April NMRT Discussion Summary for Responding to Ageism in the Workplace

Responding to Ageism in the Workplace

By: Elayna Turner

This discussion covered experiences from participants relating to ageism as well as their thoughts and suggestions on how to best counter it. Regardless of whether someone is a new professional or they have been in the workforce for a while, ageism can affect anyone. This discussion showed a wide range of experiences that people have had, such as:

  • Being mistaken as a volunteer/student and needing to explain their credentials
  • Feeling like one is “too young” to be taken seriously or land a job
  • Feeling as though one is disrupting the status quo of the workplace with new ideas
  • Difficulties in finding employment across different age groups

These are situations that many professionals have run into at some point. I know that I have experienced a few of these myself. Casey explained an experience where she “was often mistaken for a volunteer and…asked what high schools we attended.” Kate noted a similar experience where “people would walk into my office and ask how a student got an office.” While this kind of talk from people doesn’t typically intend to offend the recipient, that doesn’t diminish the harmful effects this dialog can have on a professional who feels the need to constantly defend the positions and degree they have earned.

Julie had an experience where she described being someone who pursued their library school degree in her mid-40’s but found that she still experienced ageism. She felt “looked down” on because she felt that she was the “…pesky part-timer that got ‘too big for her britches’. Second, my eagerness to try new things in my role of Program/Outreach librarian seems to be challenging for those who would rather keep the same programming and services we’ve had for the past 30-40 years.” She also raised a good point that sometimes it may not be your actual age that is the problem, but simply being the new person or being the one to initiate new ideas can cause conflict with coworkers.

While there were plenty of different issues discussed, participants also discussed ideas for combating ageism such as:

  • Dressing professionally and wearing nametags to identify you as library staff
  • Interacting positively with coworkers and building rapport
  • Being confident in your skills
  • Attending relevant diversity workshops

Sierra described a workshop called “The Multigenerational Workforce” that had ageism as one of the topics and that it “help(ed) attendees by providing ideas on how to combat ageism and tools to be better communicators.” It is undoubted that workshops promoting the understanding of diversity in all of its forms can be highly beneficial for all. Ingrid suggested “dressing professionally but ‘modern’, wearing my name tag to identify myself as library staff, and interacting with co-workers to show that I am relatable and current.” This too is a great way to help one put forward the image of the person they want to be seen as and can help to mitigate instances of being seen as just a volunteer or student.

Leigh also provided a great piece of advice that all can definitely use: “The best I can say is to be confident in yourself and your skill.” Confidence in one’s self is certainly the best place to start when faced with ageism in the workplace. Building up your own belief in yourself, knowing your own value, and showing that confidence to others is a big step in combating ageism and creating a positive work environment. When it comes to ageism, we may not be able to stop these situations from happening, but changing how we respond to them can make all of the difference.
In addition, a good article to check out was shared as well: Baby Face In the Workplace which can be accessed here: http://inalj.com/?p=90871

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