Maybe you’ve met Kristie? 23. Feisty blue eyed blonde. Aerobics champ. Hard charging and hard-wired to her Smart Phone. Knew enough to pluck those naughty college party pictures off her Facebook page; so she got the job in Human Resources with the big corporation. Her wild days are over. Almost.
Now she’s in charge of screening resumes. Which means that in a world where finding work when there are no jobs is the new mantra, if you are anywhere north of 50 (40 in certain industries) she is in charge of telling you “No.”
If Kristie were to google “Ageism,” (which of course she never would) she’d find solid research going all the way back to 2006 citing ageism as being perceived to be a bigger barrier to employment than sexism or racism.
If she were to visit her parents one night, maybe a Wednesday when nothing else was happening, and Dad was laughing at a rerun of a show called Seinfeld, perhaps she’d see a guy dressed in white, standing behind a cafeteria steam table making up hard ass rules about who will get some of his delicious soup. And before Kristie coupld quickly scamper out of the room so her Dad wouldn’t ask her to watch, she might hear the TV character Soup Nazi bark out “NO SOUP FOR YOU!”
Kristie would never see what she had in common with the Soup Nazi. He had a steam table and she had a DO NOT REPLY email. But their cry to the world sounded awfully similar.
Kristie’s being“NO JOB FOR YOU GRANDMA!”
Columbia University’s Dr. Robert Neil Butler first coined the word “ageism” is 1969. Long before Kristie was even a gleam in her parent’s eyes one night after a U2 concert.
And of course Kristie isn’t the real problem. She’s only what’s most visible in an era when preferring someone less experienced for a job has become commonplace. Spread out behind and around Kristie is a complex web of economic market forces, HR departments with a mission to defend the status quo rather than find and grow talent, and a societal tidal wave of indifference that lets ageism happen with barely a peep.
Why? Often it’s because ageism is very hard to see. Take a look at an ad that appeared on a national job board this morning. (Edited to take out names. But printed verbatim) If you can get by the almost creepy, lecturing tone---not typical of job ads—see if you can find the ageism.
Organization Change Management Resource - Chicago, IL
I have another need for a Organizational Change Management resource. As many of you will recall from the last few times I have sourced for this type of person, the candidates being presented were all OVER qualified. So, following is the information that I provided to you all when sourcing previously for this role.
This role provides change management and communications support for complex projects and organizational changes. This position will support the OCM Lead and Program Effectiveness Lead and collaborate with various support resources to deliver tightly integrated and effective change management plans.
This is not a leadership role. They will not have anyone reporting to them. Need a "DOER" 3-4 years experience. Resource will be taking direction and guidance from the lead but they need to be independent and not wait to be told what to do.
For those of you who don’t speak corporate. Here’s a translation:
"Listen up you old guys and gals! Yeah you. You know who you are. I told you this once. But you didn’t GET it. Slow huh? Trouble HEARING maybe? I guess I need to write LOUDER. So now I will tell you again in the exact same way. You're the ones who used to have jobs because you were experienced! Well, we don't need ANY of that here! If you have ANY more than 3 years experience doing this job---forget you Sam! You will take direction. You will not have direct reports. You will be a DOER! I’m not even looking for a person. I am looking for a RESOURCE!”
And yes. Ageism is illegal. Just like racism and sexism.
Still another piece of this giant pie is that being a "fit" for a job can be a real criteria. Or it can be an excuse for ageism.
Most important---ageism, like sexism and racism—is a systemic problem. It’s more than Kristie. It’s a system. Which means that it requires a systemic answer. Simplistic, one shot solutions can’t solve the problem.
Recognizing that it exists is a start. Because denial is always part of any systemic problem. (“Never happened to me. So I guess it doesn’t exist.”)
What's next? After recognizing the problem comes your story of where you’ve seen it, maybe experienced it.
And finally comes the part when you add the music to your story. That music being a way that you actually overcame ageism. The song of your success.
Everybody who is successful at handling ageism will have their own unique song.