Gray Matters – A rant about Ageism

gno grey matter tee

Cool tee from Gno Streetwear Says it all


I’m ticked off and stymied by some recent things I’ve seen as ageism towards GenX.  Age discrimination is often not taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination. 

Ageism can be combated through inclusive planning and design which reflects the circumstances of persons of all ages to the greatest extent possible. Age diversity that exists in society should be reflected in business  for policies, programs, services, facilities and so forth so that physical, attitudinal and systemic barriers are not created.  Where barriers already exist, those responsible should identify them and take steps to remove them.

Ageism, can have the same economic, social and psychological impact as any other form of discrimination. I can attest to that based on a recent experience with Company X.

I’m not your average bear when it comes to putting myself out there looking for a new position.  I’m very selective about where I want to work, and I approach the whole process like a job in itself. I’ll research a company for months, get to know their management and staff on line, and listen to their customers. Why? because I’m recruiting them as much as they’re recruiting me. And I’m picky.

Company X intrigued me. Product is similar to what I’m an expert in, but in a vertical channel that is growing as an industry.  Feels like something I could be very passionate about working with.  I’ve been dancing with them for months, including multiple interviews that seemed to go well. The feedback was certainly good, with one exception that’s been bugging me for weeks now.

A big goal they had in Professional Services was to put better business analysis processes in place. I won’t post my résumé here, but “Hello, this is what I DO. WELL. One quick look at LinkedIn recommendations would confirm that for ya.”

Most of the ‘not now’ feedback was stellar and made me feel like a million bucks, except for this part:

“… Although X feels that you have a great background that could transition over, our consulting services are aren’t as mature as we’d like at this point to be able to take best advantage of your skills. Although your interviewers were most impressed, they feel that we wouldn’t be able to offer you the right fit in Delivery, yet… ”

That’s been rattling around in my brain since August.  (Note I highlighted the word ‘mature’, because we’ll circle back around to that in a minute.) Many things flitted around in my grey matter as to what that meant, none sticky enough, or logical enough, to make me feel better about not getting a role with a company I want to work for and know I could help with continued growth & success.

Until today.  As another step in the dance, a VP invited me out for a coffee chat, just because we’ve met online in twitter and she wanted to put a human face to the persona that occasionally tweets about them.  So I met with a lovely Lady about my age (GenX), with an incredible sense of style and keen business savvy. One of my tribe.

She had no idea that I’d had any past exposure to the company via interviews, but I was quite candid about the high level of frustration others like myself must feel seeing those same jobs posted over and over each week on the local tech job board. Without saying it precisely this way, I was clearly stating, “WTH – that is nuts.”

I did twist my thinking around after hearing this response, “Let me add some context to that. Our company’s median age is in low-mid 20’s. That was great when we were a startup and needed that energy as a startup, but now we are realizing we need to get people in the door who don’t need to be taught their jobs, or how to manage a critical issue, but can hit the ground running to get things done.”

*bing – lightbulb goes on* Ah, so the previous interviewers really meant I was too mature in age for the department, and not in skill set. Oddly that made me feel a lot better.  I know I have the skillz, and dying the gray hair doesn’t affect my abilities to use my gray matter. In other words, this is their issue, not a weakness or failure on my part. We old folks can be intimidating, I guess. *rolling my eyes as I type that*

Another friend, who is one of the keenest consultants I’ve had the great fortune to work with, is contemplating a career move of his own. A recruiting specialist told him last week, “You might be too old to be employable in Enterprise these days.”  He’s 47 and runs 6 miles a day. huh?

Now I feel a rant about reverse ageism.  What is it with these younger managers, especially in successful startups that prevent them from understanding just how much gray matters? I’ll pit decades of success after deep-diving in any industry over a GenY holding a newly-minted college or university degree out as a reason to be higher up on the hiring pile.

And I guarantee that us old fogeys will be far more innovative and creative in approaching any business issue you can throw at us.

A common refrain heard too often from my contemporaries, “I know more about what this role really entails and requires than the person/s interviewing me.”

I’m sure it is a lot more fun to fill an office with like-minded people enjoying the same trendy amusements that appeal to youth entering the professional work force, but it’s not a very bright business management game plan for the long-term strategy. 

I’ll continue my dance with company X. I think they’ve got a product to be very proud of, and I’m certain of their success.  I’m also hoping that today’s conversation cast a little illumination on an internal issue that is more widespread than many realize.

Hiring managers: Upgrade Your Team’s Gray Matter, because Gray Matters and can bring you instant street credibility.

Have any workplace ageism stories?  How did you deal with it?