Discussion Part II: Which is more difficult: A.) Changing how the world values an aging executive in the market or B.) Changing how an aging executive values himself in the market?

• Ronald@Patty: How? Two primary ways:
1. The misperception of me as a Boomer in the workplace is akin to the misperceptions others have had about me throughout my life. We all experience this phenomenon. We either accept these false views or we don’t and prove them wrong.

2. Boomers have been a large, influential group throughout their lives. In fifty years they have helped shape a social revolution in this country and around the world; destroying harmful stereotypes and leveling the playing field for women and minorities in the workplace. Now that Boomers are victims of stereotyping and discrimination in the workplace, they need to fight them the same way they have fought other injustices throughout their lives. Since women and minorities are a subset of all Boomers, they know a lot about this. It’s older white guys like me who need to begin asserting themselves now for the first time.

I believe that there will be a Boomers movement to address this issue. It just hasn’t manifested itself yet. If I’m wrong, I will continue to go about my business and change perceptions one person at a time as I have throughout my life. Letting others define me is just not acceptable.

•Sydney: Boy, do I love these conversations!

I agree with both of you. I think what I’m reading between the lines is that Boomer’s, or at least a fair amount of them in high places, are not willing to play second fiddle to anyone – particularly someone younger than they are.Essentially, what we are suggesting is they set aside what they have earned and the way of being that got them there. It sounds like you, Ronald, have found a way to get around that by focusing your energy toward changing the perception that it is even necessary. I think what you have done is an example, or metaphor for what others can do. You have not diminished your power or experience, but are applying it to an area that you are personally invested in and that you have done the “homework” to accomplish. The fire is in the challenge – you have rekindled, or sustained the fire by redirecting it to an area that is meaningful to you – and,your age is an asset rather than a deterrent.

So in answer to your question Patty, I think it is for them to look at what they really want to do to have at the end of it all to have had a life very well lived. What have they not yet accomplished or experienced? What are they interested in personally? Where can they put their time and energy so they can leave life with no stone unturned. What is a little scary, and or seemingly impossible that would be worth devoting their time to. What can they cause or influence if not actually do?
• Linda: Interesting points from all. Robert DiLallo I especially like your points. After 35 years as a Corp IT professional I decided enough of the corp world. Before covering my current activities here is my perspective on the corporate world.

While there were younger members in the Corporate manager ranks and a desire to introduce younger, more “globalized techs” into the mix, there was also recognition of the “knowledge bank” held by the older employees. The problem was no “prior model” on how to create such a mix from an employee and job structure perspective. I don’t think it is an “ageism” issue as much as it is a lack of the larger corporate model to adapt policies, procedures and values quickly enough to respond to the pace of change in today’s business world. The quick easy corporate answers are outsourcing and lay-offs. A friend used the phrase “you can’t turn a aircraft carrier as quickly as you can turn a small boat”. Thus, frustration and a business conundrum that has impacted boomers significantly.

btw, anyone in the corporate workforce over the past several decades has learned that the only thing consistent about technology is that it will change every 6 – 18 months. Thus, I agree that Boomers adapting to changing technology is not the core problem.

In the past couple years I’ve become engaged in the small business world in the local community and it is wonderful. Boomers are highly valued as they start up new ventures and often advise younger counterparts trying to be an entrepreneur. It is a great opportunity for Boomers to take their valuable skills and knowledge and leverage it in a new way and I think this is a great way for Boomers to be heard and change perspectives in the upcoming decade.

I’m doing my part by helping Boomers overcome any discomfort in finding and using Internet apps and tools. Hopefully, Boomers will be more active and use their “social Internet voices” to be heard, spread their message and change perspectives in the process.
• Christine: One thing I have started doing – and I am embarrassed it has taken me so long, is selling my age as an asset. For many years we were brainwashed into hiding or minimising our age – particularly in our 40s – until we reached that age where we cannot do that any more. Now I am selling it. As a freelance contractor, I look for new roles and customers all the time, but I have not been doing this for long enough to be sure of results.

