Ageism is all around us. You may or may not realize that negative attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward older people are alive and well. These feelings and actions can come from a child, an adolescent, a young adult, or a baby boomer. The ageist person may even be an older adult. For example, in many adult communities or facilities providing various levels of care, the more independent residents often don’t want the more infirm residents to eat in the same dining room.
- U.S. Culture and Aging
- Health Impacts of Ageism
- Why Ageism?
- Curbing Ageism
- Acting on Ageism
- 1. Strive to maintain a diverse workforce
- 2. Avoid issues with your job descriptions
- 3. Design your job application process with care
- 4. Steer clear of stereotypes
- 5. Understand the rules of retirement
- 6. Watch your words
- Enjoy the benefits of a discrimination-free workplace
- 7 Ways to Overcome Ageism
- What Is Ageism?
- Ageism in the Workplace
- Ageism Where You Least Expect It
- Overcoming Ageism
- Fighting ageism
- How Do We Combat Ageism? By Valuing Wisdom as Much as Youth.
- A global campaign to combat ageism
- Forget sex, let’s talk aging
- 1. Scream your age from the top of the tallest building
- 2. Talk about loss and death
- 3. Quit saying “for your age”
- 4. Live older
- 5. Reinvent yourself
- 6. Make love!
- 7. Make friends of all ages
- Include only relevant experience
- Consider dropping education dates
- Show you’re tech savvy
- Streamline your template
- Watch your language
- Customize your application
- Keep it personal
- 12 Ways to Eliminate Ageism and Be More Inclusive
- Eradicating ageism in five steps
- Growing older is something to celebrate
- A socially acceptable discrimination
- 1. We need to rethink ‘old’
- 2. We need to stop idolising youth and perceiving old age as a time of misery
- 3. From anti-ageing to pro-ageing.
- 4. We need more diverse role models
- 5. When stereotypes affect reality
- On behalf of our future selves
- Want to read more?
U.S. Culture and Aging
Some cultures revere aging. Ours does not. “In our society, there is this endless drumbeat of youth. We need to challenge the underlying message that age decreases your value,” says Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism and a blog called Yo, Is This Ageist? You’ve heard the stereotypes: Older people are crabby, slow learners, set in their ways, terrible with technology, forgetful (“senior moments”), feeble, and have dementia. Talk about sweeping generalizations! Consider the store clerk who speaks very loudly to an older shopper who hears perfectly well, or calls them “young lady” or “young man,” thinking they will be thrilled. Even some healthcare professionals fail to look at their patient during a visit, focusing instead on the patient’s adult child . Our culture doesn’t just stigmatize older adults, experts say. It often assumes everyone over age 60 is the same from their level of physical and mental health, to their degrees of social and technological engagement. “Basing beliefs and decisions on someone’s numeric age is ludicrous,” says Jan Hively, 86, a national expert on aging who received her Ph.D. when she was 67. “The older you get, the more variation there is.”
Health Impacts of Ageism
Ageism has real consequences. At the Yale School of Medicine, epidemiologist Becca Levy found that older adults who view aging negatively live 7.5 years less than those with a positive attitude. According to the World Health Organization, being the object of ageism can increase depression. On the other hand, another study showed that exposing older adults to subliminal positive messages about aging frequently helped their mobility and balance. If you convey the idea that a person is incapable of doing a task, it may come to fruition (the “self-fulfilling prophesy” theory). Older adults can begin to doubt their own abilities — if someone says it, it must be true. “We’re not helping them,” says Hively, who has seen it firsthand. “We need to see their potential and encourage people as they grow older to be as independent as they can.”
People don’t intentionally decide that they are going to be ageist; in many cases, it’s unlikely they realize that they are. But it’s an attitude that has been passed down through the generations.
U.S. advertising has also fueled the fire: Youth is praised. Older adults, especially those who aren’t physically vital, are mostly ignored. When an older person is shown on TV or in print, often they are either touting anti-aging products or tend to be physically vibrant, ultra-active boomers who climb mountains and run marathons, thanks to medication. “Ageism is getting worse at the same time as awareness of it grows,” says Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Ending Ageism or How Not to Shoot Old People. Why is there so much negativity? “Some people (i.e., boomers) don’t want to have much to do with older people because they dread their own future and don’t want to be reminded about it. So that is a big hurdle,” Gullette says.
Medicine is improving, and life expectancy is increasing. Technology is allowing older adults to stay more independent and engaged. The potential period to be productive after retirement (maybe a second or even a third career?) has been extended a good 20 years or more. Meanwhile, baby boomers are aging and demanding different (better) ways of “doing” old. As there is more intergenerational interaction — whether in formal or informal programs, cohousing, or other intentional communities — children, parents, and others will better realize the contributions of elders. At the same time, older people will gain a greater sense of purpose and self.
At any rate, we’d better get used to older people — and to ourselves getting older. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, by 2030, “more than 20% of U.S. residents are projected to be aged 65 and over, compared with 13% in 2010 and 9.8% in 1970.” Activists are making ageism a hot issue. Some examples:
The #endageism hashtag is popular on Twitter.
The Positive Aging Movement, which believes that productivity, growth, and creativity are possible throughout the life span, holds international conferences with hundreds of attendees.
There’s an increasing proliferation of books, websites blogs, articles, and speeches on the topic of aging well.
Acting on Ageism
Ageism won’t go away by itself. Here are five ways to combat it:
1. Recognize it. To create awareness requires understanding that there is a problem. In other words, you can’t change something you don’t know needs changing, including yourself.
2. Speak up! If you hear something ageist, consider pointing it out. Rather than make someone defensive, you can calmly tell them you know they didn’t realize what they were saying.
3. Ask yourself, “Would I like it?” Treat older people with the respect you will want. Think about whether you are being patronizing or talking to them like children (called “elderspeak“). And don’t be that fully clothed health aide who gives a nursing home resident the “we” treatment, as in, “We are going to get dressed now.”
4. Be inclusive. Promote intergenerational experiences. Yarmouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, has a unique intergenerational model UN program that pairs an elder with a high school student to learn about a pressing global issue, such as water conservation.
5. Give yourself a break. If you’re thinking that some behavior you thought was respectful is really ageist, now you’re enlightened. And you can make the choice to behave differently in the future.
I have an “Old People Are Cool” sticker I was given at a conference. Here’s hoping more people will think aging is cool.
A New Kind of Intergenerational Living
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects individuals 40 and over from discrimination in any decision made during the full cycle of employment – including everything from hiring, termination, pay, job duties and beyond.
Fifty years after its enactment, one in four discrimination claims are still related to ageism, according to the EEOC.
Want your business to avoid becoming a statistic and getting caught up in a costly claim? Follow these tips to help prevent age discrimination in your organization.
1. Strive to maintain a diverse workforce
Hiring managers have a tendency to hire people who are similar to themselves, often without realizing their implicit bias. This can be problematic when it becomes clear that individuals aren’t being hired based on their qualifications for a particular job, but rather how well they’d fit in socially with your team.
