Age Discrimination and Discovering Our Power After 50

September 2, 2019 By
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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:

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  • dc says:

    Oh this is the tip of the iceberg. The younger workers are amazed that you are still breathing, especially when they ask you your age and when you tell them they tell you that you are older than their mother! Age discrimination certainly exists-even if you are the most qualified for the job you will be told that it wouldn’t be a good fit (that means age). I got one job because the person they hired instead of me (I was their 2nd choice) only stayed 90 days. That person was a good fit originally so their choice mechanism was a big wrong.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more! Age discrimination is a huge issue. The World Health Organization indicated it was an unrecognized form of discrimination that is more prevalent than even racism and sexism. For women, we are both discriminated against because of our sex and as we age, for being older.

    • I thought I had replied, but I’m not seeing my response to your comment. I couldn’t agree more with you about the problem – it is huge. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      I am saddened by what I read about age discrimination.What positive suggestions, if any, can you suggest to other women going through this unfortunate and unfair experience? Warmly, Honey

  • Margo says:

    My final two years of work were the most difficult of my life. I was treated like a second rate person even though I knew as much if not more than not only my colleagues but my bosses as well. I was not given any new projects to work on, but instead all of the projects that were on the books at the time of a buyout were rolled into the “legacy” program and were given to me. For two years I had the only active studies. It was outrageous at times since my experience was crucial to the success of all of the newer projects, so, even though they were technically not mine, I was included on these teams. I became very bitter and resentful and very outspoken as well. I lost my filter and really no longer cared who I was talking to. I was brutally honest. I was told I was too passionate about my work. I was a program manager for clinical trials trying to restore sight to patients. It should have been the most highly valued characteristic in their staff! I don’t miss work AT ALL. But age discrimination is real no matter how subtle they try to be about it. I have always looked good for my age and was hired without them knowing my age. I was 61 at the time but they thought I was about 50. I tried hard not to tell them my age but one person in particular was insistent about knowing the age of my boys who were 42 and 38. If I had it to do over, I would flat out lie. At the time I retired we had hired numerous people most of whom were either half or one third my age. I could work circles around them and had more stamina than most of them. At my retirement party my boss told them I was the hardest working person she ever met. What she failed to say was how little that was ever valued. My advice is that once you reach your 50’s you draw the line and refuse to do more than the younger people around you. Part of the feminist era, we were used to working twice as hard to get noticed and promoted. But nowadays that is not valued and only makes you a target for those who would take advantage of you. One thing’s for certain, it’s still a jungle out there!

    • Margo, Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve heard many similar stories from other women. What you experienced is unfortunately too common. By sharing our stories, I believe we can start changing not only our responses but the narrative about aging. All of us either belong to or will belong to the same club. We have the power to set the rules. Thank you again for sharing.

      • Susan "Honey" Good says:

        Have you heard back from Margo? What city and state are you from? I ask because I see the passion in your comment and have read a few comments of the other women and I am extremely interested in the topic of age discrimination in the workplace and outside the workplace. Women of every walk of life begin to feel invisible at some age over 50 plus. It depends on the woman.The women can have college degrees. great families, travel, had careers and they still feel invisible because they are looked upon as invisible because of their age. Would you and Margo like to start an online group on the honeygoodnetwork.com? My network has 300 plus women, it is in beta stage, needs tech work and content work but their are several groups from gardening to photography to writing, etc. There is not a group for age discrimination. You might want to start one. I asked Margo also. Please contact pr@honeygood.com for help in getting signed in (it is free) because it can be somewhat difficult. She will also answer all your questions. She is in her 60’s. I am smiling. I am going to send her an email with your name incase you choose to contact her. PS.Thank you for writing to me and sharing your information. I am most appreciative. Warmly, Honey

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      I am learning that the work place is not pleasant for many women over 50.I have a Honey Good Network. There are several groups you may join and I was thinking you might start a group called Discrimination in the workplace for women over 50 plus. To be honest, the sight is in its preliminary faze with some tech issues but there are now over 300 plus who have signed up, though not all are active. Please contact pr@honeygood.com. The woman who is in charge of the Network is Susan Berman Hammer. She is in her 60’s! She will explain everything to you and help you get set up if this interests you. My ultimate concierge has Macular Degeneration. It is in one eye. The MD was dry for several years. Now it it wet and I go with him every 4-5 weeks for the MD shot. Thank goodness for the shot. His other eye is perfect. Fingers crossed. Please keep in touch with me. Here are a few of the women who responded to the story on Discrimination. You might want to touch base with them. tootsiecookie@gmail.com. I don’t know her first name. Paula Marie Usrey/boomerbestu.com. I see she wrote to you. You women may like to start a group on honeygoodnetwork.com or communicate and form friendships. Warmly, Honey

      • Paula says:

        Interesting thought. Thank you for suggesting this. I am interested in other women’s experiences. I must say though that I’m also a researcher and may ask if I can share quotes (without names)for a related project. Would that be something others would find acceptable?

        • Susan "Honey" Good says:

          You will have to ask them. I think they would because I would but that is not a good answer. Drop them an email and ask. What kind of reacher are you. I am interested. Warmly, Honey

          • Paula says:

            I was an educational researcher before assuming a fulltime teaching role. I worked on institutional research while teaching. Now I am more interested in thematic and statistical research related to ageism. Currently, I am not actively researching, but plan to invite women on a couple of other sites to participate in a short survey I will be developing. I believe women experience age discrimination in more pointed ways than do men. I do want to help build awareness and encourage other women to talk about this issue. If women on your site are open, I would be interested in analyzing themes related to discussions and share this with the group. If individuals gave me permission, I would also ask to use selected quotes but no names). Thanks for asking.

          • Susan "Honey" Good says:

            Are you aware of the HoneyGoodNetwork? At this point it is in beta stage. It needs content and further tech work but it has 300 + members who have formed different type groups. You could form your group and make a plan to invite women who are participating in other groups to become involved with you and ask women friends or yours to join. It is free. I know that women need women and I love group participation. If you are interested I will put you in touch with the right woman to help you get set up.And, if you are a writer you can become a monthly contributor on HG and write on your topic. I would put you in touch with the right person who will ask you to write a story and she would decide the next step.The story has to be 800 words for SEO.I am trying to help you. 🙂 Warmly, Honey

          • Susan "Honey" Good says:

            Susan Berman Hammer is going to reach out to you!!! Warmly, Honey

  • Thank you for the follow-up. I am interested in forming a group and asking for insights about ageism, especially in the workplace. I certainly will make it clear that I am also working on a project related to ageism and would ask to share general themes in the work I am doing. I think we could all help each other by sharing stories and talking about strategies we can use. I believe women are the ones who must take leadership in this area. I had planned to contact Susan earlier but got sidetracked with some caretaking responsibilities because of an illness my husband has developed.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      I am happy you want to partake in a group and I hope your husband is doing better. Where do you live? Please Contact Susan again. We would love you to join HoneyGoodNetwork, my online group. pr@honeygood.com. Warmly, Honey

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