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The Age-old story of ageism



Last night I jumped on Hulu and streamed an episode of the 90's sitcom Golden Girls, seeking a comforting laugh after a long day. The episode started with Rose (Betty White’s character) receiving a letter from her late husband’s company – the company went bankrupt and she lost her husband’s pension.


Without that pension, Rose was not making enough money at her current job to pay her bills. She had to find a new job.


Rose scoured the classified in the paper, clipping every interesting job. Then off she went, spending the day following the ads to apply to every position.


The episode returns with Rose coming back and looking miserable. After spending all day hoping from organization to organization, she hadn’t found one potential lead.


“Too experienced.”


“You’re not what we are looking for.”


“We’re looking for someone with a little more energy.”


“You’re too old.”


Rose collapsed onto the couch, “what am I going to do?”


Not for the first time in the series, the Golden Girls fell victim to ageism.


But that was 35 years ago, during the age of corded phones, huge shoulder pads and the primary job search engine was the classified ads in the paper. Surely the story has changed.


35 years later… it’s same story


“You’re overqualified.”


“This is a demanding job. We’re looking for someone with more energy.”


“You’re just not the right … fit.”


Sound familiar?


We may have moved from corded phones and classified ads to smart phones and AI-infused Applicant Matching, but the story has remained the same. If Rose were in the same situation today, would the story be different?


I was about 5 years old when the Golden Girls first aired and tackled the issues of ageism (among many others). And now, only days away from checking the “40 and older” box myself, it becomes increasingly baffling how strongly Ageism has persisted. This is the one demographic box we all one-day check if we are lucky. So why are we so dedicated to perpetuating an ‘ism’ for which we will all fall victim?


Isn’t it time to stop ageism now, so today’s 5-year-olds aren’t reflecting on Rose’s story 35 years from now when they’re days away from checking the 40+ box?


Don’t let another 35 years go by


The Golden Girls episode continues with Rose begging to be given a chance for a particular position. And, after a grudging agreement, earns the job.


By enabling candidates to prove their capabilities and intentions, we not only combat ageism, we also empower organizations to find the best talent for the roles.


For example:

Consider the bias that older people are not good at learning new technologies.


If a job requires fast adoption of new technologies, test that ability. Introduce candidates to a technology they haven’t seen along with instructions as would be available on the job and have them perform a task. Candidates will prove to you if they are technology adaptable, no biases required.


Consider the fear that ‘more experienced’ people are just after your job and won’t be satisfied with the position they are applying for.


Ask questions about what they love about the work they do, and what parts they don’t like. Ask what environments they thrive in and what gives them a sense of success and failure. By understanding their passions, preferences, motivations, and dislikes, you will see if what they love aligns with the job you have or not, without fear.


These are just a few examples of how to combat ageism.


Rose beat ageism by proving her value, though she had to plea for the opportunity. We can do better than that!


Giving the story a happy ending


Ageism may have lasted unscathed over the past decades, outlasting shoulder pads, and classified ad clippings, but that doesn’t mean it’s destined to thrive moving forward.


Let’s give this long-standing story a happy ending so that in 35 years, when our children are sitting around the kitchen table sharing a cheesecake, they are sharing stories about their latest exploits and adventures, and not how they were told they are “over-qualified” for their perfect job.


#NoBias #diversityandinclusion #ageism


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