You want to avoid this at all costs. Put some checks and balances in place where needed to ensure new employees are being selected for the right reasons.
For example, say you have a manager who says they’ve decided not to hire a candidate because they don’t think they’d be a good cultural fit. Check your manager’s definition of what that means.
Did the manager think an older candidate wouldn’t enjoy collaborating with younger co-workers and, therefore, disqualify the candidate? In this instance, the manager may have discriminated against the applicant based on age.
Or, was it revealed during the interview process that the candidate doesn’t do well at solving problems? If problem-solving skills are considered crucial to the culture of your organization or for the role being filled, the manager would have made the correct decision by assessing the candidate on their skills.
There’s a big difference between basing a decision on facts (like job skills demonstrated) and basing it on assumptions (such as assuming older workers don’t want to collaborate with their younger peers).
2. Avoid issues with your job descriptions
When you’re looking for soft skills that are required to fill a role, you must be mindful of how you describe those skills.
For example, using words like “young,” “energetic,” “fresh-minded” or “tech savvy” in a job description, or identifying a position as “perfect for a stay-at-home mom,” can be seen as discriminatory practice.
Instead, consider using words like “motivated,” “driven” or “dedicated” that convey a candidate’s passion and work ethic without the connotation that they must be young to successfully perform required duties.
Better yet, avoid determining what type of person would fit the role altogether, and instead describe the role itself in vivid detail.
3. Design your job application process with care
What information do you absolutely need to collect on your job applications?
For instance, do you really need work history starting from the beginning of time? Or, do you really need to know the year they graduated from high school or college?
Instead, on your job applications and in interviews, be more specific with your questions. For example, “Do you have 10 years of experience in this field?” or “Can you use this software program?”
Don’t ask for unnecessary information. If an applicant or employee files an age discrimination claim, it can be used as evidence to prove that your hiring manager was aware of the candidate’s age and that it influenced their hiring decision negatively.
For example, getting off topic slightly in an interview can steer you into trouble, as it could reveal clues about the candidate’s age. Even information that seems harmless, such as the age of someone’s children or grandchildren, could be damaging. In an EEOC complaint, a candidate could say, “This is how they knew my age. This topic came up during my interview process.”
Keep in mind that if applicant data is only needed for background screening purposes, it can be collected later in the hiring process when the actual screening is conducted.
Seek guidance from a subject-matter expert to stay out of murky waters. A reputable recruiting and background screening service provider can help you stay on point throughout the process. For example, they can help you:
- Avoid blatant mistakes, such as asking for an applicant’s birthdate upfront.
- Use a variety of recruiting tools, so you get a variety of diverse applicants.
- Develop an application that avoids collecting unneeded information.
- Create structured interview guides for consistency, so all applicants are asked the same questions.
- Train interviewers to make sure they’re asking appropriate questions and avoiding inappropriate, off-topic conversations.
- Determine hiring criteria and document how decisions were made, to help you defend every hiring decision.
- Follow appropriate procedures for background screenings, including state-by-state guidance.
4. Steer clear of stereotypes
Never assume that an employee can’t keep up with new industry trends or won’t understand new technology. Many older employees are eager to take on new challenges and learn the latest technology, and making assumptions based on age can lead to a discrimination claim.
Implicit bias training, along with discrimination and harassment training, can be incredibly helpful in preventing this type of inappropriate behavior. Employees should be aware of the ADEA and the stipulations of the act.
Also, be sure to have a zero-tolerance anti-discrimination and harassment policy in place. This should provide guidelines and expectations around inclusiveness. All employees, of all ages, should be treated in the same manner. If there are deviations from those expectations, leaders must hold individuals accountable.
5. Understand the rules of retirement
Just because someone is older in age, you cannot assume they’re ready for retirement.
As we’re living longer and jobs are less physically demanding, workers today often stay in their jobs well after the Social Security retirement age.
Typically, you cannot force an employee to retire. And asking questions around when an employee plans to retire is also off limits.
6. Watch your words
Obviously, you should avoid calling your employee “old.” But you need to do more than that.
You must also avoid making disparaging comments about yourself. Even saying things like “back in the day” or “my old brain” or “I’m old fashioned” can be problematic. You might think that you’re saying these things playfully, but your words could have the potential to make older employees feel discriminated against.
Create an inclusive environment for all employees by avoiding these types of comments.
Enjoy the benefits of a discrimination-free workplace
Last year, more than 20,000 EEOC claims filed were related to age discrimination. Often, these cases ended in costly monetary pay-outs that may have been avoided with a little education and effort.
Besides, you wouldn’t want to miss out on a large and talented pool of individuals. If you want your organization to be as successful as possible, hire and retain the best talent that’s out there – regardless of age.
Want more guidance on how to avoid discrimination claims? Download our free e-book, Employment Law: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?
HR Compliance: Are You Putting Your Business at Risk?
by, Carol Marak, Guest Blogger
Age discrimination affects our country’s business, economy, values, and human dignity. It’s a disgrace how we treat our elders. It’s time we transform our perceptions of aging, from dependency and weakness to one of proficiency and resourcefulness.
Four major categories that identify subgroups in our society are race, gender, sexual orientation and age. And the latter is the only social group that everyone may join if they’re lucky. Despite this, age-based bias remains under-studied. This article addresses ageism, highlighting existing professionals’ perspectives on its consequences, and how we as a society can fix the prejudice of aging.
As a whole, each one of us marks the passage of age on our birthdays but other than that, aging is rarely discussed. The only time we openly talk about it is when we consider anti-aging cosmetics and treatments. Other than that, it’s considered distasteful. We’re afraid to ask another person’s age or the date of a college graduation. If asked, we either tell a lie or get defensive about the question. It’s not approached with appreciation. As editor of SeniorCare.com, I recently interviewed industry experts for solutions to help alter our culture’s narrow perspectives on aging as found in the recent FrameWorks Institute report Gauging Aging.
Same page thinking
The general public draws on a variety of models or perspectives when thinking about growing older. Some see it as becoming frail, dependent, reduced potential and isolated whereas others see aging as the opposite; giving back to society, forming close relationships, staying active and learning new skills. Both sharply contradict the other posture. But if we are to change the role that older Americans play in our society, aging advocates and professionals believe:
“Before we can leverage the resource model, we first have to view (older adults) as one. Our glorification of the young and able-bodied makes this difficult.” Christina Selder, Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform.
“First we need to deal with ageism. Once everyone accepts that the more aged people are real humans and not just either taking cruises or in a nursing home, we can find ways to tap their talents and energy.” Donna Schempp, Caregiver.org.
“Older adults are often cast aside and deemed non-productive members of society. We’ve read inspiring stories of more abled adults helping their peers who are less mobile by providing transportation or help at home.” Seth Sternberg, JoinHonor.com.
Seeing older people as the “other” contributes to a win/lose perspective that facilitate an “Us vs. Them” thinking pattern. It’s rampant in our society—I win, you lose. It seems someone must always lose if there is a winner. The “Us vs. Them” rings true in government support: a program for the aged will take away from a program for children. The thinking pattern propagates ageism. Thought leaders believe:
“We need to foster more intergenerational programs, and we need to document the life stories of our elders. That will help assure that valuable lessons are passed on and that generations learn from each other.” Anthony Cirillo, The Aging Experience.
