Stop Living in La La Land: Age Bias Affects Everyone

According to Ashton Applegate, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, well over a million and half Americans over 50, people with decades of life ahead of them can’t find work (You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch, NY Times 9/3/16). And as people are living longer, healthier lives, the number of workers over the age of 55 will continue to increase, which means more out of work Baby Boomers.

Ageism, or age bias, is a word I had never heard of; I was living in La La Land. Having now joined the over 50-year-old unemployed who can’t land a job, I awake each morning in disbelief. After all, I Lean[ed] In, built a 30-year career in 3 big NY law firms while raising four kids. But the Arrival of my 55th birthday altered my reality when I was let go. Even then, I was under the misguided belief that I was marketable; how wrong I was.

I read everything that shed light on age bias; studies and articles from Forbes, The Washington Post and the New York Times. I was shocked to read The Washington Post article entitled, “The Baby Boomers are taking on ageism-and losing.” (8/3/2016). Losing I am. An abundance of applications later, I have had few call backs, no offers and am close to feeling that my legal career is over. I have been told I am too experienced, and wouldn’t be happy in a job earmarked for an associate with less experience. I have become a “Hidden Figure.”

Ageism can not be ignored because it is relevant to the entire workforce, young and old. Until the fountain of youth is discovered, aging is everyone’s destiny, and ageism could be in your future.

So what is the cause of ageism? “The underlying reason isn’t personal, it’s structural. It’s the result of a network of attitudes and institutional practices that we can no longer ignore,” according to Ashton Applegate (You’re How Old? We’ll Be in Touch, NY Times 9/3/16). But age is at the bottom of the diversity bucket. According to a recent PWC CEO study 64% of CEOs have a strategy to promote diversity and inclusion, but only 8% of CEO’s include age as a dimension of their diversity initiatives. (PWC 18th Annual Global CEO Study (2015)).

So how do we achieve an intergenerational workplace? The answer is most definitely not to “update your do, rejuvenate your skin, refresh your wardrobe, lighten up that smile, and watch your weight” (“Job Interview Advice Older Women Don’t Want to Hear”). Businesses must create multigenerational teams because wisdom gained from experience is invaluable. It is a business imperative to include age in diversity initiatives; not just gender and race. Innovation will only come by bridging the past, the present, and the future. As my friend Shelley Zalis, Founder and CEO of The Female Quotient says, “You can teach SnapChat, but you can’t teach experience.” (Examining Age Bias in The Workplace-Bloomberg News-Videos).

Come Hell or High Water this wise old lawyer still has hope.

By Carole Nimaroff