Preparing for your second act or continuing your first career and fighting ageism all the way

Preparing for your second act or continuing your first career and fighting ageism all the way

By Michelle Walch

Ageism is the last -ism to eradicate. It hurts people of all ages, young and old, by preventing them from living their full lives.  Most -isms are used as a way to conveniently make excuses to exclude certain groups. The result often is to make them targets of jokes, discrimination, or in some cases abuse.

A friend of mine recently realized she was being ageist. She recounts: “Ageism – it’s real and I have internalized it. I sent an email to my colleague Teressa about an ‘older student’ who was joining her class because the student wanted to be in the beginning-level English class. (I teach an intermediate level.) My colleague replied ‘Thanks for letting me know – I met her this morning. That student is the same age as me.’ Teressa is only 5 years older than me. OOPS! The very clueless comment that I made – especially since I’ll be 50 in June. This is a classic case of intent vs. impact. I could see how easy it is to fall into the trap of describing someone by age rather than ability!”

While my friend describes her story as humorous, she also acknowledges that there is a stigma against older students and workers.  Women especially bear the brunt of ageism. Some are even ageist against people their own age.  By that I mean, that often without thinking they jump to conclusions based on how someone looks or acts. But the effects of deeply ingrained ageism are harmful to the economy.

What workers age 55+ face

People 55 and better are being downsized from their jobs than having a difficult time finding another one. One solution for some is to go into business for themselves and join the growing ranks of encore entrepreneurs (encorepreneurs). Some have found this to be a productive way to circumvent age discrimination in hiring. They simply take their future into their own hands and don’t wait to find a job. They create the future they want. Further, they monetize their expertise. Still, age discrimination against the self-employed also happens. If you are interested in encore entrepreneurship, check out the Portland Community College SBDC class called Business Builders originally created by Jackie B Peterson and titled Age is Opportunity.

There are many misconceptions about older workers and age. However, concerns about the health, mental acuity, digital skills, and work ethic of older workers have been proven false time and time again. One thing older workers offer is a lifetime of experience, a great work ethic, and strong habits of solving problems. Older workers are also highly capable of learning new skills.
However, older employees are still affected by ageism and often older applicants have problems being hired.

This is a big issue as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that the U.S. labor force will be made up of 13 million people aged 65 or older.

Figures show over 1.1 million older women have lost their jobs in the pandemic. In April 2020, 15.5 percent of women over 55 lost their jobs.

An AARP survey found that:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers.
  • About 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
  • 76 percent of these older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job.

What is age discrimination?

Ashton Applewhite defines ageism as “stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age,” and, “like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimize and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people in power assign meaning to how we look.”

Sometimes, self-employed older women in particular even face discrimination when they are self-employed as entrepreneurship is sometimes viewed as a masculine or a youthful endeavor. Demonstrating the bias and discrimination one woman experienced is documented in a recent study. She talked about discrimination she experienced at pitch events, even with her mentor and her own children.

As a result of that discrimination, She made becoming an advocate for older people her focus. “It’s all about anti-aging; everything is framed against youth. I feel good, though, about being older. I was creative and tried to make things happen. Through a discussion with friends, we talked about starting blogging about the benefits of age.” She said, those over 50 are “not being upskilled, they’re being made redundant.”

Ways to push back against age discrimination (from the WHO’s Report On Ageism)

  • Policy and law: strengthen existing laws and policies.
  • Education across all levels of education, formal and informal.
  • Intergenerational intervention fosters interaction between age groups. It is the most effective way to reduce ageism, especially against young people.
  • Invest in evidence-based strategies.
  • Improve data and research to better understand ageism.
  • Build a movement to change the narrative around ageism.

These are all ways our society can push back against ageism. On a personal level, Believe in Yourself and Advocate for Yourself.

How to advocate for yourself as an encore entrepreneur

One antidote older workers and entrepreneurs are doing is connecting online, and blogging about positive aspects of age.  Others are trying to not look their age and finding ways to demonstrate their capabilities.  Be sure to also check out Elizabeth White’s book 55, Unemployed and Faking Normal.  She discusses coping mechanisms and assures you that you are not alone with these struggles.  Read my BSR interview with her.

Moreover, good examples of self-employed people who make it their mission to demonstrate what can be accomplished during our older and better years abound. The Better, Smarter, Richer blog is full of such stories. For instance, in a recent blog, Colleen Bourassa, who has worked with Jackie, has built a business on advocating for aging well. Also, there are local organizations such as the Encorepreneur Café that cater to self-employed people. The Encorepreneur Café offers space where those 55+ feel welcome and comfortable to do their encore entrepreneurship work and network with others.

Age-diverse workforce

The above techniques and strategies are powerful for working against ageism. Reducing ageism is critical to help all workers have a better life while working and a more financially viable retirement. One proposal is to provide incentives to major corporations to hire across the generations, and ask for reports on what they do to recruit and retain older workers. Employers often say a key to success is an age-diverse workforce. It is probably time to move beyond suggestions and require some reporting and possibly enforcement.

Finally, the immediate action that everyone should take is to build community. Join a group online, share what you know, talk about what you would like to know, discuss what works. One place you can go to discuss this issue is Jackie’s next Solo/Encore Meetup on May 26. Watch for meetup announcements in her newsletter. If self-employment or encore entrepreneurship interests you at all, contact Jackie at the Portland Community College SBDC for help in imagining, starting and building your successful encore business.