Ageism: A Major Issue For Gen-X and BabyBoomers. Let’s Do Better.
A Commentary From Experience And Observation
The job market isn’t kind to people in their 40s and beyond.
In fact, it can be downright soul-crushing. It’s not just specific to the industry I work in, digital marketing, either. It’s across the board.
It seems there’s a common misconception about the Gen Xers (the generation born between 1965–1981): We’ve “aged out.”
We aren’t tech savvy.
We aren’t quick to learn, nor are we knowledgeable enough to even pick up on the whole technology thing.
We’re burned out or will become so at any given moment.
It appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to not hire someone over 40.
Age bias/discrimination is just as destructive as the more commonly talked about gender bias.
Civil rights were written to protect us from discrimination against race, color, religion, gender, and nationality.
But not age.
There are no real legal procedures in place to protect those who are experiencing age discrimination when job hunting. And it’s almost impossible to prevent it, despite the fact that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits the discrimination of workers aged 40 and over.
Yet, a study completed in 2013 proved that ⅔ of employees 40+ dealt with some type of age discrimination in the workplace. Related: If you’re experiencing ageism at your workplace, report it to AARP or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The more reports they receive, the better chances we have that this will be taken seriously.
Ignorance Is Making a Large Segment of a Capable Demographic Become Unemployed
Hiring managers are constantly stating that they can’t find enough skilled workers with the necessary soft skills. Across every single industry. It’s a big thing these days.
There’s a whole generation of people flooding the job market who are being looked over for the younger generation, and that younger generation is the one all the hiring managers are complaining about.
So, instead of stuffing the resume of someone who is highly qualified, yet maybe a little older than you’d prefer, into the garbage, reevaluate your decision. Unstuff that garbage can, and really investigate those resumes.
I’ve also heard that many employers are hesitant to hire late 20s females because they’ll eventually leave to have children. Oh, they still do hire them, but with trepidation.
Many of the more mature generation don’t come with that risk. In fact, there is a vast many of us whose children are older and don’t need us as much. We aren’t preoccupied with worries of our young children being left home with abusive nannies or grandparents who are too tired to spend the entire day with an active kid.
Heck, we hardly even need that family leave benefit many companies are offering.
Don’t Kid Yourselves. Gen Xers are Seriously Savvy
Let’s address the whole tech thing.
Maybe some of us can’t code, but that isn’t due to age. I don’t know a lot of Millenials who can do much more than basic HTML either. But, some of us are wicked good on social media and content writing. We know how to connect with audiences. We know how to use Photoshop, InDesign, and Canva for basic yet beautiful web imagery and layout.
We’re no different than the Millenials, except we have to work harder to prove our worth.
In every industry, Gen Xers have the hard skills necessary for the job. We are also the last generation to really learn soft skills — we had a lot of time to practice before staring down into a cell phone 24/7 became a thing.
The more mature workforce brings with it knowledge the members can spread among their younger coworkers. They become mentors and teachers in a one-off kind of way. In fact, both generations can learn so much from each other.
Another common fallacy is that we, Generation X, don’t invest as much time into learning new things. Allegedly, many of us are stuck in the ways we were taught back in college, trade school, or wherever we originally learned our skills, and supposedly, we aren’t willing to budge from those teachings.
I don’t know anyone my age (I’m smack dab in Gen X) who has stopped trying to learn. Especially now that there are so many different online platforms where any skill can be learned on the cheap.
In fact, I would argue that in my industry, we 40-somethings invest much more into our education so we can be competitive. We’re internet savvy, so between all the research and online learning, we make ourselves a force to be reckoned with.
With people living longer these days, many of us plan on working for the next 20 or even 30 years. That’s much longer than the two-year per job average that’s so commonplace these days. If that’s the case, we could potentially be with 10–15 more companies before we even decide to slow down.
All the while, we are learning new skills, constantly raising our own personal bar, which benefits both ourselves and our employers.
I’m not going to go on ad nauseum; my point is made. Anything one generation can do, the other can do just as well.
Yet, it’s not so easy to find digital marketing agencies, big or small, excited about hiring a person who may have deeper lines around their eyes and mouths, and gray streaks mixed in with their blonde highlights.
What young kid has any desire to manage someone old enough to be their parent? It goes against nature!
I’ve heard from many Millennials that Gen Xers have a hard time reporting to someone young enough to be their child.
I just have one thing to say to my generation on that matter.
Get over it.
You can’t have it both ways.
Pick a side and stick to it.
