In recent years television comedians entertained us with sketches about funny older people. None were mean spirited and seemed innocent enough at the time, but, I wonder if they paved the way for it to be acceptable to portray older people in a negative way.
In 2007 when I wrote a piece about employment ageism for the Beaches Leader in Florida, I was somewhat surprised they published it given the demographics of Florida. Then again, the editor of the paper was a woman, probably well versed in discrimination of all kinds.
Enter 2013 and we continue to have conversations about ageism in the workplace. Last week, our local newspaper featured an article that outlined the job hunting efforts of a woman, fifty-four years old, who cannot get a job despite her credentials, experience and appearance. The writer asked business professionals to vet the woman’s resume, interviewing skills and appearance. All responded the woman was charming and articulate. Her skills and experience indicate she would be an excellent employee. Their only rationale for the woman not receiving employment offers is “probably her age.”
This week a study concluded some Facebook groups focus on negative ageist stereotypes. To be fair, Facebook provides a platform for older people to stay in touch with friends and family. Facebook is the “goto” for younger adults. If misinformation is there, there is a good chance they are going to accept stereotyping as factual.
The other side of not finding a job due to ageism is getting one due to negative stereotyping.
Several years ago, I interviewed for a position with an international wine distributor to coordinate in-house events. There had been a great deal of turnover in this position and this created a problem with the overall vision of an upscale operation. It was a perfect fit for my experience and skills. A day or so after the interview, the owner called to tell me the job was mine if I was interested and asked that I come in to discuss and meet staff.
My joy quickly evolved into shock, utter disbelief and dismay as the owner announced he and the hiring managers felt that hiring a “senior citizen” would be an advantage. He theorized, considering how difficult it is for older people to get a job, I would not be likely to leave.
He further theorized an older person, not being as quick and having fewer outside activities, would be a better fit as they would not get bored. I suppose he believed it would take me most of the day to shuffle to my computer, figure out how to operate it, then it would be time for lunch and if I managed to remain upright and awake, I would only have to be productive four hours of each day. Why would an employer consider hiring such an individual?
I got my answer when the question of compensation arose as the salary appeared to be based on four hours of compensation for eight hours of labor. I declined the offer and wondered if it was time to have my aura cleansed. The company folded several months later. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I did a little dance for joy and had an aura cleansing.
A lot of people, over 60, want to remain in the workforce. Older people who want to work are computer savy because they want to be. Most will tell you they’d give up anything but their electronic devices. We don’t have a false sense of entitlement that comes from having arrived at a certain age. We want to be informed and vital. We are eager to remain in the mainstream and look for ways to reinvent ourselves to remain employable in today’s job market.
In the past ten years, I have observed no progress and zero interest in eliminating ageism in the workplace. All the congressional screaming about Medicare and Social Security “entitlements” budget drain does little to ease age discrimination. Is it a subtle means of bullying to a different segment of our population? Faced with negative media perceptions or depicted as entitlement leeches that contribute to the deficit of the government what should an older worker do?