I just read a fantastic but horrifying article on age discrimination against (older) women. Read it on PBS. It’s fantastic because I am thrilled that people are out there actually studying this phenomenon. It’s horrifying because it confirms that it’s more difficult for women over 50 to get jobs than it is for men. And apparently, they are less likely to sue employers for age discrimination.
This other article (also on PBS) takes on a little bit of what women may be able to do to improve their chances at getting a job. Apparently, it’s a little bit of a black art. The AARP used to recommend “I’m willing to embrace change” as a nice little phrase for job applications. According to the article, using this phrase actually hurts older workers. Oops.
How does one overcome these age discrimination hurdles in a job quest? I’m not really sure. Here are some things I hope would work:
1) Show that your work has value. As my roommate once told me, the primary caregiver in a family is usually the person who deals frequently with healthcare, government, and education. So if that’s your role, don’t sell yourself short. If you’ve held a bunch of different jobs over the years, think about what skills you took away.
2) Keep the age thing vague. Perhaps a more cynical tip, but it’s not like they can ask you at the interview, right? An ideal hiring process would keep ages and dates away until absolutely necessary, but that’s probably not realistic.
3). Believe in yourself. This is a serious tip. I know lots of people in their 20s who are “digital natives” in the smartphone addict sense, but most of them aren’t great with applications like Excel and Adobe Paint. There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be surpassed by a smart woman in her 60s who’s made herself into an expert.
The third tip comes from one of the PBS articles, where they suggested actually getting specific skills rather than trying to talk about how you’re a quick learner or a flexible worker. It seemed like pretty good advice to me, but at best it’s a band aid, as it doesn’t change the fact that employers may still get hung up on the age thing.
The articles really resonated with me because I know that age discrimination doesn’t start at 50, or even at 36. It starts at, oh, roughly age 24. Why? Check out this email I got from NPR, when I asked whether I could apply to their internship program:
Unfortunately you are not eligible to apply since you graduated more than 12 months prior to the internship start date.
That was it, by the way. One sentence. And understandably, the writer didn’t want to sign their name. Thanks a lot, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, technically, one can argue that graduation date does not equal age, and that NPR would be happy to welcome a 53-year-old intern (provided she had graduated from college at age 52). But that’s a pretty weak argument. By limiting their pool to very recent grads, NPR is practicing age discrimination. And apparently, those of us under 40 years of age can’t even sue them for it.
But rather than ending on that note, I’d like to add a few more empowering tips:
1) Next time you see an ad for “recent grads” or “youthful” applicants, call the organization out on it. So far, I’ve called out NPR, the Cato Institute (they send mail to my house for some totally random reason), and a random non-profit that popped up on a listserv I use. None of these organizations were very responsive, but at least I said something.
2) Support the organizations in your area that help protect workers from illegal discrimination.
3) If you’re in the position of being able to hire someone, consider as many applications as you can. Be aware of your own possible biases. If you do toss out the application of an older worker, make sure you have a good reason for doing so.