Drawing Attention to Ageism
October 7, 2023, is a benchmark day. The American Society on Aging has proclaimed that October 7 is Ageism Awareness Day. This has special meaning to me because over the past 15 years I have personally encountered ageism.
In September of 1999, I started on an ambitious learning journey that resulted in a BA in Gerontology, a LNHA (Licensed Nursing Home Administrator), and a master’s degree in Gerontological Studies. When I completed graduate school, I was 53 years old. I didn’t have any job offers coming out of school and when I did apply for Nursing Home Administrators jobs, there were only crickets in response. Meaning I never got a response – ever. Online job applications are where older candidates’ applications go to die!
I had little success in finding a job that capitalized on my education. Finally, as I was scouring the internet for jobs in aging services, I came across an open position for an Aging in Place Director for a small Area Agency on Aging. The agency was looking for a gerontologist and I happened to fit the bill. A couple of years after I was there, I recommended a young man for a position at the agency. He had just graduated from nursing school and was serving as a volunteer for the Agency. I thought he would be a good fit. A couple of weeks after he started as a Care Manager, he was promoted, and I was demoted! He was now my supervisor! I Inquired with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about age discrimination in the workplace and they felt that I could possibly have a case or at least merit an investigation. I left the agency and never filed the complaint.
Now I was in my 60s. I had no reliable income. I would take a shot of responding to job advertisements, but the applications made it impossible to highlight experience because there was always a way to find out how old you were. Just recently I responding to a job posting because I knew everything about what this position required. I was a perfect fit! My resume was auto filled into the application. But as soon as I went through the document filling in the gaps of information, I came across a section on education. It was a detailed section on the start and completion years from each institution and the degree acquired. This information was required, or you couldn’t proceed with the application. My first undergraduate degree was from a long time ago!! At that point I knew I would never get a response. And I haven’t. It is infuriating because I had experience in every part of the job description.
Ageism is insidious. There are many of us in our 60s, 70s, and even 80s who have so much to offer in knowledge and experience. The efforts by ASA to bring to light the discrepancies around age and ability is coming at a critical time for many of us. When you haven’t experienced ageism, you don’t see the problem that it presents. Longevity is real and it is about time that the light shines on the capabilities of older adults instead of focusing on the declines of aging.