Columnist Liz Ryan addressed this topic several years ago in this Forbes article. She got a call from someone who was in shock: “The headhunter actually told me the client said I was too old for this job.”
You can’t sue, as she points out.
Does a third party say a hiring manager made a single inappropriate comment? Forget it. “Failure to hire” is almost impossible to prove, unless the company hired someone who was totally unqualified.
“I hear more examples of age discrimination than I hear of sex discrimination, racial discrimination, and every other kind put together,” she says.
Liz speculates that employers don’t see older people as “nimble.” Or they view them “overqualified and likely to bolt the minute a better job comes along.
Her advice? When you understand “what business pain you solve and can talk to hiring managers about that pain, they can’t afford to ignore you.”
I’d say that is ridiculous.
Most of the time the hiring manager won’t even hear you. All they’ll hear is your age and all they’ll see are your wrinkles and gray hair. And not every job lends itself to a discussion of “pain points.”
She admits pain interviewing isn’t a cure, “but it’ll give you a focus and an edge that will make discrimination a non-factor in your job search.”
Discrimination will always be a factor. Even if you’re hired, your age will be visible, on the line, and open to discussion.
Dan Lyons wrote a book, Disruption, about his experiences working at Hubspot. He didn’t have to go through the hiring process in the normal way. The company president invited him to work with them in a special capacity.
But once on board, he encountered many age-based frustrations — everything from being assigned a workstation with a ball instead of a chair (he got them switched) to being ignored in favor of less experienced colleagues.
For instance, a New York Times business columnist wanted to interview the company president. Dan, an experienced journalist, knew the columnist. He offered to help prepare for the interview – a rare opportunity – to gain maximum positive exposure for the company. He was ignored, while the inexperienced younger staff planned the interview.
I don’t blame Liz Ryan for suggesting upbeat, positive approaches. When you’re presenting in major media or speaking formally, you are expected to share some of the “party line.” That’s what you get here: You can overcome these obstacles if you’re just sufficiently clever.
There’s really only one way to overcome job discrimination, especially age discrimination. That means not depending on getting hired by a company, where you have minimal control in the hiring process.
Start a side hustle and let it grow into a business. Even if you end up getting hired, keep up the side hustle.
Do you fail? No problem. You’ll get better or learn for next time. You’ll approach these jobs more confidently and frankly, you won’t care if they discriminate. You’ll be able to say confidently, “It’s their loss.”
Get a start with Chris Guillebeau’s book, Side Hustle. Hang out in coworking spaces and talk to people who navigated self-employment. Consider hiring a coach or consultant.
Most of all listen to your intuition. When I interviewed 12 people about their transition from corporation to self-employment, the one consistent piece of advice was, “Listen to your intuition.”
A lot of businesses find themselves drooling over the profit potential of the over-50 set. After all, those 55 and up have 41% of the buying power of all consumers, according to an article in Insider Radio. That amounts to $3.2 trillion annually. Yet, this article reports, consumers feel “shunned” by advertisers.
It’s not just big business. If you’re a financial planner, life coach, accountant, real estate agent, organizer, you’re among the many independent professionals who frequently target buyers in this age group or even older.
5 Ridiculously Common Mistakes Marketers Make When Targeting The Senior Population
As a copywriter, I’ve discovered that many people in those fields actually make marketing decisions that work against them in trying to reach this “senior” market.
(1) Making vast, unsupported generalizations about “older” people.
As people get older, they become more diverse, although they’re often lumped together as a target marketing segment. But you don’t need an expensive research study to figure this out.
You can make a lot of accurate predictions about teens based solely on age. A 15-year-old will be able to achieve very specific levels of fitness unless she’s been injured or seriously ill. She’s almost certainly attending school, living at home, and not concerned about having a heart attack.
You can make far fewer predictions about a 45-year-old. He might be retooling for a new career or in the prime of his current one he’s almost certainly working to earn money. He might be single, married, or divorced but rarely widowed. His kids could be anywhere from toddlers to college age. He could be in perfect health or seeing the first signs of chronic illness. But he could be a couch potato, in shape to play a pro sport, or anywhere in between.
