What is ageism and what does it look like? Ageism is a form of discrimination which is usually directed towards older employees but can affect younger professionals too. According to a recent article published by Forbes – a key driver for ageism is marginalisation, as it devalues and demoralises an employee in the most insidious way possible. “When an older worker is marginalized, they… are often moved to the side in a position that feels unimportant.” A meeting may take place where an older member of the team won’t get an invite, a work lunch might be arranged which won’t involve that employee – a tech meeting might be organised where it’s decided that only younger members will attend due to the information “going over [senior members] head”.

Employees who have been in a business for years start to feel uncomfortable due to the encouraged segregation between themselves and the younger workforce. “It was almost like my seniority and experience was a negative to my boss, so he stopped including me in meetings about the agency’s future strategy.” Studies have shown that employees who feel that they are being pushed out due to their age tend to end up leaving the business as they feel belittled and frustrated. The Riveter has captured a few examples of ageism which have been listed below:

  • Not hired because of age.
  • Passed over for promotion or raises because of age.
  • Overlooked for challenging assignments because of age.
  • Left out of client meetings or company activities because of age.
  • Laid off, fired or forced out because of age.
  • Denied access to training or professional development, and those opportunities go to others because of age. 
  • The subject of negative remarks about your age from a colleague or supervisor.
  • Denied time off for family commitments because you either are older and don’t have young children at home or are young without kids.

Ageism can also rear its ugly head and be directed towards younger employees. Employees who look young are often discriminated against and overlooked due to their youthful attributes. Senior members of staff who use phrases such as “wet behind the ears” or a “young whippersnapper” are committing direct age discrimination, and probably don’t even realise it – due to the terminology being frequently used within the workspace.

This type of discrimination can go further in terms of stopping certain age groups from being hired. A study carried out by Benefits Pro found that some employers are reluctant to hire people under 30 because they’re “unpredictable” and “they don’t know how to work”. This is a juxtapose to what older employees face in the workplace – and yet, has a similar outcome with the individual feeling devalued and frustrated. 

So what are some ways in which this type of ‘ism’ can be confronted? According to Top Resume, a great way to challenge this stereotype is to stay relevant. Like most things in life, research is key. Continue to read up on current trends (and this goes for both the younger and older employee). Become each other’s allies – encourage open communication within the teams. If you notice a certain member isn’t present in a meeting – ask why they haven’t been invited. Continue to challenge the stereotype and encourage those workplace relationships. 

✍️ Activities to try with your team

  • In your next team meeting, make a point of allowing each member to voice if they have ever felt discriminated against due to their age
  • When working on team assignments, encourage teams of all ages to work together – creating a more inclusive environment for ideas to flow
  • If you are a senior member of a team and can see that one member doesn’t contribute as much in meetings – pull them aside and ask why? Maybe they don’t feel comfortable speaking? Maybe they don’t feel confident with the terminologies if the project is younger focused?

 New habits to make a difference

  • Try and avoid terms that could suggest age bias e.g. energetic, dynamic.
  • Create a safe space where employees can openly express their experiences with ageism and work on a plan as to how this can be tackled moving forward.
  • When planning a staff party or after-work drinks, find a venue that is inclusive to all age groups eg: how loud is the music? Is the booking too late? Is the activity inclusive to all?

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