Ageism in the workplace

By Emily Senger

It was with great trepidation that I prepared for my first ever corporate office party last weekend. I am the youngest employee at my office, and I am conscious of my inability to fit into the corporate mold that my 30, 40 and 50-something coworkers have had years of practice at.

Upon arriving I felt mildly out of place, but I downed a couple of martinis courtesy of the toonie bar, sat down to dinner, and surprised myself by joining in on the stimulating public policy conversation at my table. I began to relax and enjoy the company and the free food.

The event was going off without a hitch until I had the misfortune to win a door prize of a couple bottles of good wine. As I was threading my way through the tables to claim my booty, an older male coworker yelled loud enough for all other staff members and guests to hear: “Hey, she’s not old enough to drink!”

While this comment was meant in jest, it stopped me in my tracks and I became immediately insecure and out of place once again. This comment is a prime example of the practice of ageism, an all too frequent and counterproductive aspect of the business world.

I admit I am young, and I am going to make some mistakes; but, my youth also decrees I am eager to learn. My ability to do so is hampered when older, usually male coworkers, have a difficult time accepting a young, educated female into their ranks.

I have been the victim of ageism on numerous occasions, and each time it makes me feel devalued, and makes me question my student-to-business transition.

After a particularly disastrous accounting screw-up on my behalf, an older, male coworker unsuccessfully attempted to make me feel better by saying: “Don’t worry, you’re too young to worry about that kind of stuff, you should be out drinking.” With that one comment, he quite easily depreciated my ability to perform complicated tasks on account of my age.

In a separate incident, upon entering a committee luncheon meeting, an older male committee member looked at me, a young female and asked: “So, are you the new secretary?”

Maybe these comments are intended as jokes, or are made due to ignorance, but they reflect a true disconnect between generations. Whatever the reason behind them, ageist remarks are as inappropriate as implying that a person’s sex, sexual preference or race affects their ability to do their job. It’s belittling, it’s discriminatory, and it’s wrong.

Younger workers, myself in-cluded, are eager to make a difference, and are able to offer new perspectives on old problems. Youth should be seen as an asset, not as a factor used to explain inadequacies, or to draw attention to in an inappropriate manner.

As the baby boomers retire, and more and more women of all races pursue post-secondary degrees, the face of the work force will change to become younger and more diverse.

The older generation will suffer if they write off these new employees’ abilities due to their youth. The only way to benefit is for the baby boomer generation to accept the changing face of the workforce by collaborating with new workers as peers, and recognizing their age as an advantage rather than a hindrance.

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