“It’s not just about care but connection and contribution that allow seniors to thrive. There are several initiatives that I love – the village movement; cross-generational co-housing development; Seniors-Youth attention and tutoring opportunities. These efforts empower older adults to give back.” Michelle Jeong, Reminder Rosie.
“Older adults take care of grandchildren, share wisdom with their kids and younger business associates and assist in the care of their generation. We should 1. Tap into those with specialized knowledge via a program like Japan’s national living treasure grants and 2. Support them in caregiving/extended family assistance.” Shannon Martin, Aging Wisely.
Our society thrives on uniqueness, individuality, and independence. It’s our country’s values. But regarding caring for people as a whole, the principles diminish shared responsibility. We put the blame on individuals for not saving enough for long-term care and not taking care of one’s health. That type of thinking can fault others and leave them out to dry. Professionals claim these steps to foster unity:
“Older adults are an untapped wealth of life experience and skills. We should capitalize on their knowledge and find ways to utilize their skills—mentoring kids, helping small businesses, teaching others, etc. We should not assume aging means lack of ability. Older adults could be caregivers to their peers when they need help! Seniors have so much to give us all if we engage them!” Kathy Birkett, Senior Care Corner.
“The senior and retired person’s time is the number one most valuable and significant asset they have. While retiring traditionally means relaxing most have opted to make an impact in this new life either through volunteering, mentoring or contributing to their community. It means an upcoming boon in volunteerism that will be great for gaps in areas like elderly transportation and public service.” Harsh Wanigaratne, Spedsta.com.
“By the 22nd century, half the world’s 7,000 languages may go extinct (one disappears every 14 days). Not only do languages catalog aspects of our culture and cognition, but they may even contain irreplaceable knowledge. Often, our elders are caretakers of language, the sole repositories of an oral tradition that could be forgotten. We cannot value, protect or restore one without the other.” Stephen Forman, Long Term Care Associates, Inc.
“Mentors, tutors, guides: so many businesses and individuals today are risky for the wise advice of a life coach or the guiding expertise of a consultant, and will pay a high price for either. Why not engage the millions of older adults who have a lifetime of experience behind them?” Michelle Seitzer, MichelleSeitzer.com.
“Many of us are not close to our family members for one reason or another, so seniors can become surrogate grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers or fathers to people who are younger. Seniors often have time, love, and wisdom to share. They may appreciate the companionship, energy, and access to technology that younger people can provide.” Margo Rose, Body Aware Grieving.
“The one resource that all older people have and all younger people lack is a life experience. I believe we should strive to find a way to bridge the gap between these generations and tap into that precious resource through mentorship, intergenerational learning, and collective problem solving. There’s a great example of a preschool located in a Seattle senior care center.” Stuart Karten, Karten Design.
The public blinds itself to the fact that people are living longer, and the population is growing older. We’re so focused on ourselves as individuals that we lose sight of the whole society. That limits our perspective. We don’t “get” the needs of others and how to support our older segment. We’re a segregated group of individuals. If we don’t see the problem, how can we create solutions? Here’s what aging thought leaders say we must do to remedy the limited vision:
“Older adults are a natural resource in their willingness to serve the community as volunteers. A survey by the federal Administration on Aging states that 15 million seniors currently volunteer. They prefer to do more of it because it benefits them. The act of giving back builds strong social ties in the community and prolongs physical and mental health in old age.” Evan Farr, Farr Law Firm.
“All generations can benefit from the more elderly population’s ‘pearls of wisdom’ from both their personal life experiences and their business acumen. The recent movie “The Intern” with Robert De Niro highlighted the importance of traditional business techniques and relationship building in the age of social media and technology. Marla Levie, Focus on Aging.
“Caring for our aging population is already an enormous part of our economy. However, the current model is to build care homes to house the elderly and those with memory problems. It would be better to integrate the communities, rather than isolate them. I like the model of a joint-care home for older adults and daycare for young children. Nancy Wurtzel, Dating Dementia.
“With elders being this nation’s greatest natural resource we are fortunate to have a generation of Americans eager and willing to impart invaluable knowledge gained from their life experiences. We can look to elders for guidance with relationships, family, learning patience, compassion and how to move forward in the face of adversity. All one needs to do is listen, ask questions and learn.” David Mordehi, Advise and Protect.
“We could allow older adults to continue contributing in their fields of expertise in ways that suit their lifestyle needs. They have decades of experience that offers wisdom and perspective. We could set up corporate programs where seniors act as consultants on projects or formally mentor younger employees.” Connie Chow, Daily Caring.
As experts in the aging services industry we have first-hand experience of the discrimination older Americans live with every day. If we can help the public understand that they too will grow old and face the same judgment, maybe then our society could transform aging.
339 Shares Tags: Ageism caregiving
7 Ways to Overcome Ageism
Olympic swimmer Dara Torres made headlines when, at age 41, she won a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team for the 2008 Beijing games and became a five-time Olympian.
Most of us wouldn’t consider a woman of 41 to be old, but having beaten a 25-year-old to land a spot on the team, Torres challenged stereotypes about aging and showed that people of all ages are capable of making great strides. Like Torres, many other Americans are striving for success in mid-life and beyond, but they find themselves regularly struggling with varying degrees of ageism.
What Is Ageism?
The term was coined in 1968 by Robert N. Butler, MD, a gerontologist, psychiatrist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and it refers to a basic denial of older people’s human rights. Though it has been against the law to discriminate against older people in the workplace since 1967, when Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, it still happens frequently, says Ursula Staudinger, PhD, founding director of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University in New York City.
Ageism in the Workplace
Dallas resident Alex Kaplinsky was confident he would be hired for a sales job after a headhunter approached him. He was 67 at the time. “The telephone interviews went well, and they seemed to be thrilled to have me,” he says. But, the atmosphere turned from “excited to cold,” he recalls, when he flew to New Jersey for a final interview and the hiring manager saw his gray hair. Kaplinsky was 67 at the time.
When Kaplinsky returned home, he was offered a part-time job with the company; not the high-dollar sales position he’d interviewed for.
His experience is common to many older Americans — and “older” can be as young as 45 or 50, Dr. Staudinger says. “Older people are passed over for jobs despite their experience and qualifications. Also, their bosses assume they’re not open to change and don’t include them in new projects or assignments,” she says.
Ageism Where You Least Expect It
While workplace ageism may be the most blatant form, older Americans also encounter ageism in public settings, and even in their own families. For example, when older people shop, Staudinger says, sales clerks often assume they have all the time in the world and ignore them in favor of younger customers. And they may even face this discrimination in their own families.
Staudinger points out that grandchildren can assume their grandparents couldn’t possibly understand what’s going on in their world, and may keep their conversations superficial, thinking it would be too hard to discuss details or explain the latest technology they’re using to the “old folks,” she says. Families may also underestimate their elders’ ability to live on their own and remain independent. “They put pressure on them to move to an apartment or assisted living,” Staudinger says.