However, if we all start saying in our applications for work, or in our approaches to potential customers that we are valuable because of our age rather than despite our age, we will be believed eventually. The human brain only needs to hear something two or three time to take it on board, so by the time a person has heard three boomers extolling the virtues of their age and wearing it proudly, they will start to believe it, particularly if that person actually does prove their worth and makes sure everyone knows they have proven their worth.

The attributes I am “selling” at present relate to the value of experience, I can respond to problems quickly and effectively, I can change course rapidly if the chosen path is not working out, I work without supervision, I solve problems, I pre-empt potential crises etc. I can do this because I have seen it all before and have a library of known and successful options.

I would be interested to see how others sell their age as an asset. I think we can all benefit from a comprehensive list. If we all do it, we will change perceptions quickly.
• Linda: Great points Christine and good “selling” points!
• Sydney: Absolutely Christine! The only thing I would ad to the list is the value of our corporate, or industry, memory and knowledge. I had a client who’s job was eliminated 2 years before her retirement at Harvard. She created a job for a 2 year project that the university needed and she was uniquely qualified for.
• Christine: As a contractor, I don’t have corporate knowledge, although this may apply to others. But as a contractor I have a vast breadth of knowledge and great flexibility – so much so that I look at corporate environments now and see them as lumbering along at least 10 years out of date in their use of IT technology. Far from being behind the game, I am way ahead of the game – at least in my own eyes. I see that they have simply not adapted to the latest web technology, seeing it as kids stuff rather than immensely powerful collaboration and networking tools that can be put to serious use. I see their learning and information communication methodologies as archaic, primitive, lumbering and next to useless. However, I know I cannot sell myself into that space. Why would any youngster listen to a 60 year old telling them they are old fashioned and out of date?
• Sydney: Christine, Because you are not asking, you are letting them know of this opportunity and because you believe in yourself. (Be sure to let them know how cost effective it is going to be).
25 – 30 or so years ago the futurist Charles Handy predicted that people who had retired would be asked back in to the workplace because they had the technical knowledge and training younger people did’t have.
• Sharon: Wow! what an amazing dialogue I read every comment and could not wait to get to the next one. So much insight into the values of an aging executive, age discrimination, ageism, boomers and lack of self-esteem and employment for boomers. I too would love to be part of the solution; hopefully we can continue to share our experiences and knowledge and learn for one another. I have just formed an advocacy group for seniors providing much needed information enabling them to make informed decisions “Seniors Information Network” consisting of an estate lawyer, trustee in bankruptcy, financial planner, realtor, independent resident specialist and myself senior move manager. Again I want to thank each of you for sharing your expertise with us, I was spellbound reading your comments.
Sharon Wittal
Quality Life Solutions for Seniors

• Sydney: How great – a new voice! Thank you for your lovely comments Sharon, and best of luck on your new venture, it sounds wonderful!

A question for you Sharon – for all of us actually. How old is a “Senior?” A colleague of mine has written a book for caregivers, and because of her I have visited some of the caregivers sites although I am not one. They seem to refer to the people being served, often aging parents, as “Seniors.”. That feels older than I am (69). Am I in denial?

• Christine: Sydney, there is something really disturbing going on with regard to “seniors” that we are refusing to accept – me also. There seems to be a point at which we are expected to abdicate control over our own lives, and others start making decisions for us. If you note what is going on with seniors magazines, government policy and the like, it is all about what “they” (the young ones) are going to do for or to “give” us (the mentally incompetent).

Even the wording from Sharon above “I have just formed an advocacy group for seniors providing much needed information enabling THEM to make informed decisions.” Note the “them” rather than the “us”. As we have been empowered to research our own problems and provide our own solutions all of our lives, at what point do we become mentally incompetent and need others to help us do that, or do that for us. If we think we need groups, then let us create political pressure groups to get what we want, not advocacy groups to act for us because we are not capable of acting for ourselves.

These attitudes relating to our supposed mental incompetence are all pervading in our culture and may have been true in the past. The little lady stayed at home, and her big strong man worked all his life, paid all the bills, made all the decisions, and died within a year of his retirement. At this point the little lady is now left alone and utterly incapable of managing her own life or even paying her bills. She WAS incompetent. But we are not, so we have to change social attitudes fast if we do not want THEM to take over our lives and start making our decisions for us.

