Ageism in the workplace: What it is and how to deal
I’ve been striving to share more career related blog posts on West Coast Aesthetic and the more people ask me about what my job entails, how I landed my dream career and how I stay creative, the more I realized it was necessary. As a 25-year old Art Director in the creative/tech world, I’m constantly determining how to best navigate my way in the professional workplace. I hope that you’ll be along for the journey as I start to share some of this new content with you!
Today I’m sharing a very personal and sensitive topic to me that I've been on the fence about sharing on West Coast Aesthetic for a while. AGEISM. For those that aren't familiar with the term, ageism is discrimination on the basis of a person's age.
I struggle with ageism DAILY in the professional workplace being a 25-year-old Art Director. I am constantly battling feelings of: not being good enough, not proving myself enough (or having to prove myself 100x more than anyone else older than me), not sticking up for myself or my work enough and not being taken seriously.
When you're younger (or the youngest) in a role that holds seniority, you feel significant pressure to prove to others why you got the job and why you're good at your job. You constantly feel like you have something to prove to those that say the following to you on a regular basis:
"Oh, you were were alive when (insert life event that yes, I was alive for *eye roll*) happened?"
"When I was your age..." - and the person is not even five years older than you.
"You're so young!" - no, we're actually only three years apart.
"People your age" - and your point is?
Haven't we all heard at least one of these comments before? The frustrating part about ageism in the workplace is that it can hinder you from doing your job when you get caught up in the pressure of proving yourself to those that put you down for your age - whether they do it intentionally or unintentionally, it's not a good feeling. Sorry, I was born in 1992, sue me.
The reality is, you have to determine your mental mindset when you're at work and experiencing discriminatory comments about your age that make you feel down on yourself, your work ethic and skill set. After deep diving into ageism and how and why it bothers me, I've decided to share my Top 10 ways to address and deal with ageism in the workplace:
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM TO GROW AND LEARN. No matter how old you are there is always room to grow and learn in any role you are in! Take the opportunity to learn from your coworkers, manager and each project you are on to improve, challenge yourself and acknowledge what you did well. Remember, there's a difference between cockiness and confidence. Be humble and acknowledge that no one is the ultimate expert and we're all responsible in navigating through our careers as we go - you just have to be willing to learn along the way.
2. ASK QUESTIONS. Whenever I feel stuck in a situation at work, I ask questions. In my current role, I've had to learn to be more confident in asking questions even if I feel like they are ones I should already know the answer to. I've also had to learn that asking questions doesn't mean you are young and naive - in fact, it proves you are willing to learn. There are no dumb questions.
3. TALK TO YOUR MANAGER. If you're feeling conflicted with ageism in the workplace and how to navigate through/around it, set aside time with your manager to discuss the issues you are facing and how it is hindering you from doing your job. Your manager should work with you to support you and be an advocate for you. Being vulnerable with your manager about these types of issues doesn't make you appear weak, it proves you are wanting your professional workplace to be an equal and positive environment for EVERYONE to thrive, judgement-free.
4. LEAN ON YOUR COWORKERS. Having work BFF's is so important because they are your #1 support system when you're on the job (and often times, outside of the job!) Sometimes it can be hard to share issues you are having in the workplace with friends, family or a significant other if they aren't experiencing what you experience on the day to day. Befriending coworkers of all skill sets, personalities, ages and backgrounds to lean on when times get tough is important because they can relate to you and support you in different ways.
5. HAVE AN OPEN DISCUSSION. If you're experiencing the negative effects of ageism in the workplace it's important to recognize you can have an open, honest and professional discussion about it.
If you're having issues revolving around ageism with a coworker, direct report or manager - set aside time to sit down with this person in private (or over coffee or lunch) to discuss why you're having issues and how you think you can work better together in the workplace. It's important to stand up for yourself and know your worth, especially as a young professional!
6. AVOID COMPARISON. I have caught myself so many times comparing myself to other individuals with the same job title as me that are older and more experienced. I start asking myself questions like "Why can't I be respected as much?" "What do I need to do differently?" and I get down on myself for not knowing all of the right answers and ways to approach situations. But then I have to take a step back and remember: comparison is the thief of joy. I will never be happy in my career if I feel like I'm not good enough and not proud of who I am and what I can bring to the table - aiming to eliminate this negativity, self doubt and jealousy makes you an overall better human to be around, no matter your role.
7. SEEK OUT A CAREER THERAPIST. Until recently, I didn't know that this was a thing! But I've been actively seeking out my very own career therapist for the last six months! I'm a firm believer in therapy. Setting aside time to decompress and share questions, concerns, challenges, goals or simply a recap of your day or week is important especially with someone who isn't biased! I've personally been trying to get better about not offloading negativity on my friends, family or boyfriend after a long day at work. It can be hard to know when to turn the "off" button OFF after work and sometimes, your friends and family don't need to always hear about work. Having a therapist who acts as your designated person to share your career accomplishments and challenges with is bound to help improve your relationships by keeping work and your personal life more separate.
8. JOURNAL. I've been trying to get better when I encounter hurtful actions or words in the workplace revolving around ageism, to set aside 10 minutes at the end of the day to journal. I start by writing out what happened, why my feelings are hurt and I make my TOP 5 list to end on a positive note. My Top 5 list is where I write out my top 5 reasons for feeling proud - whether it's rocking a work presentation, finishing a project on a tight deadline, going to three Orange Theory Fitness classes that week, etc. It always feels amazing to get my feelings out on paper when I don't feel like sharing what happened with anyone else and listing out reasons to feel proud and confident helps give me a reality check when I need it.
9. BE HUMBLE. Being younger in the workplace, it's important to go into your job with confidence and self-worth but recognize you still have so much to learn and so many people to learn from. Be humble when someone is talking to you, sharing advice, asking questions, teaching you something new (or old). I always describe myself as a "sponge" in my current role because I'm constantly observing, asking questions and trying to soak in and learn as much information as I can from those around me. I also have to recognize that I may have my own way of approaching situations but by taking the time and having the patience to learn someone else's approach, it might benefit me in the long run.
10. BE AN ADVOCATE. Lastly, be an advocate when you notice ageism in the workplace. No matter your age, if you hear it or see it happening to someone - do your part to stop it. One of my goals is to be a mentor for those in the same career field as me. I never want someone to feel like they can't ask me a question or reach out to me for advice or even a coffee meet-up because of my age, experience level or job title. I want to continue to do my part to stand up against ageism, recognize that is alive and well in the workplace and continue to share solutions for how to best deal with it when it occurs.
What are your thoughts on this blog post? Are you wanting to see more career advice and topics on West Coast Aesthetic? Leave a comment to let me know what topics you'd like me to address next!