How to protect yourself from ageist attitudes
When Lucy Shaw*, now 41, was approached by an agent interested in signing her to a radio show she loved, she was excited. But when she told him her age he didn’t react well. “When he realised I was 30, his face and attitude changed completely,” Shaw says. “He said, obviously at my age I’d be thinking about getting married and having kids, and that wouldn’t work with his ideas.”
Eight years later, Shaw applied for another job in the industry and was one of the final three applicants. However, once again, her age meant she didn’t get it. “They said they wanted to go with someone younger,” she says. “I came off the phone and burst into tears.” Reluctantly, she changed career soon after. “It completely put me off,” she says.
One in five adults believe they’ve experienced ageism in the UK, with three out of 10 experiencing it at work, according to research by the BBC. People aged 55-64 experience it most, followed by 18-34 year olds . Women can also face the double discrimination of combined ageism and sexism, according to the Labour commission on older women.
So what is age discrimination? Who does it effect? And how can we protect ourselves from it in the workplace?
Ageism can affect anyone
Anyone can experience ageism, young or old. And it doesn’t have to be linked to a person’s actual age – if someone is perceived to be a certain age, and suffers discrimination because of that, then that qualifies as ageism. Sarah Jones, 27, a medical sales rep, worries that looking young affects her chances of getting a promotion. “Once I was taken along on job training with my boss,” she says. “And a customer asked in a very patronising tone if I was my boss’s daughter on work experience. It was mortifying. I’m going for a promotion at the moment and I think people think I’m very young. It would be easier if I looked my age.”
Older people may be most at risk, however, with one in three experiencing ageism, according to research by UCL. After 14 years in the civil service Michael Barnes* was made redundant and replaced by a younger employee. Aged 56 at the time, he says he is sure he and other colleagues were let go because of their ages. “It stood out like a sore thumb, we were being got rid of because we were over 50,” he says. “I haven’t worked since, even though I applied for things solidly for over two years. I’ve got no qualifications but masses of experience. I’m still angry about what happened 11 years later.”
James Ratcliffe, 54, says in some industries older people’s skills aren’t valued at all. “I was working at a creative agency when I was in my late 40s and within about 20 minutes of sitting down someone emailed and asked how old I was,” he says. “There’s nothing I can do in that situation. I can’t second guess what she thinks, you just have to do your best work. I think ageism is really common, particularly for older people. People assume somehow your skills disappear when you get to 40.”
What can you do if you experience ageism?
People are protected against ageism under the Equality Act. So if you experience it, you can lodge a formal grievance against your employer, and if that fails, bring a claim to an employment tribunal, says Philip Landau, employment lawyer at Landau Law Solicitors.
Ageism can be direct or indirect. “Indirect discrimination might be a job advert that says you need 10 years of experience,” says Julie Freeborn, an occupational psychologist and chair of the British Psychological Society division of occupational psychology. Whereas direct discrimination, for example, would be having a request for a pay rise rejected, because the boss says you’re on good money for your age, Freeborn says.
The first challenge can be identifying ageism for what it is. “It’s difficult to spot,” says Brandon Smith, founder of advice website the Workplace Therapist. “But remember, three of anything is a pattern.” One way to figure out if someone is harbouring ageist attitudes towards you is to keep a log. “Write down anything you consider to be discrimination,” says Freeborn.
Unconscious biases are at the root of ageism, says David Shindler, founder of online school Career Navigating for Young Professionals. “We’ve all got our prejudices,” he says. “Part of the trick to tackling them is to make them conscious. You’re never going to eradicate some of those biases but you can get people talking about it and doing something about it.”
If you do decide to speak to someone in work about their attitude towards you, try to stay calm, says Freeborn. “The conversation obviously can be quite difficult,” she says. “Present it in a neutral way as far as possible and if you have a log you can give them that evidence.”
How can you protect yourself against ageist attitudes?
Building a good relationship with colleagues, as much as possible, helps. “This is probably the first thing you can do before it gets out of hand,” Smith says. “You want to break down those walls and let people get to know you. Go to lunch with them and demystify any myths.”
Working on your skills can also put you in a strong position. “It’s about changing perceptions,” says Shindler. “For example, if you’re an older worker, the stereotype might be that you’re not as technologically savvy, so spend time training yourself on technology and working it into what you do to show you’re not out of date.”
Ultimately though, the responsibility is on employers to value age diversity and take steps to prevent discrimination. “Age is an important piece of the diversity discussion,” says Smith. “We must have a variety of ages, because each age brings a different perspective. So this is about having a diverse, healthy workplace, and age is a huge part of that.”
Shaw says she’s got more confident as she’s got older – making her a better employee in the new career she pursued in communications . “Ironically, I have a lot more confidence and I’m more at ease with myself now than I was when I worked in radio,” she says, “and I think I’d be far better at it now than I was then.”
*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
Original Source – Abby Young-Powell, The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/apr/27/how-to-protect-yourself-from-ageist-attitudes