While age is just a number to many, some may find it hard to climb the corporate ladder as the years go on. This may come as a surprise since there are legitimate laws put in place to avoid age discrimination, but it is unfortunately still alive and well. People are being counted out of the workforce as young as their mid-thirties, but there are ways to fight back! Keep reading to find out how to recognize and battle ageism in the workplace.  

What is Ageism? 

For starters, The Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967. Since then, age has been one of the “protected characteristics” in the workplace, which means employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their age. This covers hiring, firing, work assignments, and promotions. The only companies exempt from this are those with fewer than 20 employees. Yet, we still see ageism in the workplace daily. An AARP study confirms this, stating that 64% of workers have seen or experienced ageism.  

Ageism is a prejudice, or discrimination, on the premise of one’s age. For example, A 28-year-old female CPA might be told that she is “too young” to be a controller. However, 28 is nearly 6 years out of college for the average worker. On the other hand, A job candidate in his 50’s could be told that the company he is applying for is seeking a recent college grad “with a lot of energy and no bad habits”. Both of these situations portray ageism.  

Ageism also doesn’t just affect workers during hiring. An employee in her 60’s might be counted out of attending an industry conference to allow her to “take it easy this month.” This would probably not be something this employee needs, but rather an effect of ageism in the workplace.  

Spotting Ageism in the Workplace: 

Certain incidents or situations may signal that ageism is a problem in your place of work. Here are a few… 

  1. Disparaging comments and remarks about age. While this could be meant as subtle and playful, joking about your age, retirement plans, slow typing speed, gasping for breath while coming up the stairs, etc. Can still be aggressive and an immediate sign of discrimination based on age. 
  2. Learning opportunities are automatically offered to younger employees — not older ones. This can include educational coursework, reimbursement for continuing education, professional or industry conference attendance, etc. If a company offers such perks, they should be accessible for anyone! 
  3. A spoken or unspoken assumption that you are not entitled to take time off for family commitments because you don’t have young kids at home. This one’s for younger workers, as employers may expect you to put in more hours as a result of being young and independent. 
  4. Being overlooked or passed over for challenging assignments. This can also look like a large amount of unpleasant or tedious work being assigned to older employers. 

How to Handle Ageism: 

The first step to dealing with age discrimination is to never assume your workplace is immune to it. Of course, there are very ethical companies but the point is don’t think that just because you haven’t experienced it, it isn’t there.  

Second, it is so important to always be investing in yourself. Stay up-to-date on trends, take an online course to learn a new skill, get a mentor. The options are endless. No matter your age, investing in your professional growth and development will fight the stereotype that people at certain ages stop learning or are too out of date.  

Finally, don’t be opposed to changing times or new practices. Being willing to grow with the company will put you at the same level as that 25-year-old accountant fresh out of grad school. Your thinking can help to prevent Ageism, don’t buy into the age stereotypes. 

Takeaway: 

If you see someone experiencing ageism or experience it yourself, you should take note of the incident and any witnesses. Discriminating based on age is not only discouraging but unethical. Employment attorneys can help you learn your rights and fight back against ageism!