AGEISM — DISMISSED BY THE NUMBERS

I recently read another troubling article on the damaging impacts of age-ism. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is not new. It pervades workplaces and other aspects of our lives and, sadly, it seems more targeted at women. That is not to say it does not affect men; as we know, it is a major focus in this year’s U.S. Presidential election.

In Canada, women in positions of leadership or in public/political life, seem more susceptible to ageist attitudes and behaviours. Women have reported that such behaviour negatively impacts their sense of self-worth, value and identity. Ageist discrimination is not only challenging but profoundly damaging and isolating. The impacts can cause individuals to feel diminished, dismissed or defeated.

As a woman involved in municipal politics since the early 2000’s, I believe that ageism is still alive and well, sadly. Unlike other forms of more obvious discrimination, instances of ageism manifest in more subtle or nuanced behaviours — a disapproving glance, a quiet dismissal of one’s idea, a baseless rejection of one’s opinion or more deliberate behaviour that blatantly ignores one’s contributions. Sometimes, ageism is couched in humour that is used to cover active discrimination.

We also know that ageism exists across demographics and gender, and cuts both ways for those who are younger or older; it’s a double-edged sword that cuts deeply into the psyche and can have negative outcomes for its victims. That we determine one’s worthiness based on one’s age is to completely invalidate individuals who are otherwise competent and productive. If they competed for opportunities on a level playing field, void of ageist discrimination, they would be acknowledged as strong, qualified candidates with unlimited potential to make a difference.

Ageist discrimination is damaging and limiting. Ageism shuts down options for both the individual and the organization, by denying one’s strength and oppressing the potential for success and service excellence.

When ageism is prevalent, it should be quickly identified and confronted as the human rights’ issue it is. For example, phrases such as “kid, kiddo, rookie, boomer, old, older, elder, elderly, senior, senior citizen or geezer” are loaded labels that reflect ageism. They create a negative vision or assumption about one’s behaviour, values or potential for meaningful change. They pose artificial barriers to an individual’s ability to successfully adapt to current or new circumstances. They foreclose opportunities for growth and, instead, accelerate the perceptions of weakness or lack of credibility.

At a time when we are building the future of what we call “inclusive” attitudes, organizations, communities and societies, to make them stronger and more resilient, we must also include the values of unique experiences and learning that age represents. As Carole Eastern, CEO of Aging Better, reminds us, “Ageism is prejudice against our future selves.”

My thoughts, for any age.