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How I deal with ageism at work

We go through so much within the workplace – especially young professionals. We feel the need to prove ourselves and experience imposter syndrome on the daily. And to make matters worse, there are some people who like to take advantage of that and treat us like children instead of coworkers. Here’s how I manage it all.

Stay positive

Fortunately, ageism doesn’t happen often for me (especially from my coworkers), but I do come across it from colleagues I work with and support. I define ageism as being stereotyped or treated as less capable based on your age. Experiencing that can be quite frustrating.

However, I’m committed to not letting others determine my mood at work. I like to stay positive even when I feel mistreated or isolated by someone else’s actions. For example, I’ll never forget at a previous job a few years ago, how I was always reminded how young I was even though I was the youngest person at my job. It was obvious so it felt like I was being isolated when my age is being brought up even when my age isn’t a factor in my work. I will politely mention how my age isn’t relevant with a smile. Sometimes I would pick up that some people would try to use my age as a way to dismiss me and my ideas, but getting upset or being negative would only make them think that I’m being immature, which would make matters worse. So staying positive with a pleasant demeanor can go a long way even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Don’t be quick to judge Before I decide in my mind whether or not I feel or experiencing ageism, I like to ask myself, “Are you sure that the person’s intentions are to hurt you?” We can never know for sure about someone’s intentions so never be quick to judge. Some people think ageism is fine as long as it’s a joke or there’s no harm to you professionally, but that’s not always the case. Because ageism, even jokingly, can imply that we shouldn’t take up the space that we have worked for. So this is the time to make it a teachable moment. Dontcha just love those? I let the person know that they’ve been making many jokes or comments about my age. Then follow up with the good ole-fashioned, “Did you mean anything by that?”

Based on their answer, you may need to escalate, if you feel it’s becoming an issue.

Make your leadership aware

After I have the necessary conversation with the individual, I let my managers know in case they want to get involved. I’m not the “report to HR” type of person, but because I trust my leadership, I tend to always let them know what’s going on so they can guide me in making good decisions. This can be more difficult if you feel that your boss is an ageist. I’ve had one of those too. In this case, I really try to have a sit-down conversation with them and let them know how their actions are making me feel. Cause at the end of the day, young professionals want to be treated like everyone else. We don’t want special treatment, just to be treated the same regardless of our age, appearance or “young interests.”

Never stoop to their level I believe the most important thing to do when experiencing something like this is to never stoop to their level. If someone is making jokes about my age or giving me a hard time because “I’m too young to understand,” I don’t respond with that type of energy. Because any negative response you have will allow them to believe that you are immature. If you are reading this after experiencing some ageism, please don’t let them get the best of you. Continue to be awesome at your job, have the important conversations that you need and move forward with elegance and grace. You got this.

How do you deal with ageism at work?


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