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The "ism" That Will Catch Us All... Eventually

As I work for a company that is considered diverse*, "isms" rankle. We are all familiar with sexism, racism, antisemitism, and ethnocentrism (there are many, many others as well!), but the one that I want to discuss in this post is Ageism -- the systemic and systematic discrimination against persons of older age. Maybe it's the result of my own aging, but I've been noticing this issue more and more over the past year or so. It is kind of a strange "ism" as it isn't like many of the others where people who are not a certain way -- and will never be that way -- attempt to discriminate against others who are. With Ageism, although a person may not be older now, they will age like everyone else and will become part of this sub-group of society themselves someday. You would think that would give people pause and be a suitable deterrent in itself. Yet it happens... I've seen it and I'm sure you, my readers, have witnessed it too.

"1001 Old People Jokes" and tropes that include housecoats and fuzzy-slippers for elderly women and pants with belts riding high for the men. These can be fairly innocuous, and are often perpetrated by elderly people themselves as self-deprecating humor. But ageism turns more serious and, perhaps, even a little threatening when it results in questioning their ability to drive, making their own financial decisions, deciding where and how they want to live, and the sub-par level of care they may receive when it is time that they do need some help. Some of the COVID stories we've heard about what happens in retirement homes is shocking, disappointing and, frankly, disgusting.

One other version of age-ism is that older people can't fathom technology. In our industry -- Information Technology -- this is particularly troubling. I've witnessed perfectly capable technology professionals passed over time and again for no other reason than their age: "they don't fit into our culture"... "they may be looking to retire soon and we want someone who can commit over a longer period" ... "not sure of their ability to keep up with the pace of work here...". All these "concerns" are rooted in stereotypes.

Older workers often bring experience that "youthful teams" may lack. They come from the generation where people often DID put down roots and stick with the same company for a longer term. Companies may actually enjoy better retention rates hiring older workers, despite their relative nearness to retirement. And people aren't retiring as early if they love what they do! Pace of work is less a factor of age and more a result of individual motivation. Experience, as mentioned before, can more than compensate if in fact there is a slowing due to age. And age does not dictate a person's technological acumen! When one builds their career in IT, they pretty much have to commit themselves to life-long learning. As long as that commitment is there, people later in their careers are just as able to learn new technology as those in the beginning or in the middle of their careers.

But of course, we all know that. Intellectually, we understand that this is so. Yet, I am surprised at how often ageism occurs. A US-based study (reviewing 40,000 resumes) stated that "The largest-ever study of age discrimination has found that employers regularly overlook middle-aged and old workers based only on their resumes" -- and older women face even more discrimination than do older men. Instead of being actively sought-after, having much more experience than younger applicants is actually a detriment to being selected for a job. Older technical consultants and contractors struggle with this greatly. Despite COVID-19, the world is still supply-constrained when it comes to finding technically savvy workers. Many of these people found consistent contracting opportunities throughout their careers, even during the "slumps" that occurred in 2000 and 2008. Yet now that they are older, they struggle. They've never had more or better experience than they do today, they've never had a higher level of skills and knowledge, yet it is harder and harder to convince employers of this.

This is true: ageism happens. It is happening now. Here in Canada and around the world, it is a common occurrence. And we all should be aware of this and actively fighting against it. After all, we're all going to be there, ourselves, someday and wouldn't it be nice if ageism was eradicated before we had to face its challenges? *

Eagle is WBE certified as a Women Owned/Managed Business. We have been recognized in "Canada's Best Places to Work" for women and our workforce is made up of 75% visible minorities... including some of us older people ;-)