In today’s equity-charged environment, media is quick to point out perpetrators of racist, sexist and even homophobic comments. Such moments of indiscretion have resulted in politicians leaving office and business leaders stepping down. In this way, media helps to identify and teach what is culturally inappropriate. However, when it comes to ageist comments, it’s a different story.
The student newspaper of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, recently published the headline ‘Jabberwocks audition cards reveal racist, sexualizing comments–Jabberwocks to postpone auditions indefinitely in response to revelations.’ The New York Times published the departure of Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of JAMA, after an outcry over his suggestion that racism needed to be removed from the conversation about structural racism in medicine.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori resigned after apologizing for sexist remarks that resulted in international outrage. Mike Richards stepped down as the executive producer for Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune after the media called him out on misogynistic and disparaging comments. Newsweek reported ‘You Don’t Belong Here,’ a statement made by a male mechanic to his female colleague.
If outing inappropriate remarks is in, then why isn’t ageism called out the same way?
Because ageism has been so deeply ingrained into the culture that it is considered acceptable–even though it is not.
And that’s got to change.
This Generational Reference Is Not Okay
A Bloomberg article published in June by Anders Melin and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou highlighted some of the reasons why employees were leaving their jobs instead of returning to the office. ‘Employees Are Quitting Instead of Giving Up Working From Home’ includes the experience of Portia Twidt, who quit her job after she was required to attend an in-person meeting that lasted only six minutes. Who would argue how unreasonable that sounds?
However, the article brazenly frames Twidt’s issue as a generational one.
And for Twidt, there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.
“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”
Ouch! is the word Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practitioners tell colleagues to use when they hear offensive language. It’s a safe way of course-correcting in the moment and teaching others what is and isn’t appropriate.
To Bloomberg and Twidt, hear a loud and collective Ouch!
Working styles, like personalities, are individual. Not all younger people want to WFH, and not all older people who manage teams insist that everyone is in the office.
What Twidt experienced is not a boomer power-play. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with personal preference. Essentially Twidt experienced something unpleasant with someone she put between the ages of 57 – 75. She then used that experience to label an entire cohort of people.
Not only is the notion preposterous, but it also undermines efforts to build strong, trusting multigenerational workplaces. It’s ageist and inappropriate. Both Bloomberg and Twidt declined to comment.
Inequities of Equity Issues
There is no way to compare the damage sustained from systemic injustices that follow a person throughout their lifetime to one that is experienced depending on age. One equity issues cannot be measured against another–they are not created equally, nor are they in competition.
However, age adds a layer of potential bias and discrimination to other dimensions of diversity. One reason why women of color over the age of 50 face higher job rejection and unemployment rates.
Inequities must be removed wherever they show up. If people are unwilling to acknowledge and discuss age bias and stereotypes, then nothing will change.
Change takes a community effort. Just look at #BLM or #MeToo. Those are movements that have created change–and continue to do so. And that’s just what it will take to generate awareness and necessary cultural change around workplace age equity.
We need the media, in particular, to be age woke. Instead of perpetuating ageist thought, like the Bloomberg article, we need writers and editors to be aware of the different ways bias shows up and to label it for what it is so that others can learn from it.