•Ronald: Since ultimately we can only control ourselves, we can only change how the world values an aging executive one person at a time. Boomer executives must believe in their value if the rest of the world is to also value us.
I find it ironic that now when Boomers are in power positions in corporations and government that there is more age discrimination in the workplace than ever. Apparently the Boomers with power believe that older executives are less valuable. Boomers have fought against discrimination with regard to race, religion, minorities, sex and sexual orientation, but are strangely silent with regard to age discrimination.
•Carol: Agree completely with your points. I would add that while age discrimination is illegal, ageism is not. It is part of a larger cultural problem and there is plenty of evidence in the workplace and in pre-employment interactions. But unlike other -isms, ageism seems to be invisible to most people. While “Being the change you want to see” sounds enlightened, I have to laugh(cry) when I hear comments like “won’t fit in” “resistant to learning new things… ” Obviously others must see the change as well! Actually, those most affected by ageism have also been the ones most receptive to change and new ways of thinking/doing things, and have proven that consistently in their actions and abilities. More intelligent, open discussion of how (constructively) to deal with ageism would be an enlightened next step.
• Ronald @ Carol: The legal system has reduced instances of workplace discrimination in connection with racism, sexism, etc. but not ageism because it treats ageism differently. See this essay I wrote on the topic:
Until Boomers combat age discrimination in the workplace they way they fought other forms of discrimination, it will only grow. The “enlightened next step” I would like to see is mobilizing as a force to change this injustice. And, from what I’ve seen, AARP is not up to the task, so it will have to be a grassroots effort like the current Tea Party movement. Why it hasn’t happened yet is a mystery to me.
I know that when a 46-year-old attorney has proof that he’s been discriminated against in the workplace and can’t get justice, the average Boomer doesn’t have a chance either unless Boomers make it a national issue.
• Carol @ Ronald: Very thoughtful and enligtening article. Thanks for sharing! One of the strange reactions I had to the mention of ageism recently was that “a lot of people are assuming age discrimination was the reason for their not being hired. . . when in fact more people of all ages are unemployed right now.” Yet, in the cases I’ve seen, there were specific comments made and actions taken in the interview process that made the “age” and experience of the candidate a factor in the hiring outcome. I don’t think boomers want to turn this issue into a nasty Us against them scenario. They just want and need to work! But the idea of banding together and making ageism a national issue in the way other forms of discrimination have been addressed may be the only way to effectively address this problem. Clearly it is not going away on its own.
• William@Carol and Ronald- you both are correctly addressing the lack of self esteem within the Boomer worker community. If we don’t express confidence in ourselves, we have no right to expect others to have confidence in us. Only from a “can do” state of mind will Boomers motivate others to see us as the “will do” team. Boomers must stop telling opportunity managers, “Don’t use us.” by their behavior. As many as four million of the eight million jobs lost during the recent financial mess will not be coming back. The Good Old Days are the Good Dead Days. It’s OK to grieve, to reminisce, and to celebrate past victories, but it is not OK to stop moving forward because your environment changed. A man selling apples on a street corner during the depression of 1940 wasn’t born to be an apple vendor. He was just moving forward. A defeatist attitude is not imposed on us by others. It is a choice we make every morning. Choose to take a tiny step, a medium step, or a giant step – FORWARD. Toward what? Your Boomer Best Work!
•Carol@ William: Your point is well taken, but I think perhaps my point was misunderstood. While anyone can have doubts if they consistently encounter ageist rhetoric, I don’t think boomers are collectively lacking in self-esteem nor are we pining away with grief over the way things were. While, yes, ways of communicating and the technologies we use have changed, most boomers have in fact kept pace with those changes. And I honestly can’t imagine that the 46-64’s with advanced degrees, publishing credits and tons of quality experience in their disciplines (many of whom are out of work) are projecting a “don’t use us” attitude.
• Sydney: Hi all – let me throw in another possibility. I feel the the problem of ageism is that there is an unrecognized life stage between roughly 50 and 75 that has no name, and therefore no recognized behavior or opportunity norms. Because it hasn’t been identified it can’t really be seen by either the people who are in it or those who are not. Much like until we had the distinction “teenager,” we saw only children and adults, (as in most 2nd & 3rd world cultures today). In my book Choice Points I divided life into 4 quarters of about 25 years. The focus of the first quarter is on learning, the second on establishing ourselves, the third on the quality of life for ourselves and others, and those in the forth quarter are our historians. Each life stage has new learning, depth, and unique opportunity
I believe one of the contributing factors that keeps this life stage invisible to all – particularity in business – is we commonly look at ourselves through the lens of our most commonly used resume format, a linear progression of jobs. Looked at another way, we are the result of a depth and breadth of professional and personal experiences that expand holistically that we draw from daily. When we are in Q3 we are neither young or old. I see it as a time of rich harvest. I don’t think it is so much a lack of self esteem that has us not recognized by ourselves and others, as it is a lack of recognition that things really are different. Only 80 or so years ago life expectancy in this counter was 42. There has never been so many so healthy and destined to live so long. We still think and behave as if 50 is the beginning of decline, rather than a whole new plateau. It’s a whole new game.