As the oldest person on my team, my “boss” happens to be younger than me, as are the majority of my coworkers. She also happens to be one of my bestest friends.
Stereotypes need to be overcome, or the road to accomplishment is going to be a very long one.
I’m going to stick up for the generation after me. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside many Millenials, and those I have met are not lazy, entitled, selfie-taking snowflakes.
They are smart, passionate, creative, hard-working, excellent employees.
On a More Personal Note
Listen, I’m not complaining on a personal level. I’m lucky. After years of job hunting, I found myself a great company, and they only cared about my writing, not that I was almost old enough to be the house mom.
I love my career, and I feel, for the lack of a better word, #blessed.
But my journey to this present job was riddled with setbacks the size of Michigan potholes.
My resume is pretty awesome. It did get me a ton of interviews, and I was out interviewing like it was my job.
I made many second interviews, and sometimes third round reviews.
But not surprisingly, I’d inevitably receive an email thanking me for my time and, although they were impressed with me, they went with someone else. Or went in an altogether different direction. Or. Or. Or.
In my heart, I knew it was that they hired someone closer to their age. Or less senior, literally and figuratively. Companies are always looking forward to talking with you, until they come face to face with you and realize you’re not as young as your resume makes you appear.
It’s just the way it is these days.
Just The Facts
Some Gen X facts for you to provide some more context:
- Come 2020, more than 35 percent of the workforce will be over 50. It’s going to start being completely unavoidable to hire talent that isn’t fresh out of college.
- According to BLS, 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were actively looking for new jobs, and that number is expected to increase through 2024.
- Gen X makes up 31 percent of the economy yet only about 25 percent of the population. We’re large and in charge.
- 55 percent of all startups were founded by Gen Xers. Can you say “entrepreneur?”
- 65 percent of all Gen X works full time. We have nothing better to do, so why not :)
- 54 percent don’t plan on retiring at age 65. Why would we? As they say, age is just a number, and it doesn’t reflect a single thing.
- More than half of Gen X workers want a flexible work schedule. As it should be, especially when much of us can get our work done on a computer, which is transportable. Hello, laptop.
We may be stuck in the middle of two of the largest generations, but our strength isn’t determined by percentages, graphs, and pie charts. We’re hands down the mightiest. We own homes. We send our kids to college. We save for our retirement. Although, one of the reasons we are working later into our golden years is because our savings may not be enough for how long we are living.
There’s a Huge Problem That Needs Fixing
Age bias or discrimination, however you want to phrase it, very often leads to poverty.
Say you have a middle-aged woman who, after her children are grown, gets divorced. She gets a stipend for alimony. Or maybe she gets nothing.
Either way, she doesn’t have enough to live off of.
Desperate and scared, she dusts off her resume. But there’s a 20 year (or longer) gap since she quit her last position as a public relations professional to raise a family. She knows that it’s going to be an issue, but she is determined anyway.
She applies to hundreds of jobs, only to be interviewed for two or three.
No matter how hard she tries, she can’t find employment. Even though the basics of PR are similar to when she last worked.
No one will hire her.
So, what can she do?
She decides she has no choice but to get a retail sales position. But the average salary is around $25,000. Before taxes.
Maybe, for the first time in her life, she’s hovering on poverty level.
For the sad reality that no one in her original field of marketing and PR was willing to give her a chance, or willing to take the time to train her. Many of them thought it would cost too much to pour resources into her.
Instead, that firm hires an intern and marketing person who is fresh out of college.
Of course, they’ll do a great job for the two or three years they may stay in that position with that company.
But so would the woman who now works part time as a sales associate at a major department chain, making a little above minimum wage and feeling defeated because life isn’t going the way she had hoped.
I realize this age bias doesn’t touch everyone. Some are much luckier than others. It’s the ones it does happen to touch that I’m speaking for. Because, for the longest time, I was one of them.
Hiring personnel who have preconceived notions about anyone older than, say, 40: They are the ones who need to be reeducated.
And, by reeducated, I mean reconditioned.
Stop worrying about age, and take into account all the benefits hiring someone your parents’ age will bring to the table.
You may have let the one person walk out your door that would have brought your company to the next level, all because of the fact you only want to hire “digital natives” aka Millennials.
It just seems like all around bad business to me.
Writer’s Note: This isn’t aimed at all Millennials, just those not willing to give the older generations a chance. If you can relate to it, then maybe you need to rethink your hiring policies.
Melissa is Senior Content Strategist and Copywriter at Adapt Studios.