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Ageism: A White Man’s Introduction To Discrimination

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I’m a white Christian male, always have been and always will be.  As such, I’ve never been a minority by any measure – that is until I turned 40.  Then like everyone else who turns forty I became a member of an EEOC classification and protected class as defined by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  When I turned the big 4-0, I was now someone who could be discriminated against based solely on age.   Looking back on turning 40 it wasn’t a big deal. My children were 9 and 6 at the time. Life was normal, and I didn’t see any great demarcation point in my life.  When younger folks approaching 40 asks me  questions like, “What can you tell me about turning 40?”   My response is,  “Well, I got bi-focals and a prostrate infection.” Pretty mundane stuff in my estimation.

Fast forward a couple of decades, where in 2015 I turned 60 years old (which I am told 60 is the new 40) many folks see a 60-year-old as being in the later stages of their functional-productive work life.  When I used the word  “folks”  in this instance I am referring to a large portion of HR folks and others who are in the business of hiring employees.  To be more direct, employers do not want to hire people over age 50.

I am sure there are a myriad of reasons for this, let me give you a few examples…

  • They (senior employees) won’t be happy in the available roles
  • They will want too much money (as they are at the end of their career)
  • They won’t be with us very long
  • The are feeble and technologically inept

There are dozens more excuses that are applied, but these are some of ones I personally have experienced.   One of these excuses is almost comical to me.  Most employers are happy to hire 20 – 30 somethings and put them in a role, but the fact of the matter is “they won’t be with us very long” either.  Here’s the average career tenure according to a 2018 report from the Department of Labor

“Generally, median employee tenure was higher among older workers than younger ones. For example, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (10.1 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 (2.8 years)”.

Sadly, senior folks don’t leave for fear of not being re-hired, thus their average tenure will be higher.   It seems to me that some employers are really missing the mark to gain knowledge, experience and loyalty from some of the 50 and over crowd.

I heard this story from someone close to our family.   The fellow we are talking about was 58 years old at the time of the job search and he was looking for a CFO position. He found a job and after he was hired one of the board members who hired him told him,  “We hired you because we had been having a lot of turnover in the role.”  The last three CFOs left in 3 years or  less (reference DOL report).  The board felt that if they hired a 58-year-old employee they would probably stay for 7 years, until he was 65 because he would most likely not get hired anywhere else.  “Ka-Boom, mind=blown”  That’s a new way to look at the situation and evaluate talent.

The age discrimination thing is very subtle to me.  You can’t see it, you can’t touch it and people sure as hell won’t tell you,  “I’m going to hire you because you are too damn old” – you just feel it and it is exactly what happens all too often.

It took till age 60, for me to get there but now I have a better understanding of the concept of discrimination and how it can affect one’s view of the world.   At this point for me it’s hard to imagine a lifetime of feeling discriminated against based on an uncontrollable fact, in my case age.   To those of you who have experienced a lifetime of discrimination, I’m just now beginning to understand how you feel and I get it…. at least a little bit anyway.

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