• Ronald@Sydney: You have summed up how I feel about myself at this stage in my life (60) when I feel as healthy as I did when I was 30, but having more knowledge, experience and wisdom to go along with it. My response to my employment situation has been to become a full-time writer and part-time college writing instructor.
Businesses and our society have not recognized this new stage which you identify. As a result, I think many of the problems we are experiencing in our country and our world today could have been avoided if the people in your Q3 life quarter were more valued by the powers that be. I’m reminded of the old United Negro College Fund public service announcement: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Our society is not only wasting some of its greatest resources, it is systematically and foolishly discarding them. The question now is, “What do we do about this?” The only answer I have come up with is a Boomer’s movement that rallies this generation to continue to be the force it once was in America. The country’s future may well depend on it.
• William @ Ronald, you have the answer. The Boomer employment movement will get a push forward with the release of the book, “Boomer Breakthrough”, the first in an eight book series from United Boomers of America on what Boomers must do to to get their Boomer Best Work.
UBA, their resources, newsletter, and info on the Boomer Best Work book series will all be out in about two weeks. The website platform is being built as we post. You have great intuition.
• Sydney: I couldn’t agree with you more Ronald. If you look at the demographic – the baby boomer’s are a huge bubble followed by a somewhat smaller one from the Korean war. I do think society is at a crucial “tipping point” and that perhaps it is not an accident that there are so many in this life stage at this time. I “discovered” this stage because not only was I going through it myself, but my older (contemporary) clients almost always included “community” and “contribution” when looking into their desired future. Younger people did not. This was before contribution and community became popular, before the current Boomer’s were of age.You see, it is happening! Look who started this trend … Baby Boomer’s! Culturally we need to redefine what it means to be successful, accomplished and human; what is valuable, what is enough. I think the more this generation distinguishes this time and recognizes it’s opportunity, it will happen.
My original book Choice Points, was supposed to be about this shift but 15 years ago no one knew what I was talking about, so my book which was supposed to be about making a successful transition into this time of life, became a business book about change for all ages. I am back on the book again. It will have, in addition to my process for finding the right expression of one’s authenticity, first person stories of how others have experienced this change so we can begin to define what is “normal.” Every new life stage has the pain and loss offset by what we newly get to do. We need to define the new “get to’s” Any of you want to contribute??? Let me know! (Sorry I’m so long winded!).
• Willam@ Carol, your view is every bit as valid as mine. My experience is based on interviewing 832 Baby Boomers from 34 states. Less than 5% of this sample have advanced degrees. Seven have publishing credits. However, while virtually everyone in the sample has quality experience, less than 42% expressed appreciation of their experience, and most comments included a reference in some way to ” wrong experience for today’s workplace”. All my work is centered only on Boomer employment issues. From my 10 years of focused activity with 304 employers – and the Boomers noted above – my current conclusion is that the majority of Baby Boomers view their employment history, employment possibilities, and current employment situation with a serious lack of self esteem. That’s based on the information available to me at this time. Let’s have further discussion so I can learn more about your experience.
•Ronald:Just think, if millions of Boomers feel the same way, then maybe we can do something about it. Sydney and William, let me know how I can help you get this message out. I’d like to be part of the solution.
Patty Rappa• Amazing points from everyone, thanks so much for your feedback. William, I’d love to learn more about your work because I agree with your point about Boomers needing to overcome self esteem challenges. I’m in the process of writing a book called The Millennial Boomer that will hopefully inspire Boomers to recapture their stride in a strategic new way. As a Gen X member (sandwich generation) we have aging parents and kids and college. We MUST help the Boomer generation become strong again or we will all suffer greater consequences in the end.
A little background on the Millennial Boomer movement: It’s not about how technology is changing the world around us, it’s all about how one frames that change. There’s a unique society made up of Boomers who decided it’s not okay to lose significance in the workplace or quality of lifestyle, due evolving technology. Instead, they choose to learn and empower themselves. In the blog and now the book we celebrate these Millennial Boomers, share the latest tools, marketing tips and stories to fortify the journey.
