serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

Age Discrimination

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/24/06

Age discrimination is probably one of the last forms of negative stereotyping left—perhaps even the subtlest. It wasn’t so long ago that color, sexual orientation and gender were in the spotlight. Now, as 70 million of us are becoming the dominant demographic force in the world, we can begin to see our culture’s bias toward age appearing as overt forms of discrimination.

Even corporations that are sensitive to ‘diversity’ are often biased against older workers in their hiring, firing, promotion and retirement practices. Discrimination against people because of age is just plain stupid (in addition to being morally questionable). Age discrimination has probably always existed. But until now, people either retired, died or didn’t care enough to declare ‘time out’ and look more directly at what was occurring.

First of all, everybody is going to get older. To institutionalize practices that adversely affect older persons is to shoot ourselves in the foot. Similarly, the sheer numbers of the ‘baby boom’ generation are changing the logic and nature of work. According to a recent white paper issued by the AARP Public Policy Group, 20% of the workforce will be over 55 in less than 10 years. Since age discrimination is already illegal, these kinds of numbers will assure that companies that discriminate will become more and more visible. Likewise, older people are also consumers and enlightened businesses are realizing that being proactive and publicly non-discriminating can be good business. Finally, all research suggests that older workers in most industries are at least as productive as younger workers, have good work practices and often carry a lot of the positive aspects of an organization’s culture, such as commitment to ethical values.

Serene Ambition is dedicated to these propositions:

  1. Older people have a stake in changing our culture of aging from one of decline to one of possibility.
  2. The only way a culture changes is when a critical mass of people create a new story about “the way it is”.
  3. We must take responsibility for anything we wish to change (and if we are not responsible, then we are victims).

If we wish to change attitudes and practices about age in the workplace, we need to do it by demonstrating that age doesn’t mean anything about how we work or what we can produce—if anything, age should be considered an asset. When we are ‘walking our talk’, then we can expect change to occur.

I would welcome any ‘positive stories’ or examples of how the individual makes a difference in changing discriminatory practices in the workplace. Feel free to email me at jimselman at gmail dot com or submit a comment to this blog.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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