Don’t bother making age-based predictions about a 65-year old you’ve never met.
If you go to any gym you’ll see people in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s who are training to run marathons. In the same gym, you’ll find people in the same age group who are decorously walking around a circle slowly in time to music. Some work at demanding jobs; some have retired. Some understand the complexities of the Internet; others can’t send an email.
There’s a common saying among geriatricians: “If you’ve seen one eighty-year-old, you’ve seen one eighty-year-old.” That applies to ages 50, 60, and 70 also.
Unfortunately, when you assume you’re writing to one type of “senior” audience, you’ll thoroughly alienate the others who will resent the identification.
(2) Confusing age effects with cohort effects.
We often hear things like, “Older people can’t use technology.”
Someone who’s turning 70 this year will have grown up with computers. She’s using social media, building WordPress sites, and texting.
Someone who turns 70 in another ten years won’t remember an age before smartphones.
A local magazine introduces a “resources for seniors” section with a photo of a gray-haired lady clutching an old-fashioned desk telephone. I don’t know where they found one to use in the photoshoot.
(3) Don’t refer to sixty-five as a retirement age.
Many people want to keep working their whole lives. When you assume an “older” person is retired. You can’t make assumptions about work status based on any age above twelve.
(4) Assuming your offer won’t appeal to people a lot older than you are.
Assume people of all ages will be interested in your offer, unless you have a good reason to exclude them overtly. I know a number of business owners, fifty and over, who work with coaches half their age. These days people of all ages look for recreational activities based on their interest, not their age.
(5) Referring to an older woman as “grandma.”
They’re everywhere, and they’re truly cringeworthy: “the kind of sweater your grandma would wear,” or “language you can use in front of a grandma.”
Not all women above a certain age have children, let alone grandchildren. All too often, they’re wearing the same clothes as your disreputable teenage daughter. And more and more of them are swearing like sailors.
The “senior” market can be extremely lucrative, especially for certain categories of travel and finance.
But a number of independent professionals could find happy clients among this population. There’s often no need to target them, as more and more people over fifty see themselves as ageless. The key is to avoid giving offense by stereotyping and stigmatizing.
Cathy Goodwin is a copywriter and marketing strategist, helping small businesses find and tell their story. She’s working on a book, When I Get Old, I Plan To Be A Bitch.
Re The New York Times, Jan 12, 2019 – The Joy Of Being A Woman In Her 70s – by Mary Pipher:
Mary Pipher writes, “In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging… we are denigrated by mother-in-law jokes…” Mother-in-law jokes are mild. What about those grandma and geezer jokes?
There’s no place for a woman who wants to keep working, who’s up to date with tech and social media, who’s lucky enough to be going to zumba class instead of medical appointments. She’s still treated as “cute” and subjected to patronizing, insensitive remarks on a daily basis. Potential employers look at her face — not her fitness levels — and the stereotypes surrounding age. They point to movies that reinforce stereotypes, such as The Intern.
There’s no other disadvantaged group that is expected to tolerate this degree of disrespect and discrimination, and still come out smiling and praised for being resilient “in spite of…” this treatment. We should be fighting for our rights instead of celebrating our vibrancy (which is, as some readers noted, limited to healthy, financially comfortable women).
The Times regularly runs articles about African-American women who experience prejudice in work and in life. Those articles do not run with the subtitle, “Happiness is a choice.”
And if you’re not healthy, you’ll be treated patronizingly by the medical profession. You’ll be subject to abuse in many institutions. You’ll likely be overmedicated and over-treated. Read Christiane Northrup’s book, Goddesses Never Age. Read anything by Gilbert Welch on overdiagnosis.
Would be tell other groups (such as African-Americans) that “happiness is a choice” and dismiss these very real assaults on their personhood? I think not.
Marc Freedman’s latest book should be subtitled Prescription for Aging Well: Become Mentor to Younger People & Work With Children. Rather than break new ground, the book subtly reinforces some of the most common stereotypes of aging. For instance, “older people are more concerned with leaving a legacy than making money;” “older people want to nurture younger people and children.”