Related: 3 Science-Based Secrets to a Youthful Brain
Even doctors can be guilty of holding these attitudes. When Audrey Chun, MD, was training to become a geriatrician, most of her older patients were hard of hearing, so she assumed they all were. But one patient who wasn’t became insulted when she raised her voice to him. “He said, ‘You don’t have to yell at me; I can hear you just fine,’” she recalls. It was an important lesson to learn, says Dr. Chun, now an associate professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Many people talk to the elderly like they are children — slow, loud, and deliberate. That can be disheartening and make them feel sad, says Gregory A. Hinrichsen, PhD, an assistant clinical professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine with a specialty in geriatric psychiatry at Mount Sinai.
There is no reason to experience discrimination as you get older. With some effort, you can overcome ageism. The following suggestions may help.
1. Speak up. Don’t let yourself be pushed around because you’re older, Staudinger says. At family gatherings where there are people of all ages, you might be tempted to sit on the sidelines and watch, but make an attempt to participate.
2. Engage in the world. People who stay active — mentally and physically — can overcome ageism more easily, Dr. Hinrichsen says. Follow the news. Live in the present, and look to the future. Show your children and grandchildren that you’re aware of what’s going on around you. Use email and social media if you feel comfortable — it can show your grandchildren you can communicate like they do.
3. Be positive. Attitude has a lot to do with how people can overcome ageism, Hinrichsen says. Relish the experience and wisdom that come with age and put them to good use.
4. Be as independent as you can. “There’s a concept of learned helplessness,” Chun says. “If you assume that because you’re a certain age, you’re unable to do certain things, you won’t be able to do them. You won’t lose those abilities if you continue to do for yourself what you can.” Go shopping. Do your own banking. Eat out in restaurants.
5. Surround yourself with younger people. Taking a class at the gym or the community college with younger people will help fight ageism, Chun says. “There’s also that energy that comes from being with people who are younger to motivate you to push yourself,” she adds.
6. Volunteer. Join in activities at your church keeps Mattie Woodson, 94, of Seattle, interested in life, she says. Same for Margaret Hardin, 101, who also lives in Seattle. “Making blankets for Childhaven and sewing the labels keeps me young,” says Hardin.
7. Exercise. Woodson enjoys Pilates. It’s another way she stays young, she says.
The number of Americans 60 and older is growing, but society still isn’t embracing the aging population, geropsychologists say. Whether battling “old geezer” stereotypes or trying to obtain equal standing in the workplace, those who are 60 or older may all too often find themselves the victims of ageism.
In fact, in a survey of 84 people ages 60 and older, nearly 80 percent of respondents reported experiencing ageism–such as other people assuming they had memory or physical impairments due to their age. The 2001 survey by Duke University’s Erdman Palmore, PhD, also revealed that the most frequent type of ageism–reported by 58 percent of respondents–was being told a joke that pokes fun at older people. Thirty-one percent reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. The study appeared in The Gerontologist (Vol. 41, No. 5).
And what’s worse, ageism also seeps into mental health care. Older patients are often viewed by health professionals as set in their ways and unable to change their behavior, aging experts say. Mental health problems–such as cognitive impairment or psychological disorders caused at least in part by complex pharmacological treatments–often go unrecognized and untreated in this growing demographic, many researchers believe.
The deficit in treatment comes at a time when those over the age of 85 make up the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Nearly 35 million Americans are over 65 years old, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, and that number is expected to double by 2030 to 20 percent of the population.
Those numbers come as no surprise to geropsychologists, who–as they mark Older Americans Month this May–continue working to get the word out about the need for better elder care. Their ultimate aim is to expand training and research opportunities in this area and eliminate ageism in all facets of society–from demeaning stereotypes portrayed in the media to the public’s personal biases.
The effects of ageism
Not only are negative stereotypes hurtful to older people, but they may even shorten their lives, finds psychologist Becca Levy, PhD, assistant professor of public health at Yale University. In Levy’s longitudinal study of 660 people 50 years and older, those with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions of aging. The study appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 83, No. 2).
On the other hand, people’s positive beliefs about and attitudes toward the elderly appear to boost their mental health. Levy has found that older adults exposed to positive stereotypes have significantly better memory and balance, whereas negative self-perceptions contributed to worse memory and feelings of worthlessness.
“Age stereotypes are often internalized at a young age–long before they are even relevant to people,” notes Levy, adding that even by the age of four, children are familiar with age stereotypes, which are reinforced over their lifetimes.
Fueling the problem is the media’s portrayal of older adults, Levy says. At a Senate hearing last fall, Levy testified before the Special Committee on Aging about the effects of age stereotypes. Doris Roberts, the Emmy-award winning actress in her seventies from the T.V. show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” also testified at the hearing.
“My peers and I are portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding rather than deserving,” Roberts testified. “In reality, the majority of seniors are self-sufficient, middle-class consumers with more assets than most young people, and the time and talent to offer society.”
Indeed, the value that the media and society place on youth might explain the growing number of cosmetic surgeries among older adults, Levy notes. Whether this trend is positive or negative in combating ageism is one of many areas within geropsychology that needs greater research, she says.
What can psychologists do?
Psychologists need to respond to ageism the same way they do when a person is discriminated against because of race or a disability, says Jacqueline Goodchilds, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Goodchilds, on behalf of APA’s Committee on Aging (CONA), drafted a resolution against ageism that was approved by APA’s Council of Representatives in February 2002. The resolution says that APA is against ageism “in all its forms” and emphasizes APA’s commitment to support efforts to eliminate it.
“APA was against racism, sexism and all the other ‘isms’–it made sense to be against ageism too,” Goodchilds says of the resolution.
Other APA groups are also working to combat ageism through funding, training and federal policies supporting geropsychologists. For example, one APA initiative–through the Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) program–recently received $3 million for geropsychology training this year. The funding will be devoted exclusively to training geropsychologists in mental and behavioral-health services for older adults through APA-accredited programs.
Increasing the number of doctoral-level trained geropsychologists as well as making age-related information more available to researchers, practitioners and students are top objectives for CONA. One of the group’s recent efforts is to get more aging content incorporated into all levels of schools’ curricula.
“We need to raise the consciousness of the need for aging material,” says CONA chair Forrest Scogin, PhD, a University of Alabama psychology professor. “There needs to be a greater awareness of who the older adults are–they are a diverse group. Ageism and stereotypes just don’t work.”
The workplace also needs psychologists’ attention, says Harvey Sterns, PhD, president of APA’s Div. 20 (Adult Development and Aging) and director of The University of Akron’s Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reported a more than 24 percent increase in the number of age-discrimination complaints filed this year compared with the previous two years. Employees over the age of 40 are often considered “old” and not offered the same training, promotion opportunities and pay as younger colleagues, Sterns says.
Div. 20 is working to counteract such workplace and other age stereotypes by addressing the need for more trained geropsychologists and promoting age-friendly environments for the growth and development of older adults. “There is a long tradition within APA of dealing with these issues, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to be revisited with intensity over and over again,” Sterns says. “This doesn’t go away.”