The baby boomers have changed the world and re-defined life all the way through our lives, and we are about to do it again – or die in the attempt.
• Ronald@Christine: Yes, when will Boomers express themselves as a group to correct the misperceptions in the marketplace that label us as being less than we once were rather than being more than we ever were simply because of our age?

There is a big disconnect in our society about this which manifests itself in workplace discriminatory practices. And it is harmful to everyone because Boomers have the knowledge, experience, skills and wisdom that could be put to good use to solve the problems were are facing now in the world. If the Boomers don’t do something about it, nobody else will.

I’m saddened because many Boomers in positions of power are part of the problem rather than being part of the solution.
• Carol: There is no shortage of organizations that offer advice, support, job hunting and career changing/crisis management tips for boomers. Advocates may be good for motivation and morale, but they are not going to change the culture. And if the implication is that aging workers need the support of advocacy groups so they can make more informed? decisions in our edgier? workforce (and I hope that is not the point), well, that is as scary and idiotic as it gets. Activism on the part of boomers themselves, not simply advocacy, may be the next step. Not that we want to create a revolution–there are enough other problems going on right now that will likely cause that before we do. But, if we are truly in crisis, then yeah, maybe some kind of revolution is in order.
•Christine: How do we organise the activism part, Carol? I’m in.

We have the ludicrous situation in Australia where one of the contenders in our upcoming elections is promising to pay employers $3000 to employ us! Again, he is simply acting on the assumption that we are worth less than our younger counterparts and so have to be subsidised. They are also talking about subsidising our retraining or upskilling. have no intention of either re-training or being told how to up-skill. I am still more capable of doing the job I do than the vast majority of those younger than me, and I have no intention of accepting a totally invalid assumption that I am somehow deficient and that is why youngsters do not want to employ me. They don’t want to employ me because I am better than them, know more than them, can achieve more than them,and remind them of their mothers.

However, that does not mean I am not re-focussing my future – have been for a while – and training myself in whatever I take to be necessary to move as I want to move.
• Robert: Perhaps the best network that can be formed is Boomers Employing Boomers? I was speaking to my ex-wife yesterday evening, who is in the Ft. Lauderdale area and works as a printing salesperson. She told me that at 58 she is one of the youngest on the sales team and that there are many people on their 70s still selling, putting in a full work day. It’s interesting because printing is one of the most technology-driven businesses there is, and it is manufacturing. She also noted that many of the pressmen – and they are all men – are primarily in their 40s, 50s and 60s because guess what? It takes that long to master the industrial art!
• Christine: Robert – not just employing but buying from. I find the mature age people discriminate against mature age people just as much as youngsters do. But I think you will find a simple fact that there are not enough of us in power positions to make much of a difference. My perception is that it is an illusion that boomers are in power positions. Maybe there are some younger people who are technically called boomers, but who are not in any sociological sense, boomers, may still have some influence, but there are not many older boomers with much influence at all.
• Robert: Hi… not to be contrary for the sake of argument, but I find that there are a lot of Boomers in power positions here in NYC. Of course now many are slipping away into their 2nd or 3rd or more careers, leaving the “rat race,” but I’m hard-pressed to think of many major industries that are dominated by non Boomers – well maybe some people in their early 40s now. Hah – except my own field – advertising and marketing, although I see a graying there, too. BTW, when I say Boomers, I mean the full gamut, from 64 to 46.
• Carol: Activism is always a risk, but allowing a practice that is inherently wrong is a greater risk.
I’ve visited many of the job sites that purport to post opportunities for mature workers, and I have to say the jobs, if there are any, are mostly entry level survival jobs—opportunities for retirees who are really just looking for something to do or jobs that may supplement existing income–but are not going to pay a mortgage or even rent for a studio apartment in the part of the country where I live. The “Boomers Employ Boomers” is a great idea, but the dilemma is not just an economic one. It is cultural, political and systemic. If we can only work for and with each other, the larger problem is not solved.

