Age discrimination is probably one of the last forms of negative
stereotyping left—perhaps even the subtlest. It wasn’t so long ago that
color, sexual orientation and gender were in the spotlight. Now, as 70
million of us are becoming the dominant demographic force in the world,
we can begin to see our culture’s bias toward age appearing as overt
forms of discrimination.
corporations that are sensitive to ‘diversity’ are often biased against
older workers in their hiring, firing, promotion and retirement
practices. Discrimination against people because of age is just plain
stupid (in addition to being morally questionable). Age discrimination
has probably always existed. But until now, people either retired, died
or didn’t care enough to declare ‘time out’ and look more directly at
what was occurring.
First of all, everybody is going to get older. To institutionalize practices that adversely affect older persons is to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Similarly, the sheer numbers of the ‘baby boom’ generation are changing
the logic and nature of work. According to a recent white paper issued
by the AARP Public Policy Group, 20% of the workforce will be over 55
in less than 10 years. Since age discrimination is already illegal,
these kinds of numbers will assure that companies that discriminate
will become more and more visible. Likewise, older people are also
consumers and enlightened businesses are realizing that being proactive and publicly non-discriminating can be good business.
Finally, all research suggests that older workers in most industries
are at least as productive as younger workers, have good work practices
and often carry a lot of the positive aspects of an organization’s
culture, such as commitment to ethical values.
Serene Ambition is dedicated to these propositions:
- Older people have a stake in changing our culture of aging from one of decline to one of possibility.
- The only way a culture changes is when a critical mass of people create a new story about “the way it is”.
- We must take responsibility for anything we wish to change (and if we are not responsible, then we are victims).
If we wish to change attitudes and practices about age in the
workplace, we need to do it by demonstrating that age doesn’t mean
anything about how we work or what we can produce—if anything, age
should be considered an asset. When we are ‘walking our talk’, then we
can expect change to occur.
I would welcome any ‘positive stories’ or examples of how the
individual makes a difference in changing discriminatory practices in
the workplace. Feel free to email me at jimselman at gmail dot com or
submit a comment to this blog.