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"That's Ageism" Courtesy of Boomers Leading Change in Health May 2016 Newsletter

May 4, 2016

Courtesy of Boomers Leading Change in Health May 2016 Newsletter

Dear Friends,
Someone I know--who's on the verge of turning 60--is in the midst of a career transition. One of his biggest concerns is that potential employers might think he's too old--a concern I've heard from many people (including a number of our volunteers), but one I've tried not to focus on, optimist that I am. Recently my friend applied for a position he was eminently qualified for--and, according to a junior member of the recruitment firm hired to conduct the search, an outstanding candidate for the job. In fact, the recruiter said he couldn't wait to tell his boss about my friend, he was that excited.
 
Fast forward 48 hours, and the boss dismissed my friend's application out-of-hand, stating, "he just wasn't a good fit." The recruiter said he had no idea why--and that his boss didn't provide an explanation.
 
A couple of days after that, I happened to be chatting with a former colleague who was familiar with the search and mentioned my friend had thrown his had into the ring. Before I could reveal that his application was rejected, my colleague stated unequivocally, "They'll never hire your friend for that job. He's TOO OLD." My colleague then went on to say that he knew of several people (also in their mid-to-late 50's) who had applied for that position and had also been summarily rejected sans explanation--and told me it was an open secret that the recruitment firm was not considering candidates "of a certain age." Rather take umbrage about it, my colleague (who's in his early 60's) was instead very matter-of-fact: "That's the way things are," he said.
 
Ironically, my colleague is the midst of a career transition of his own and is planning to retire sometime next year from an executive position he's held for nearly 20 years. As we talked about his succession plan, he revealed he had suggested to his organization's search committee that they look for someone poised to be a real change agent--"someone in their early-to-mid 40's," he said.
 
I must say, I was taken aback by his thought process. I asked him if, had he not decided on his own to retire next year, would his board have pushed him to do so? His answer was, "No." Then I asked why he suggested they hire someone in their 40's to replace him. "Because they need someone who's going to stick around for 7 to 10 years," he said. Couldn't someone in their 50's or 60's stick around--and be a change agent--I wondered, still rather stunned by the direction our conversation had taken?
 
People, let me be very clear here: THIS. IS. AGEISM.
 
Discriminating against someone based on age--regardless of what their age may be--is ageism, and it is the last acceptable form of discrimination found in our society. Remove all references to age in the above stories and replace them with words like, "Woman," "Black," "Gay," or "Jewish," and what would you think? Would you accept it matter-of-factly--or would you be outraged? Just as importantly, would you perpetuate it by your own words or deeds?
 
Research has shown that ageism pervades virtually every aspect of our society--and that while experts in the field of aging clearly see it and are concerned about it, most victims of ageism not only don't recognize it when they see or experience it, they don't recognize it when they perpetrate it.
 
Have you ever made comments like, "Senior moment," when you've forgotten something? Or, "I'm too old to figure out how to use my smartphone--I need a 10-year-old to help me"? Or, "She's had her turn--it's time to let someone younger have a chance"?
 
THAT'S AGEISM.
 
Now, I'm not suggesting we lose our sense of humor about getting older--that would be a terrible thing, to be sure. But assuming that someone is "less than"--and, even worse, treating someone as "less than"--based on their age, not only does a disservice to the person, it short-changes society as a whole. The fact is people are people--and everyone has something of value to offer--no matter how many birthdays they may have celebrated.
 
It's no secret that ours is a youth-oriented society. But it doesn't have to be. And I challenge all of us to be more mindful of what we see, what we say, and how we think when it comes to a person's age. You might be surprised how often you catch yourself in the midst of an ageist comment--or an ageist thought. 
 
It's time we changed our mindset about aging--and ageism--once and for all. And who better to lead this fight than those who are often both the targets--and the perpetrators--US?
 
Let me know what you think.

Barbara Raynor
Executive Director

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Boomers Leading Change in Health is part of a larger, national movement created to provide Adults 50+ with meaningful volunteer opportunities that will enable and empower them to affect significant social change in nine local communities across the United States. Here in Denver, our focus is on health and healthcare—but our partners across the country are focusing on other important issues, like homelessness, literacy, access to healthy foods in under-served neighborhoods, at-risk youth, and the environment. http://blcih.org/