Ageism is part of our cultural fabric – it is deeply woven into our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Ageism refers to stereotyping and discriminating against people and groups based on age. Yet many employers are reinforcing ageism by ignoring it.
Ageism is Prevalent in Most Workplaces
Research, according to The World Health Organization, “suggests that ageism may now be even more pervasive than sexism and racism.” If you’re a woman or person of color, that’s like double or triple jeopardy. Unfortunately, many workplaces are not addressing this serious problem. This is a risky practice.
According to an AARP report, nearly two out of three workers age 45 or older have experienced or seen discrimination based on age. Nearly 91% of those same individuals believe age discrimination is common. Yet, research has suggested that few employers are systematically addressing this problem.
Employers are Not Prepared to Address Ageism or It’s Consequences
A 2015 Global CEO Survey revealed that only 8 percent of responding organizational leaders included ‘age’ as part of their diversity and inclusion strategies. As Patrick Dorrian pointed out in his 2016 article on Bloomberg Law, “Employers often overlook age as a diversity factor.”
A failure to address age discrimination in the workplace can have some negative implications for employers. Dorrian argues that this omission can expose employers to some potential bias claims as well as “workplace disharmony.” In addition, workers who do not feel valued are more likely to develop negative attitudes toward their jobs, their employers, and even toward their own sense of value.
As the World Health Organization reports, ageism can have profound effects on the overall health of those who experience such discrimination. Some studies suggest that related cardiovascular stress and depression can reduce potential longevity by up to 7.5 years. Such consequences not only affect the individual worker, but the organization, the community, and beyond.
Ageism Can Be Subtle
I personally faced age discrimination when I changed careers after turning 50. I was highly qualified and had a great deal of experience. However, when I met with interview panels that included people the age of my own children, I picked up the expressions on their faces whenever I’d walk into an interview room. I was older, and that meant I had less chance of becoming part of their community. I finally got a position that I really wanted when I was interviewed by a panel of my peers.
After the first decade in my new position as an associate professor of communication, I did start experiencing some subtle signals that suggested my perspectives were less valued than those of my younger colleagues. On more than one occasion, I had to hold my ground when other people in meetings tried to talk over me. Fortunately for me, I could speak up. Older people who aren’t able to speak up can quickly become invisible.
It’s Time to Take Action
Ironically, we are in the midst of a significant demographic shift; our population is rapidly becoming older as several Census reports indicate. We must not and cannot tolerate pervasive ageism. No business or organization can afford to ignore the pervasiveness of ageism. It is not only a problem in the workplace, but it has long-lasting societal implications as well. No employee can afford to ignore the prevalence of ageism; all of us are being affected in profound ways that we might not even recognize until it is too late. We must all take a stand against ageism. Now is the time. Let’s work together and insist on informed discussions about aging in the workplace.