Why the world desperately needs Boomers: Boomers have the experience today’s youth is lacking. Millennial Boomers are gearing themselves up to learn how to harness the talents of Gen Y and use it to make some extraordinary strides. Gen Y is this giant segment of the population that’s begging for leadership. The ironic part is that these two generations do not know how to work off each others’ strengths. Instead Boomers are trying to overcome their technological weaknesses alone and Gen Y thinks they can do it better “their own way.” The fact is that technology evolves faster than an inexperienced Boomer can keep up with and a Boomer’s years of is experience can never be duplicated by a Gen Y candidate. The two super powers can be successfully combined and I have over 20 case studies that I’ve personally led to prove it.
• Christine: What if this is not about self esteem at all? And what if it is not about age discrimination at all, even though the problems can be attributed to age?
My observation is that it is about two issues, our status in the organisation, and our ability to adjust to bottom line management.
There comes a point for most of us where our “careers” level off at the highest status we are going to achieve. Some get higher in the career ladder than others based on the type of work they do, how well they do it, and how well they play the politics of their particular career. If your career has levelled off at, for example 40, somewhere in the out-paddocks of junior or middle management, young guns on different paths will start to overtake you and become your manager.
My observation is that once we reach our own glass ceiling and are leapfrogged by younger people who are either more talented or more ruthless, we are on the way down. No-one wants to manage people older than they are. If we hang on, for example, where our skills are in high demand but still not hierarchically senior, we might get to the point of being 10-30 years older than our managers. By this stage the game is becoming impossible to play. We have seen 3 or 4 generations of leapfrogging young managers come and go, each bringing “new” ways of doing things. We can no longer hide the look of contempt or boredom in our eyes when the next young manager comes in and makes us change back to the way we were doing things in 1978, 1985, 1993, and 2001. Not again! At that point we become unemployable.
Another problem is pride in one’s work. In my own career as a technical writer, instructional designer and trainer, I have seen our standards drop over the full 25 years I have been in that game. Bottom line economics has brought us to a point where we are documenting and training at a level now that we would have been embarrassed about in the 80s when I started on this particular “career path”. How can we be excited about what we are doing and communicate that excitement when we know we are producing low grade garbage that is below the “fit for purpose” level? At that point we become unemployable.
• Robert: While it is all well and good to laud the strides women and people of color have made in overcoming prejudices in the workplace, the realities are still that women make about 80% of what men make, and all one has to do is to look at board rooms – or the halls of government – to see how far we have yet to go.
Ageism is a tough one to overcome as well. But, if I were to give some little bit of advice, it would be to leave behind the corporate world and its really numbing ways and work in a whole new field. Teaching, coaching, historical preservation, food, performing art, political activism (calmly, please), anything creative. Most of us have long-standing, underused, and in a good sense, under-exploited abilities.
With all due respect to Patty Rappa, who says, “The fact is that technology evolves faster than an inexperienced Boomer can keep up with…” How can a Boomer have gotten this far and be inexperienced when it comes to technologies? Computers have been in the work place for well over 30 years. If you’re behind, catch up. In my opinion, technology for the vast majority of us, save for the most technical of jobs, is a heck of a lot more user-friendly now than it was in 1985 or even 1995.
The key is to actually use new technologies. One finds, however, that at least with social networking technologies – the latest, greatest buzz – that they are simply elaborations of the old back fence, the town crier, and the village gossip (with a rather large dose of village idiots thrown in.)
Think how different your car is from the one you drove 15 years ago. Think of how you listen to music. Think of the remote control on your TV/video system.
Anyone who lived through DOS or worked with COBOL can surely fathom what’s going on now. Just keep up. Rust never sleeps.
There really is nothing new under the sun, but there is always a new jargon to describe such things, new visual packages, new attitudes.
And, it never hurts anyone to go back to school.
Remember what Grandma Moses accomplished beginning at 68!