•Robert: So the question is: how? What are the nuts and bolts? Anyone have any ideas? I have a great friend – was THE marketing director for 7/11, Blockbuster about 15 years ago, TGIF Friday’s and when he retired I warned him he shouldn’t. Now to fill his time between golf games – guess what he’s doing? He’s the guard/concierge at a self-storage facility outside Phoenix. He loves it. But, naturally, he doesn’t need the money. Just does it as some sort of strange side gig, time-killer. But those are the jobs that are the ones you’re describing, Carol.
• Christine: What are you saying Robert? So far I have heard you say there are plenty of jobs for boomers in boomer focussed companies, that boomers ARE filling the senior positions and that we can take trivial work because we are all self-funded retirees. So you really believe that there is not a problem? If there is a problem, can you specifically state what you think it is rather than what it is not?

• Christine: Carol – “It is cultural, political and systemic.” Absolutely… and economic.

• Robert: Well, it was an anecdote, not the way to heaven. I said I did not see the problem here in NYC. I felt that Carol was describing such jobs. I don’t necessarily agree there even is a huge problem. Across the U.S. the Boomer unemployment rate is 7.6%, much less than the sytem-wide rate which is 9.5%. Couple that with Boomers’ desires to keep working, I’m not sure, beyond our immediate overall problems, that Boomer employment is a problem. However, Boomers tend to stay unemployed longer than other cadres. 35 weeks on average. But that may be due to factors beyond “can’t find a job.” Could be balking at pay, status, the right situation, relocation, etc. See my post previous to the Phoenix story. (Perhaps my old friend will work his way up to management at self-storage. Who knows? Who knows what he wants to do? It is the variety of solutions that is impressive. Not the particulars of any one path.)

• Christine: OK Robert, so I read that as saying that you don’t think there is a problem. If that is the case, then you can add nothing to a conversation about finding a solution.

I certainly have no interest in arguing with you about whether or not there is a problem. This is not a theoretical discussion or an academic debate ABOUT boomers. It is a SHARING AMONGST boomers who have experienced the problem and have some experience with finding personal solutions.

If you have not experienced this and do not have anything to share, I wonder why you are in the conversation at all.

• Robert: Perhaps your reading comprehension is off. I said “I don’t necessarily agree there even is a huge problem.” The operative word is “huge.” Additionally, one doesn’t have to experience something to either understand it or to offer perspective on it. (Think doctors doing corrective surgery on a knee.) Of course, I acknowledge many, many Boomers are out of work and want to work. That doesn’t make the problem systemic or irretrievable. Statistics are telling us it is worse for other demographic groups. I’d also love to know how the educational level of Boomers is playing out in this scenario. Many lower level jobs are physical and difficult at 60 or 64. In the more white collar fields, I’m willing to wager that those without work are rigid in their approach, closed to new ideas, and probably not willing to listen to new and unusual perspectives. having one’s eyes opened across a broad spectrum is difficult for some. Perhaps the trouble is not in the stars, but in ourselves. I’m pretty much a glass half full person. Try it, you might like it.

• Christine: “I’m willing to wager that those without work are rigid in their approach, closed to new ideas, and probably not willing to listen to new and unusual perspectives. having one’s eyes opened across a broad spectrum is difficult for some. ”

So I was right. Good thing I pressed the point before you “spoiled” the conversation for the rest of us.

The rest of you, these are hard things to talk about when we are up against the kinds of prejudices Robert is voicing. He has effectively accused us all of being rigid and closed – in other words, of being at fault in our current situation. I ask you not to chicken out. There is much still to be gained by sharing our experiences, and most importantly, sharing our successes and solutions.

Now I will stay quiet until others respond. It remains to be seen if Robert has succeeded in intimidating you into a sense of personal failure, or a sense of shame, with the inevitable retreat into silence.

• Robert: I’m not talking about anyone else, Christine. I’m talking about you. I think you’ve spoiled it by attacking my observations. I feel perfectly free to defend my viewpoints in the face of someone who clearly has some sort of weird ax to grind. The facts is the facts, Christine. If you want to view the world form your peephole, be my guest. But unhappy is as unhappy does.

I didn’t realize you were in charge of telling us how to interpret the original questions posed. Hey, maybe you can turn bossiness into a paying gig.

• Sydney: Oh my …. Isn’t communication fun.

