Age is the Question. What's the answer?
- Innovation for Ageing, Health & Social Care Research
- Chris Anderson
This blog post has been submitted by our US partner amazing.community, a nonprofit with the mission to expand the work horizon for women 45+ through tech focused learning opportunities, resource sharing and community building.
I check my grocery basket as I wait for the cashier. Looks like I got everything on my list... avocados (healthy fats!), blueberries (antioxidants!), butter substitute (cholesterol free!) and kale chips (NOT potato chips!).
“Next in line”, the bespectacled 30 something year old cashier calls out and beckons me over. He slides each item along the scanner and tallies up the total. Before I tap my phone to pay, he looks over at me and asks,
“Do you want the senior discount?”
Do I what? Did he just ask me...ME...if I wanted the senior discount? Doesn’t he know who I am? NOT a person who looks like she qualifies for the senior discount, that’s who!
My eyes widen, my eyebrows raise as I quickly respond with a “Clearly you’ve mistaken me for someone older”. I chuckle, shake my head and say “No, thanks”.
I pay, pack my items in my bag and sling it over my shoulder, which I’ve made sure isn’t hunched. I exit with the air of someone who has just enjoyed an amusing encounter. My faux confidence, however, doesn’t last beyond the threshold of the store. So many questions about that question!
Did my healthy grocery items scream “senior”? Would a bag of Doritos, or even better Flaming Hot Cheetos, skew my cart younger?
Was it my mask that had me looking discount-friendly? Perhaps I have “senior” eyes and a junior smile?
Did the 80-something year old woman who checked out before me put the cashier in a “senior” frame of mind?
How old does someone need to be to get the “senior” discount anyway? I can get the answer to this question quickly enough. I reach for my phone, fire up Google and type in:
“age senior discount fairway grocery store”.
My search yields an answer: At 59.5 years old, I qualify as a “senior”. My name is Chris Anderson and I am eligible for “senior” discounts.
As I walk back home, I can’t help but think about my reaction to this incident. I’m confused by my own behavior. Why did I care that I looked my age? I consider myself defiantly age positive. I work for a nonprofit that celebrates ageing. Besides, I love a discount!
Am I simply an age positive hypocrite? I think the answer is complicated. Though I’m happy to share my age, I know that ageism exists and don’t want to be painted with the brush of ageist stereotypes. Was it ageist for the cashier to offer me a discount? Of course not. It was an extremely kind gesture. Yet, I think my guard is raised. I don’t want to look old not because I don’t want a discount but because I don’t want to be discounted.
Research shows that age discrimination is alive and well, seemingly more robust in our post pandemic world. Its impact is widespread, affecting the health and wealth of the many it marginalizes. The job search process is especially fraught. When reviewing job applications, many employers – or their artificial intelligence-enabled recruitment processes - will weed out candidates that look too experienced. Furthermore, older workers are often considered too expensive and confront false stereotypes suggesting they can’t keep up with today’s technology. All of this before they have had a chance to walk in the door for an interview.
According to a new study by the Centre for Ageing Better, ageism in the recruitment process has had a negative impact on older workers; more than a third of people in their 50s and 60s feel at a disadvantage in applying for jobs. Experts believe that this “soul destroying” ageism could be the final straw that prevents many of the 175,000 50-64 year olds who have lost their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic from finding work again.
Looking old enough for grocery savings is one thing. (A good thing some might say.) Given ageist attitudes, looking old on your resume is another, one that can stand between you and your future. Until more employers understand the myriad benefits experienced employees bring to the workplace, what can we do to combat these stereotypes in a job search?
Here are some ideas:
- Get out there and network! Tap into your connections, old and new. You never know where a conversation will take you. Your neighbour’s sister’s friend could be your next employer!
- Brush up on your LinkedIn profile. Make sure your info is up to date on this powerful networking site. (Check out branding expert Danielle Zeitlen Hughes’ advice on creating an attention-grabbing LinkedIn headline.)
- Make sure you’ve got the goods. Skill up. There are a wealth of online classes, many of them free, to help you stay on top of current Do you need to know it all? Of course, not. But you should know enough to indicate to potential employers that, if you don’t know a certain technology, you can learn it.
- Take a look at your resume. Does it read “old”? Unfortunately, decades of experience listed on your CV can work against you. Here are some tips on age-proofing your resume. And keep in mind what the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ Kerry Hannon has said, "Your resume is not your obituary; it's an advertisement."
Hopefully, one day the blanket of ageism will be lifted and finding work won’t be complicated by preconceived notions that require us to age proof ourselves. In the meantime, we mustn’t lose sight of the immense value our experiences hold, even when, or better yet, especially when, others do not. If you need help remembering them, do as executive recruiter Cathy Sutherland suggests and write a superpower statement that lists your accomplishments, keeping it nearby for those moments when doubt creeps in. Your experience, after all, is a superpower.
Oh, also, if you’re offered a discount, take it!