The key, Scogin notes, is educating psychologists and the general population alike about America’s growing elderly population. “If we have people–from secondary education to continuing education, to professionals–with a greater awareness of aging as an important component, then that could have an impact on reducing ageism.”
How Do We Combat Ageism? By Valuing Wisdom as Much as Youth.
Andrew Chislett/EyeEm/Getty Images
In a San Francisco federal court, the Communication Workers of America union recently expanded the scope of the class action suit they filed last December against some of the country’s largest employers — a diverse list of companies that included Amazon, T-Mobile, Capital One, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car — accused of deliberately targeting their Facebook ads to exclude older workers. A ProPublica investigation shows that IBM has quietly pushed out upwards of 20,000 aging workers over the past five years. And, for all that has been written about the woeful lack of diversity and the “bro culture” that prevail in the tech industry, Silicon Valley’s 150 biggest tech companies have faced more accusations of age bias over the past decade than racial or gender bias.
Although the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination against people 40 and older, a recent survey by AARP showed that two-thirds of workers between the ages of 45 and 74 said they have seen or experienced ageism.
So, while class action lawsuits and tough journalistic scrutiny are steps in the right direction, efforts to merely enforce the law are not sufficient. Let’s remember that equal rights for women, blacks, disabled people, gays and lesbians, and others weren’t achieved solely through change in laws, but instead by a change in attitudes that usually predated legislation.
And yet our culture, in this particular arena, is lagging behind. The brisk march of progress from the industrial to the tech era has created a strong bias toward digital natives who understand gadgets and gigabytes better than those of us who didn’t grow up “byting” from the Apple in childhood. One paradox of our time is that Baby Boomers enjoy better health than ever, remain vibrant and stay in the workplace longer, but feel less and less relevant. They worry, justifiably, that bosses or potential employers may see their experience and the clocked years that come with it as more of a liability than an asset. They fear becoming increasingly invisible, or even being cast aside.
In many industries, especially in technology, you may feel “old” at 35 — even though you might continue to work full-time until you hit 75. The 40 years between may feel like a run-on sentence that could use some punctuation — especially in a world where more of us are living to 100.
We’re living longer, but power is moving younger. While the median age of employees in the United States is 42, that number is more than a decade younger among our tech titans. A Harvard Business Review data analysis showed that the average age of founders of unicorns (private companies with more than $1 billion in valuation) is 31, and the average age of their CEOs is 41 (as compared with the average age of an S&P 500 company CEO, which is 52). The problem is that many of these young leaders are being thrust into positions of power long before they are ready — often tasked, with little experience or guidance, with running companies or departments that are scaling quickly. As a young tech leader asked me the other day, “How can I microwave my leadership skills?”
The answer: There is a generation of older workers with wisdom and experience, specialized knowledge, and unparalleled ability to teach, coach, and council who could pair with these ambitious Millennials to create businesses that are built to endure.
Working in the Age of the Modern Elder
In early 2013 I returned to the workforce in my mid-fifties as a senior exec with tech startup Airbnb. I was twice the age of the average employee and was reporting to cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky, who was 21 years my junior. What I lacked in DQ (digital intelligence), I made up for in accumulated EQ (emotional intelligence). And the mutual mentoring I offered and received turned me into what I call a “Modern Elder” — someone who marries wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to learn from those younger. With five generations coexisting in the workplace for the first time, it’s essential that we embrace and develop more means for such intergenerational collaboration.
The attitudinal change necessary for Modern Elders to flourish needs to start with our language. It’s time to liberate the word “elder” from the word “elderly.” We associate the elderly with being older and often dependent on society, and yet separated from the young. On the other hand, society has historically been dependent on our elders, who have been of service to the young. Given that someone who is moving into a retirement home today is, on average, 81 years old, we have many productive elders in our midst who are growing whole, not just old.
So, what comes first, Modern Elders or less ageism? Mining mastery in organizations fosters more meaningful collaborations between generations and creates the conditions for greater wisdom and success.
Ageism is one of the few “isms” that ultimately affects us all. As deeply divided as we are politically and culturally today, the eventual arrival of elderhood is a condition that unites us. It’s time we embraced age like any other type of diversity. Wisdom precedes us and will succeed us. The Modern Age needs Modern Elders.
A global campaign to combat ageism
Collective, concerted and coordinated global action is required to tackle ageism. Given the current demographic transition, with populations around the world ageing rapidly, we need to act now to generate a positive effect on individuals and society. In May 2016, the 194 WHO Member States called on the organization’s Director-General to develop, in cooperation with other partners, a global campaign to combat ageism.14 To be effective, the global campaign to combat ageism must tackle individual and social attitudes, stereotypes and behaviours towards people on the basis of their age, as well as the laws, policies and institutions that either perpetuate ageism or do little to stop it.
To develop the campaign, WHO will build an evidence base on ageism and draw from evidence of what has worked for other public health campaigns, such as end violence against women15 and adopt healthier behaviours.16 Both campaigns have increased awareness, helped to rally public support and influenced change in individual behaviours and in international and national legislative and policy frameworks.17 Evidence suggests that certain conditions need to be met for a campaign to work. In addition to having clear goals and vision, a campaign needs to be evidence-based to understand the nature of the problem, who is affected and how, and which actions should be taken for which target audiences.18 The campaign’s approach should include actions that help to change attitudes and behaviours and to develop supportive policy and legal frameworks.19 A successful campaign should also be underpinned by a theory of change to anticipate possible routes towards change among target audiences, devise effective implementation strategies20 and facilitate evaluation.17 The campaign should be multisectoral and multilevel, as well as supportive of monitoring and evaluation. Finally, to ensure sustained action, the campaign should be supported through long-term funding.21
Ageism has received little attention in research and policy-making4,5 and the evidence base for global action is yet to be established. There is no global analysis on the magnitude of ageism, its determinants, consequences and what strategies and messages could work to address ageism. To develop the global campaign to combat ageism, WHO needs to find answers to six fundamental questions: (i) what is the global prevalence of ageism? (ii) what are the causes or determinants of ageism? (iii) what are the consequences of ageism at an individual and at a societal level? (iv) what strategies exist to effectively tackle ageism? (v) what are the available metrics to measure the different dimensions of ageism and its implicit and explicit expressions? (vi) What are the most effective ways of building public understanding and expanding thinking about age and ageing?
To start answering these questions, in July 2017 WHO held a meeting with researchers from several universities to outline the methods for conducting a global set of systematic reviews on ageism. The evidence generated from those reviews will help to identify those strategies that are most likely to reduce ageism as well as those populations that should be targeted, either because they affect ageism or because they are affected by it. These reviews will support the development of a tool to measure ageism globally and help to identify key research gaps. As well, the reviews will inform the development of a multicountry study to better understand specific country contexts and ways of communicating around age and ageing. Together these efforts will contribute to identifying a set of core messages that can help shift public understanding, achieving a more age-integrated society.