Patty Rappa • My apologies. I might have misstated my opinion in my last post. Indeed Boomers are just as tech savvy as anyone else. My goodness, we’d be blind to not recognize that it was the Boomer that invented the industry itself. My opinion is simply that there is only one difference between Boomers and the younger generations: PERSPECTIVE. Today we are forced to all identify with the technical culture that has evolved beyond the tech industry itself, true? Simply said, the new culture identifies with technology as THE way of life, vs. being A way of life. The challenge therein lies in the way we choose approach it. In many cases it’s similar to approaching the cultural principles of a foreign land. Gen Y happens to have an advantage because they’ve been heavily conditioned from the easily operate within this technical culture from the start. This conditioning leads them to instinctively seek a technical solution to a problem first and only entertain more traditional route if/when the tech solution is not a fit. Someone used to more traditional systems, in this case a Boomer or even a Gen X candidate, may look to identify the solution to a problem first and incorporate the supporting technology second. Since the latter takes a bit longer, it translates as someone not being “as tech savvy.” Not necessarily so. It’s the tech culture we live in that requires us to reverse our perspective. Why does this reversal happen? It’s also a simple truth. There’s so much rich technology available to do just about everything, that we no longer need to ask how we build a tech solution to fit a problem. We only need to figure out where to find the tech solution. Due to open source and all the programming that’s hit the market over this last decade, the faster, easier route to solving a problem is more than likely available than not. This is where a “Millennial Boomer” stands out miles above all three generations. To start with, a Millennial Boomer approaches this new tech culture we live in with little to no fear. He knows he needs to now view the world through they eyes of a Millenial (Gen Y), so he’s ready to approach the objective from a technical point of view first; however, he’s also got his years of experience bundled under his wing and ready to use stealth fully as he needs it. I’ve seen it happen many times and it executes beautifully. Just gives me chills! I hope that clears up my point of view on the subject a bit more.
• Carol: Great points Robert DiLallo! Especially like the one about DOS and COBOL. So true that what’s old is new again, and baby boomers never stop learning!
• John: As a “senior” member of the professional photography community there are many times I find myself up against younger competitors just starting out who are underbidding, and showing “edgier” portfolios to clients.
When I walk in the door to present our company to a potential client there have been times I wonder if my age will impact our meeting and our getting the assignment.
I can only show our work and discuss the project from a perspective of my years in business, and my view of the consumer the client is trying to reach. At those times I recall a scene and lines from the movie “Cold Mountain”.
In the scene the old Civil War veteran, Inman, encounters the young pup gunfighter, Bosie, looking to build his reputation.
The dialogue goes as follows:
Inman: Come out of there.
Bosie: No, sir. Here’s fine.
Inman: I’ll just have to shoot the horse from under you.
Bosie: Shoot her. She’s not mine. You riding Mr. Teague’s mare?
Inman: I am.
Bosie: He dead?
Inman: I hope so. Look, how old are you? Give me your gun and ride home, I’m done fighting. I’m sick of it.
Bosie: I give you my gun and you’ll shoot me dead.
Inman: I will not shoot you, but nor am I walking down that mountain looking over my shoulder for you.
Bosie: That’s what you call a conundrum. I tell you what I’ve got on my side.
Inman: What have you got on your side?
Bosie: The confidence of youth.
Inman: And I have the experience of age.
We “older executives” may be a bit battle scarred and weary from the fight, but don’t count us out. Don’t bet against us.
When the confidence of youth overextends itself and fails to anticipate a problem…it’s the experience of age that is usually called upon for a solution.
We must value ourselves and recognize our experience is worth great deal even in this new tech world full of the overconfidence of youth.
• Ronald @ John: I agree with your conclusion. For some strange, unknown reason, society attributes more positives to professionals in their thirties and forties and less to those over fifty. I’m more accomplished, more experienced and more knowledgable today than I was twenty years ago. When you consider the additional wisdom I have in the form of intuition, I’m even better at what I do as a professional communicator than I ever was. As a result, I’m proving this to myself and others every day in what I do now as a writer and a marketer. The old stereotypes about age in the workplace are dying a slow death, but I believe Boomers will speed things up in the coming decade. I’m doing my part.
Patty Rappa• I think what I’m gathering is that Boomers today are indeed still very much in control of their perceived value in the market. I don’t say that candidly either. As I read each post, I can see the challenges, real challenges to not be taken lightly. However, these challenges are talked about as simply a part of the life you are now living, but NOT a part of your identity. Instead, each of you have chosen to recognize a past season of your professional lives that has held greater value for you. These higher moments have become the template of the standard you want for your life now, a form of professional identity if you will. You’re not blind to the fact there are other Boomers that are NOT choosing to live by the same standard you have and you empathize with those people. However, you personally are not willing to veer from what you’ve upheld as your personal standard and value. So my question therein lies in asking you “How?” How would you propose Boomer executives, that do not have the same standard of excellence or the positive perspective you hold, reframe the perception of their value in the market place? Please share…