Roxane Gay runs a career advice column, Work Friend, in the NYTimes. On July 2 a letter appeared from someone identifying as “Barbara:”
At 78, Barbara’s position was eliminated after 15 years. She had worked for the organization for over 30 years. Her background included admin communications, fund-raising, public relations, and “cultural skills.”
Naturally, Barbara found discrimination when she tried to get another job. It’s impossible to hide your age and experience levels.
Roxane begins by stating, correctly, that age will easily be revealed and laws “do not necessarily translate to the realities of the workplace.”
She follows up with, “You bring a wealth of wisdom and experience to any potential employer, and I wish it were easier for older people to find work.”
Many people do not realize that a reference to older people’s wisdom is actually a reflection of ageism. I’ve written another article on this topic, based on a chapter in my book: “I’m a smartass, not a sage.”
Age does not always bring wisdom or judgment; we have only to look at our public officials to see the vast differences among people of a similar age.
Roxane then says, “Unfortunately, the onus is on you to make the case for your suitability as you search for a new position.” Be “strategic” with your resume, stay current, and “advocate for yourself during interviews.”
As some of the commenters pointed out, she won’t get a chance to advocate for herself in interviews. She can (and should) use her network but I’m betting she’ll end up wasting her time on courtesy interviews where she won’t be taken seriously.
Other commenters add fuel to the fire.
Some pointed out that AARP lists organizations that pledge to hire older workers. That’s purely for show. Have you looked at AARP’s job board? Low-level service workers with a few medical jobs here and there.
Remember that AARP earns far more revenue from commissions on insurance than on memberships. They’re now open to members of all ages who can scarf up the discounts, blurring the organization’s mission.
I haven’t seen info on how AARP relates to organizations that offer discounts; in most business models, companies offering discounts would pay AARP a fee to be listed. There might even be commissions based on purchases.
Other comments on the article were not helpful.
One commenter suggested that non-profit organizations are more likely to accept “older” workers. That may be true. However, remember that non-profits also tend to pay less than for-profit companies. Their whole vibe is different. Not everyone can transition from for-profit to non-profit or vice versa.
A few commenters even suggested options like remote customer service, which would be far below the author’s experience level.
Some suggested volunteering. As I say in my book, volunteering should be voluntary. All too often it’s considered an appropriate outlet for the “Miss Congeniality” role assigned to seniors as well as an opportunity to “leave a legacy.”
I originally targeted my book to “younger” people, so they could prepare for the realities of dealing with discrimination. One chapter focuses on money and employment. Let’s not play games, I say: you’re better off being a rich bitch.
Getting a job is like jumping on a merry-go-round.
Once the merry-go-round stops, you have to find another one or decide to stop going around altogether.
Ideally, sometime in your 40s and 50s, you’ll (a) choose a merry-go-round where you can stay till you’re 80 and/or (b) start a side hustle that can lead to full-time employment.
You can’t shift an employer’s prejudice. You can’t count on the laws to change. If they’re stereotyping you, there’s little you can do to change their minds. You have to take charge of your own career.
Barbara, the 78yo letter-writer in Roxane’s column, doesn’t say if she needs to keep earning income or if she wants to work for the many psychological rewards of paid employment.
Regardless, I’d encourage Barbara to find a way to start her own enterprise. She doesn’t have much choice.
She’ll find many, many business coaches who would be happy to help, or she can begin researching on her own, starting with free resources. With her background, she can sell her services as a virtual assistant, copy or content writer, office organizer or even a consultant on fund-raising. It won’t be easy but it’s a lot easier than firing off resumes to prejudiced dinosaurs. She can market herself so her age will be irrelevant.
Her challenge will be to get good information from reputable, ethical sources. Lots of people will be eager to take her money for “advice.”
Roxane points out that “it’s unfair,” and she’s right.
But fairness has never been a player in the workplace. Attractive people get raises. The boss’s buddy gets an extra boost.
If it were me, I’d splurge on a one-time consultation with a good employment attorney to see what was happening with her last position. It’s a long shot, but things happen. Was her job completely eliminated or did they change the description slightly and hire a younger person?
I’d also sit down with a coach who works in the areas of both business and careers. Get recommendations and read their website carefully.
And if you’re not yet experiencing age discrimination, start preparing now. It starts as early as 45. Don’t assume we’ll have new laws and new attitudes by the time you’re ready.