m learning to embrace with joy.
In the workplace, older, more experienced women can also serve as mentors to younger women. Women need to help other women succeed!
If applying for a new position, show others how you can provide added value by doing your homework.
Contrary to ageist assumptions about older workers, numerous studies indicate that we not only gain experience and often have greater wisdom as we age, but we can also usually offer problem-solving insights and have well-developed communication skills.
Employers don’t always recognize the value we offer as older women. We need to be prepared to educate them.
In addition to relying on the value that comes with experience, we can also offer insights about how to reach a growing market of older adults. Joseph Coughlin, author of The Longevity Economy has pointed out that individuals 50+ control the majority of the discretionary income in this country. Further, he argues that women are the ones who make most of the purchasing decisions.
We can help employers reach new markets. We can also do our homework by researching demographics related to the services and products certain employers offer.
Of course, it is also important to stay current on advancements in technology. Too many employers believe that older workers–especially women–are not likely to have the necessary skills and knowledge. Staying current with technology is important.
Use your communication power in meetings and in the workplace.
The first time someone talked over me at a meeting, I was taken by surprise. The second time I attended a meeting with the same people, I was prepared. I came to the meeting with the required information. When someone tried to interrupt me, I held up the palm of my hand and signaled that I was not yet finished talking. I also made sure that my tone sounded certain rather than apologetic.
In addition, I avoided overly-polite communication behaviors that are often associated with weaker communication. Phrases like “don’t you think” at the end of sentences can suggest uncertainty.
Finally, I also listened carefully to others, paraphrased what they had to say, and demonstrated that I respected their contributions too.
Ask yourself whose interests are being served.
If having a procedure makes you smile when you look in the mirror because it is consistent with how you feel inside, then that might be a choice you consider. However, if you feel pressured to change how you look because of anti-aging messages or social pressure, you may be disappointed.
Staying healthy, keeping active, and presenting the best version of ourselves are often some of the most beneficial ways to feel energetic and youthful. In addition, we are showing other women that we feel good about ourselves at any age and they can too.
As women, we are valuable at every age. Let’s work together to show the world that we are strong. We’ve got the power to change negative assumptions about aging.
Paula Marie Usrey founded Boomer Best U to help promote positive aging and to fight age discrimination. She has also given a TEDx presentation on how to live your best life at any age. Paula recently retired as an Associate Professor of Communication from Umpqua Community College.