Cindy Gallop is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers. Okay, let’s amend that—she’s not afraid to ruffle any feathers. (Gentle warning: straight talk and swear words ahead.)
She’s well known in the advertising world, where she was a formidable top executive, and well known in the wider world for Make Love Not Porn, which she launched in a four-minute 2009 TED talk.
MLNP is her campaign to have humans, and not the porn industry, shape the way we talk about sex and act in bed. (She founded it after she realized younger lovers were using porn as guides on how to have sex.) The actual site is a user-generated sex-video sharing platform. She went into detail in her 2011 book Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior.
In polite parlance, you could say that she’s a change-maker, a no-nonsense advocate for getting rid of ideas and mores that don’t work anymore. Or, as she would say: “I like to blow shit up.”
So now, she’s taking that same ethos to aging.
Forget sex, let’s talk aging
As AARP’s ambassador to their campaign called Disrupt Aging, Gallop is trying to re-jigger the aging process so you don’t freak out any time a new wrinkle pops up around your eyes. Beyond that, she’s trying to get everyone—men, women and businesses—to stop undervaluing older folks once their AARP subscription lands on their doorstep with a resounding thwack.
To Gallop, who was born outside London, her new gig is simply an extension of the work she’s been doing forever.
“I’ve been combating ageism for years,” she says. “ I would never ever want to be young again. Life just gets better the older I get. The single best thing about being this age is that I don’t give a damn what people think. In my 20s and teens I was the subject of rampant insecurities.”
When AARP asked her advice on fighting ageism, she didn’t miss a beat: Challenge and change depictions of aging in advertising.
“Our industry is a very, very powerful force in shaping culture, along with movies, television, literature, and it’s ageist as fuck,” she says. “It does have tremendous impact on people’s attitudes and behaviors. There is a lot of discussion about how gender is depicted in advertising, how diversity is depicted.
But she sees little nuance in the way age is portrayed in advertising.
“If you look at how age has been depicted in advertising—at one end are beautiful blonde-haired, white-haired, blue-haired, gorgeous older people walking on the beach in the sunset with a golden Labrador,” she says.
At the other end are “ridiculously comical parodies and caricatures of older people.”
The irony, she notes, is that it’s the older folks who have discretionary income—but that’s hardly reflective in advertising.
The solution ? Hire older people to run the show.
“When you have older people creating the ads, approving the ads, directing the ads, producing the ads—problem solved,” she says. “Like when we have women creating, approving, directing the ads—problem solved as well. I know how badly our industry needs the experience and expertise of older people. Not least because experience and expertise is staggeringly cost- and time-efficient.”
So what can you do to #DisruptAging ? Here are a few of Gallop’s tips.
1. Scream your age from the top of the tallest building
Gallop is 59, which is “just the right age.”
“I tell everybody I’m 59 as frequently as possible,” she says. “I’ve done this for a year. My philosophy is the opposite of what you hear, that age is just a number. I disagree. Your age is a very special number. It’s the sum total of you.”
“I have been combating ageism for years. I would never ever want to be young again.” Cindy GallopAARP Ambassador for #DisruptAging
“You are the sum total of all of your life experiences, learning, insights, education to date,” she continues. “Your age is the expression of the tremendous value you have because of that. So, I’m encouraging everybody to say their age.”
She believes that ageism is so entrenched in our society that many people go into job applications already defeated.
“I say to people—do not do the thing the recruiters advise and take a few years out of your resume or hide your age,” she expounds. “Say your age, proclaim your experience, and say ‘I’m bloody brilliant at doing this because I have this many years of experience.’”
2. Talk about loss and death
The two things people don’t want to talk about are sex and death, Gallop says.
And just like sex, if you treat death as a taboo subject, it creates much more stigma.
“This is all part of getting older in a way that if normalize it and look at it as a natural part of what happens, then there is more comfort to that,” she says. “The grief is there, but it’s a natural part of what we’ll come to.
Interestingly, Gallop says, millennials are reinventing death.
“There are young funeral directors who are completely reinventing the way you approach death and also the way we approach grieving, like modernloss.com,” she notes.
3. Quit saying “for your age”
One way to disrupt aging: Stop adding the words “for your age” at the end of compliments or observations. As in, “You look great for your age.”
“No, I LOOK my age and I’m really happy to look my age,” Gallop says. “I love looking my age! Do not give friends or relatives birthday cards that make fun of age. I went to buy a birthday card for a friend. They all made fun of their age! I refuse to buy cards. I’ve reccomended to AARP that #DisruptAging partner with Hallmark.”
4. Live older
Gallop wildly objects to the Evian water advertising campaign with the tagline, “Live young.”
“The assumption is that everyone wants to live young,” she says, when we should say “Live OLDER.”
What’s so great about living older?
“I want everyone to aspire to live older.” Cindy GallopAARP ambassador for #DisruptAging
“When you are older you don’t give a fuck,” she says. “You are in a far better position to do what you want and not give a damn what people think. You know what you like, you know what your personal style is, your personal home décor, you have the confidence of having your own tastes.”
“There are so many great things about living older: Having more freedom, having more money and getting to travel and do all the things that younger people aspire to,” she says. “I want everyone to aspire to live older. I want older people to talk about the way they live, so that advertisers and brands will realize that the really aspirational lifestyle is OURS.”
5. Reinvent yourself
“I want to reinvent what older women should talk like, look like, fuck like,” she says.
As for the old saw that women turn invisible after 50, Gallop doesn’t buy it.
“I don’t feel invisible,” she says. “I don’t give a shit. I walk into an event where people don’t know who I am—men’s eyes slide over an older woman and they’re not interested in who you are. It’s enormously entertaining to me.”
Gallop also wishes employers would realize the economic aspect of her anti-ageism campaign. To her, the most egregious aspect of ageism is that companies and employers don’t realize their loss in not hiring and promoting older people.
“It’s a gaping hole in the American economy,” she says. “If this situation was completely reversed and companies embraced and begged for the talents and skills of older workers—OH MY GOD—would we see this country’s economy rebound in a staggering way.”
6. Make love!
Gallop wants you to know: Your sexuality only gets better and better the older you get.
“I consider myself more and more attractive and desirable the older I get,” she says. “I date younger men in their 20s, and I’ve never been told so many times how beautiful I am since I’ve been dating younger men.”
Gallop maintains that her casual relationships—built on trust and respect, she notes—last a lot longer than other people’s “serious” ones.
“We stay friends because we like each other,” she says. “I have never wanted marriage. or children. I’m not a relationship person. I date younger men for sex.”
7. Make friends of all ages
The future is cross-generational.
“The future is younger people and older people working together as equal partners on business challenges and work together,” she says. “Not only are the older very direct coaches and mentors for younger people, the two-way flow of ideas and inspiration—that’s the future of business.
If you’re a job hunter of a certain age, you probably have mixed feelings about revealing too much on your resume. On one hand, you have so much to be proud of: your accomplishments, your expertise, your network, not to mention your maturity. All of these attributes bring value to the table.