As I watched this accelerate I thought of putting in my 2 cents but decided to stay out if it. Then this evening I scrolled back up and looked at Patty’s original question – “Which is more difficult: A.) Changing how the world values an aging executive in the market or B.) Changing how an aging executive values himself in the market?” These last few additions look like a pretty good demonstration of the inherent difficulties in both.
To unscramble this and get back to our conversation,

I’m thinking a useful first step might be to separate facts from feelings. Robert has stated a fact and questioned what it might imply, Christine is stating her experience and feelings. It’s a little bit apples and Oranges isn’t it? And they are both thoughtful (taking thought), and valid. I’m thinking/seeing that we simply cannot move forward solving the big picture in any meaningful way without being responsible for our individual perspectives and mindful of continuing to look for solutions rather than being “right.” (Right? 😉

• Christine:Yes, I maintain my right to talk about feelings and experiences. Nothing has accelerated. We have simply clarified the starting premises of two participants, and to date I have not called anyone names.

If this is not about our own experiences, and is about experts telling us who we are and what we are to do, I don’t want any part of it. We are either empowered to discuss, address and solve our own problems as we experience them or we allow ourselves to be dictated to by experts. The research matters not one toss to me. I care about people.

So someone has to arbitrate. Is this a conversation about boomers empowering ourselves and other boomers, or is it about being told we are rigid, closed, and when we object to being accused of that, being told we are viewing the world through a peephole and bossy?

You can’t have it both ways Sydney. Either we feel safe to share or we do not.

• Robert: Sydney… right. 🙂

• Patty: Wow! Lots to think about! I’m encouraged to read these today more than ever because of a phone call I received earlier this afternoon. I had a headhunter call me, not unusual, happens every now and then; but this one was a bit different. One of the first questions she asked me was how old I was. I’ve NEVER had anyone ask me that before. I’m not sure if anyone is familiar with the advertising and marketing industry, but we have a tick-toc career that ends earlier than most. By age 35 you’d better be on your way to doing something significant on your own, because the agencies don’t want you anymore. It’s all about young fresh ideas, blah, blah, blah. Feelings of inferiority crept up and I felt the need to prove something to her. I paused for a moment and replied “35”. She quickly responded “Oh, well you’re still okay.” What! I was shocked to hear it, but I was even more shocked at how small she made me feel! Why did I feel the need to even respond to her? Why did I give her that power over me? What if I was 45, 55, 65? Was I not allowed to play her headhunt game anymore? It was a moment of great insight and one I will soon not forget.

Christine/Robert: I don’t think it is healthy to silence anyone who has something to say about the issues Boomers face in the marketplace, especially another Boomer. While I disagree about some of the things you both have shared, I also agree with other things you both have said. How will we ever be able to speak as one large, powerful group if we can’t even do so in a discussion like this?

•Ronald@Patty: Yes, I’ve been in PR/marketing for most of my career and was lucky enough to continue working in it with big companies until I was 57. This thing the profession has about only employing younger people is a sad reality that hurts everyone involved. The presidents and CEOs of these companies are mostly Boomers and it is their responsibility to change things but they apparently need some encouragement. 

Robert:  Says Christine: “We are either empowered to discuss, address and solve our own problems as we experience them or we allow ourselves to be dictated to by experts.The research matters not one toss to me. I care about people.”

Of course research is cold comfort in one on one encounters. But, if what we are talking about here is something broader – beyond our family, or small circle of friends – then it’s best to master all the (presumed) facts one can. Naturally it doesn’t make a difference to a single individual if he/she is the only person unemployed or struggling, But, I think it’s helpful to know that an epidemic isn’t really an epidemic and that even if you do catch the fever there are many roads to recovery.

On top of that, expert surveys and trend-line spotting can be extremely helpful in solving individual problems. For instance, if you are a nurse and your hospital closes, but you discover that there is a huge demand for after-surgery nursing care somewhere else and that’s not your specialty, it might behoove you to hie yourself to a few courses, or somehow be retrained to become marketable. But, if all you counted on were your gut instincts and one-on-one information exchanges while shunning experts and statistics, you wouldn’t even have that first step knowledge unless you happened to luck into it.

Allowing knowledge from “experts” to affect us or not has nothing to do with dictatorship. Amazingly enough, researchers also care about people. To demean their activities and contributions to society isn’t fair to an entire profession. 

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