For instance Marc says he has three young children and no grandparents close by. “Our silver-haired safety net is located two doors down. Our quirky, engaging eighty-something neighbors …have become quasi-grandparents for our children… “
Freedman notes institutional factors that help older people: social acuity, Medicare and … AARP?! The truth is, many people avoid AARP because of their overly aggressive advertising (I stopped them by sending a public Facebook message) and because it’s not clear how they really help older Americans. In the last election, the two main party candidates differed significantly in their positions on Medicare and Social Security; one clearly would benefit recipients more than the other. Yet AARP remained steadfastly neutral, merely reporting what each side said.
AARP supported the drug “donut hole.” And AARP is, above all, an insurance company, which many people believe is sub-par in both value and customer service. You can just look at the comments under most AARP articles. r
Freedman points to Experience Corps as a model of ways to help both seniors and children. In fact Experience Corps seems to target “vulnerable older adults.” Their web page includes an excerpt from a newspaper article, “Older citizens have time on their hands and skills to share.” Really? Could this be another stereotype.
Freedman praises the movie The Intern as a “great example” of introducing an older person into a Millennial environment. In fact, the notion that older people need to become low-paid (or no-paid) interns seems preposterous. It’s not unusual for companies to hire executives who bring special skills to the table, even if they’re not familiar with all aspects of the organization. DeNiro reinforced many stereotypes — tech-challenged, always wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Today’s executives of all ages are likely to show up in business casual or even jeans and sneakers. A Pew Trust survey found that 67% of adults ages 65 and older say they go online, in contrast to just 14% in 2000.
Freedman takes a top-down view of aging, talking to people who create services, products or policy for older people. He talks to architects who offer innovative cross-generation housing. He talks to academics and authors. But the “boots on the ground” older people often don’t want any part of that. They want integrated housing but that means they want to live in an ordinary neighborhood or apartment with people of all ages. They want to work in real jobs for market wages and growth opportunities. These days, five years is a long time in any job, so they have time.
The truth is, some people — age 18 to 80 — just naturally enjoy working with children. Some others in the same age group would rather work in a for-profit environment as a contributor, not an intern. Some people are simply not qualified, by temperament or skill, to work with children. And many younger adults can afford to pay a coach or consultant to mentor them.
The workplace is the single biggest area of ageism (closely followed by the medical profession, which tends to pathologize medicate normal aging processes. See Christiane Northup’s excellent book, Goddesses Never Age.)
Finally, many older people aren’t afraid of dying. They’re more afraid of ending up in a nursing home, where many will be abused. They want to die with dignity. The advice to “accept your mortality” seems to apply to a specific segment of the population.
I wanted to like this book. I ended up hating it.
First, the guy is heartless. His mother had a DNR. On p 19, he writes: “Her DNR said to withhold care if she had no reasonable chance of regaining a meaningful life. But this was more like bringing in a hose if the drapes in her room caught fire. Afterward she would return to the life she had in her neat apartment. She had friends and grandchildren she loved; she had matinee concerts at the Philharmonic. People with much less enjoy great lives. It seemed ungrateful to reject that life as not worth living. If she wanted to starve to death she could do it without our help. We approved the tube.”
This is cruel and heartless. He’s clearly judging his mother and her quality of life. And starving to death isn’t as easy as it seems. He’s able to be more dispassionate with his interview subject, John Sorensen: “None of us really wants immortality on other people’s terms; it’s no kindness to wish a scaled-down version of it on the people who want it least.” (more…)
Writing for BBC Smithsonian, Ellen Barry (“It’s the Ultimate TV Prize: An Unscripted Queen Elizabeth” Jan 14, 2018) opens with:
“In the annals of television interviews, a drawing-room chat with a 91-year-old woman, watching home movies and offering occasional droll remarks, would not seem like edgy stuff.”
“But that all changes when the woman is Queen Elizabeth II.”
Those two sentences show a great deal about the world view of aging. If you’re of sufficiently high status, age becomes irrelevant. I’ve been saying this for awhile. Good things in age come from continuity. You can’t begin a new career, but some careers allow you to continue and even embellish on what you’ve done before. You can cement your status. You can’t build it from scratch. (more…)