On the other hand, age discrimination is real, as you may have experienced. Until more employers get wise to the significant contribution of older workers, you should consider some strategic resume formatting to prevent your age from working against you.
Let’s be clear: you should never lie on job applications. Even minor untruths have a way of catching up with you, sooner or later.
What I am suggesting is that you take a fresh look at your resume and use the following tactics to frame yourself in the best possible way. Don’t mislead employers, but do present yourself as a vibrant professional who will be a good fit with the company culture. There’s a difference between trying to appear younger and showing your youthful side.
Include only relevant experience
Some career coaches will advise you to omit everything beyond the last 10 years. Others will say to include up to 15 or even 20 years of experience if it’s directly related to the job you’re seeking.
Put yourself in the shoes of the prospective employer: if you were looking at your resume, what would you find helpful? What is no longer relevant? Generally speaking, interviewers want to know what you’ve done “lately,” so focus on your more recent career.
Consider dropping education dates
If you’re worried that you got your degree in the Jurassic Age, you may want to leave off your graduation dates. Yes, employers can still guess at your age, and it might not prevent age bias. But if it’s a source of concern to you, there’s no reason to call attention to the era in which you attended school.
Show you’re tech savvy
Unless your target industry uses the Morse code to communicate, employers will want to see that you are up to speed with technology. Find out the current software programs that are required or preferred for the job you’re seeking, and highlight those you’re proficient at on your resume.
If you have an online presence—and you should—list your social media accounts like LinkedIn and Twitter. Just make sure they present a professional version of you!
Streamline your template
Nothing screams “old” like a cluttered, stuffy resume set in Times New Roman. Update your document’s look with a modern, clean style. Use a sans serif font. Make ample use of white space. Give your text some breathing room.
Watch your language
The words we use can reveal a lot about us, including our relative years. If you want to convey a youthful impression, lose the overly formal tone and use a conversational style instead. This is not an invitation to skip spellcheck, though; proper grammar never goes out of style.
Check that your industry terminology is up to date. Consider this example: Which of the following sentences seems more current?
“Interviewed, hired, conducted orientation, trained, and fired employees.”
“Sourced, identified, screened, interviewed, onboarded, trained, and terminated team members.”
The second example uses up-to-date language. Take a cue from the company and match the language in your resume to the words used by the employer in the job posting.
Customize your application
Your application is your opportunity to stand out and get noticed. Embrace your past achievements, but tailor them to the particular employer’s current needs. What challenges are they facing that you have handled in the past? What problems need solving that you have addressed in past work?
Use your resume as a tool to show that your experience, your personal strengths, and your unique brand are exactly what this employer needs at this point in time. Find the employer’s pain points, and figure out how you are the person to relieve them.
Keep it personal
With all of these resume tactics, it might be easy to think you can defeat ageism with one piece of paper. However, the best way to get past employers’ preconceived ideas about age is to have them see you as an individual. Networking remains the job seeker’s best strategy for connecting with potential employers and overcoming stereotypes about older workers.
So go ahead and “age-proof” your resume. But don’t neglect your contacts. Your best shot at a great new job is simply showing up in person, experience and all.
12 Ways to Eliminate Ageism and Be More Inclusive
This is part 2 of a two-part blog series on ageism in the workplace. Read part 1 on ways ageism impacts your business.
Let’s discuss the various ways that you can proactively minimize the likelihood of ageism occurring in your business, better support inclusion, and help to create a thriving, multigenerational workplace.
Ways Your Business Can Mitigate Ageism and Be More Inclusive
To help ensure that your organization is operating in compliance with federal and state employment laws, fostering an inclusive multigenerational workforce, and best supporting a strong and healthy employment brand, you’ll want to make a concerted effort to review your workplace for any potentially ageist practices and then implement necessary corrective measures. Actionable steps towards risk mitigation and fostering a more age-inclusive work environment can include the following:
- Take advantage of specialized assessments. These types of customized tools can be used to evaluate your organization’s culture, practices, and policies as they relate to older workers. This one from The Center on Aging & Work and AARP provides helpful insights and areas that your organization can benefit from improving.
- Evaluate the potential for bias within your organization. Various types of unconscious bias, including perception or in-group bias, may be adversely impacting the employment decisions made by your organization. Assess the potential for age discrimination as it relates to work assignments, job promotions, training opportunities, layoffs, and your termination process. Once identified, take necessary corrective action to minimize bias.
- Review and update your recruiting and selection processes. Mitigate opportunities for age discrimination by using age-neutral language in your organization’s job postings, eliminating questions asking for milestone dates such as dates of graduation on applications and/or in your applicant tracking system, standardizing and ensuring the same evaluation process is used for all job applicants, and using age-diverse interview panels whenever possible. In your recruiting strategy, include a commitment and specific initiatives related to building and maintaining a true multigenerational workforce.
- Train hiring managers and recruiters in non-discriminatory hiring practices. Monitor and ensure that everyone involved in all phases of the recruiting process is up to date on current age discrimination laws. Focus applicant screening activities and job interviews on required skills and experience and not just perceived cultural fit. Educate against ageist assumptions such as older workers will only be around for a couple of years before they plan on retiring or that younger workers cost less to employ and are a better investment because they stay around longer.
- Convey an age-inclusive company website and Internet presence. Regularly review and ensure that your company website and social media accounts are generationally age friendly. Pay close attention to the types of photos and language used so as to best demonstrate diversity in age as well as an inclusive workplace culture. If you have a dedicated careers section on your company website, be certain that messaging conveys your commitment to being an inclusive and multigenerational employer of choice.
- Build and foster a multigenerational workplace culture. Internally communicate the organization’s desire to operate with an age-diverse workforce. Educate employees in the benefits of having a multigenerational work environment. Make it a regular practice to visibly acknowledge and reward employee contributions irrespective of age whether that be at staff meetings, on company blogs, via internal social tools, on external social media, or other channels where your business shares positive employee news.
- Include age in your diversity and inclusion strategy. When considering diversity in the workplace, the focus is quite often on gender and race. While both of these aspects are important, including age as a dimension in your diversity and inclusion strategy is equally beneficial when it comes to cultivating a multigenerational workplace and minimizing the risk for age discrimination. Be forward thinking and age friendly in strategy development.
- Develop programs that support older workers. On the program front, what specifically will work for your business will be dependent upon factors such as the type of industry in which you operate and the size of your company. A great example is a Starbucks in Mexico that launched their first location staffed entirely with older workers ranging from 55 to 60 years of age. Another example is “returnship” programs geared toward senior-level professionals wanting to return to the workplace after a career break of two or more years. In these types of programs, older workers are given the opportunity to work on paid assignments and receive coaching and a mentor. Once your programs are effectively implemented, take advantage of the opportunity to showcase them in the careers section of your company website.
- Design and offer age-inclusive training opportunities. To stay engaged, workers need to have the opportunity to learn and grow no matter one’s age or stage in their career. Ensure that training and development activities are age-inclusive and made available to all employees. Doing so supports positive outcomes for both workers and your business.
- Provide cross-generational or reverse-age mentorships. These types of opportunities create a natural pathway for transferring knowledge amongst generations whether that be a seasoned professional teaching a younger worker how to develop executive presence or a Gen Z teaching a Baby Boomer how to navigate the latest technology apps. Offering cross-generational mentorships can help to increase productivity and improve workplace satisfaction and employee engagement within your business.
- Host age-inclusive employee events. When it comes to cultivating healthy workplace morale, mindfully hosting employee events and celebrations is key. Opt for company and/or team activities that are inclusive and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Activities like charity volunteer days, potlucks, barbeques, karaoke, costume contests, themed casual days, or white elephant gift exchanges can be fun and memorable while still being age friendly and appealing to many regardless of their generation.
- Consider the design of your office. Is your office design welcoming to all workers and job seekers? Does it effectively support a variety of work styles and people demographics? If you have an open plan office, the design might initially give off a visually cool vibe but may also scream workplace playground or give the perception that you only hire young people. When it comes to working styles, it is easy to assume that older workers would expect to be provided with a private office. However, young Gen Z workers tend to prefer private work areas with some dedicated spaces for collaboration. Ensuring that your office design works well for a multigenerational workforce can make all the difference when it comes to productivity, communication, and inclusiveness.
Bringing It All Together
Through awareness and strategic effort, there are various ways that organizations can minimize ageism in the workplace, mitigate risk, and foster greater inclusiveness. These include undertaking specialized assessments and evaluations geared toward age bias, providing recruiters and hiring managers with training on age discrimination laws, debunking myths and educating against unproven assumptions about older workers, building out your diversity and inclusion strategy to include age as an important component, reviewing and updating your employment practices, developing programs geared toward older workers, cultivating a mixed-age workforce, and designing a work environment that is inclusive and appealing to all workers.
By fully capitalizing on the often under-recognized but highly valuable resources that older workers bring to the workplace, your business can be part of the solution to the long perpetuated issue of age discrimination. In doing so, you will also benefit from a stronger employment brand, increased bench strength, and greater diversity and inclusion which are all necessary components of a thriving, multigenerational workplace.
ACHENBAUM, W. A., and KUSNERZ, P. A. Images of Old Age in America. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Institute of Gerontology, 1978.
American Association of Retired Persons. Business and Older Workers: Current Perceptions and New Directions for the 1990s. Washington, D.C.: AARP, 1989.
BELL, J. “In Search of a Discourse on Aging: The Elderly on Television.” The Gerontologist 32 (1992): 305–311.
BRAMLETT-SOLOMON, S., and WILSON, V. “Images of the Elderly in Life and Ebony, 1978–1987.” Journalism Quarterly 66 (1989): 185–188.
DEVINE, P. G. “Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (1989): 5–18.
ELLIOT, J. “The Daytime Television Drama Portrayal of Older Adults.” The Gerontologist 24 (1984): 628–633.
ENGLAND, P.; KUHN, A.; and GARDNER, T. “The Ages of Men and Women in Magazine Advertisements.” Journalism Quarterly 58 (1981): 468–471.
MEYROWITZ, J. No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
PLATT, L. S., and VENTRELL-MONSEES, C. Age Discrimination Litigation. Costa Mesa, Calif.: James Publishing, 2000.
STAUDINGER, V. M.; CORNELIUS, S. W.; and BLATES, P. B. “The Aging of Intelligence: Potential and Limits” The Annals 503 (1989): 43–45.
TUPPER, M. “The Representation of Elderly Persons in Prime Time Television Advertising.” Masters Thesis, University of South Florida, 1995.
Eradicating ageism in five steps
Growing older is something to celebrate
Our ageing society is both our biggest social change and our greatest achievement.
A girl born today has a 50% chance of living to see her 100th birthday, and by 2026, there will be 14.1 million people aged 65 and over – 2.3 million more than in 2016, a 19.5% increase over 10 years.
Our longer lives are an extraordinary success story of public health, nutrition and medical science. At the Centre for Ageing Better, we want everyone to enjoy a good later life. Unfortunately negative attitudes to ageing threaten this vision.
Despite being one of the nine protected characteristics under the UK Equality Act 2010, age is still something that appears to be socially acceptable to discriminate against. Product marketing, the fashion and retail industry, representations in media and even by charities can reinforce negative stereotypes.
We recently held an event with a wide range of people and organisations to debate how we could take steps to collectively break the taboo surrounding ageism.
There were five key things we took away from the discussion.
1. We need to rethink ‘old’
Often everyone over the age of 60 is lumped together as older people. This spans 40 years with huge differences between people. Older generations are becoming increasingly diverse and will continue to become so. We wouldn’t dream of thinking that everyone under the age of 40 is the same!
Despite rapid rises in how long we are living, we continue to use an outdated concept of how old is ‘old’.
2. We need to stop idolising youth and perceiving old age as a time of misery
It’s commonly suggested that older age is a time of loneliness, but recent data from ONS suggests that actually young people are more at risk . There is an urgent need to change the way we talk about old age.
We need to stop seeing decline, disability and misery as inevitable experiences of old age. We need to start seeing our longer lives as something to be celebrated.
After all, research suggests that our personal happiness increases in our 60s.
3. From anti-ageing to pro-ageing.
Walk into any health and beauty shop on the high street and you’ll see a wide range of products being marketed as anti-ageing, reinforcing the idea that getting old is something to be avoided at all costs.
Ageing is the most natural thing in the world; we shouldn’t be fighting it.
It doesn’t mean we don’t want to look good as we get older. Our panel (and live audience) suggested products should be marketed as pro-ageing, communicating that we can look good as we age.
4. We need more diverse role models
There are a lot of positive role models in later life, from Hollywood stars to sports people and community leaders – even politicians. We see them all the time.
But there are fewer realistic role models that represent the diversity of older people in advertising or on TV.
We need popular culture to reflect and make people in their 60s, 70s and 80s more visible. And that doesn’t just mean the odd article about an actor ‘ageing beautifully’ or someone who’s taken up skydiving in their 80s (impressive though that is!).
5. When stereotypes affect reality
These negative stereotypes affect how we are treated when others perceive us as ‘old’, whether we are hired for jobs, considered for promotion, seen as valued customers or entitled to services. We see it in the fact that once people over 50 are out of work, they struggle more than younger age groups to get a job. Our work on the role of home adaptations suggests that people are put off getting products such as handrails installed in their homes because they don’t want to accept they are getting older and less mobile. Our report on Inequalities in Later Life showed that chronological age can be a barrier to treatment for a range of physical and mental health conditions.
There is a fine line between ageist attitudes and discrimination.
On behalf of our future selves
We also internalise these stereotypes and this leads us to fear our future selves.
Changing ageist attitudes and tackling age discrimination will not only make a difference for older people today but will also make a difference to our future selves.
Campaigns such as #NoMoreWrinklyHands to combat stereotypical images of older people has a loud voice on social media, suggesting that the culture is beginning to shift. But we’ve a long way to go.
Anna Dixon is the Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.
Want to read more?
Read Stereotyping is pervasive and dangerous
By Glen Garrod