BRAD: Well hello everybody. May the 4th be with you. Welcome to NCWIT’s Conversations for Change, an online thought leadership series. My name is Brad McLain, I am a social scientist, and the Director of Corporate Research at NCWIT, the National Center for Women and IT. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this series, which features speakers with a diverse range of opinions and hopefully provocative ideas and worldviews. We wouldn’t be here today without the support of our many sponsors, and I want to thank the viewing audience in advance for your attendance and your patience should we experience any bandwidth or technical issues. Here’s the layout for today’s talk. We’ll have a 45-minute talk with slides, followed by a Q & A session via text chat, plus we will have some polls and Q & A during the session as well. Please feel free, whenever you have a question or a comment, to send a Q & A note at any time. We’ll be monitoring that as we go.And also, please complete the short pop-up survey at the end of the webinar. Be on the lookout for that.
Let’s introduce our presenter, Janine Vanderburg. She leads Changing the Narrative in Colorado, a campaign to change the way people think, talk, and act about aging and ageism. She is the cofounder of the Colorado Encore Network, and a member of the Encore.org national leadership team, as well as CEO of Encore Roadmap, which provides tools for capitalizing on the strengths of older adults. A former member of the Denver Commission on Aging, she received the Mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2018. In 2019, she launched the Age-Friendly Workplace initiative to re-frame older workers to businesses and to make businesses more aware of the benefits of intergenerational workplaces. A lawyer, a social entrepreneur, and a community organizer, Janine is driven by the belief that human potential and strengths should not be lost, and that everyone should have an opportunity to contribute. We invited Janine to present this year because ageism is an important but often overlooked topic in the tech community, especially as it intersects with other identity categories, and it is crucial to our efforts to construct more inclusive workplace cultures. Her work is now particularly salient in the current COVID world, as new forms of ageism are emerging. With that, let’s welcome Janine. Take it away.
JANINE: Brad, thank you so much, and NCWIT, thank you for having me, I am thrilled to be here to chat with you all about aging and about ageism. And mostly the change we’re trying to drive is this big idea that all of us start looking at older people in multi-generational workplaces actually as a source of innovation that can drive our organizations forward, especially in times when great flexibility and uncertainty is out there. And so I’m thrilled to be here with all of you.
I want to start with a poll. I want to hear from you. And so — if I can ask whoever is helping to launch Poll One. I have three questions for all of you that are up on the screen, and if you quickly take a moment, and this is an anonymous poll. So nothing you say will be held against you. Question number one, have you personally seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace? Yes or no? Have you taken the age implicit association tests, and those are — it’s part of a series, the implicit association test on the Harvard University website. And question number 3, does your organization include age as part of its diversity, equity, and inclusion policies? So let’s go ahead and see what we’ve got here.
We’ll do this for about 15 more seconds.
Okay, I’m going to go ahead and end the poll, and we’ll share the results.
So have you been experienced — 68% say yes, and this is really comparable to a recent survey the AARP had done, which found that over two-thirds of people age 45 and over have either seen or personally experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
Have you taken the age implicit association test? So most of you have not. I’m going to highly encourage that, and one of the things I’ll be doing after this session is sending some links that NCWIT will be getting out. It will include a link for the implicit association test as well as a link to some of the studies and data that I’m mentioning, for those of you that like to dig deeper, you can do that. And finally, does your organization include age as part of its diversity equity and inclusion policy? This is great news; almost half of you are saying yes.
Overall in the United States a study showed that of companies that have diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, only 8% include age as part of it. So clearly all of you are ahead of the game, and that’s great news. So I’m going to stop sharing now, and move ahead.
So let’s talk about — why this is important. And to talk about age and ageism, and why it’s important to consider it as part of diversity and equity inclusion. Well, the first thing we know is that the world is aging and changing, as reflected in the title of this session. This graph was put out by the U.S. Census Bureau a little over a year and a half ago. What it showed was the population pyramid in the United States. You see on the left-hand side, we’ve got a whole lot of younger people tapering up to a very small number of older people. On the right hand side, we have the projections of what things are going to look like in 2060, and we can see across age span relatively equal numbers of people. This is a massive demographic shift, and it’s going on not just in the United States but around the world, in both developed and developing countries. We know, for example, in some countries like Germany and Japan, that pyramid has already shifted to an upside-down pyramid, where there are more older people; and so what it requires is a lot of new thinking. We know now that we have four generations of people who are age 50 and over in the workplace, and that is continuing to grow. We know that we have because of advances in public health, and advances in science, this is a trend that’s going to continue, and we also know we have declining birth rates around the world.
So in the United States, we currently don’t have a replacement birth rate. So what it means for us is that we have to think differently about potentially what the workplace looks like. It is not going to be a race to see who can attract the most younger people. We’ve got to accommodate, and not just accommodate, but think of what kind of opportunity does this provide us?
Unfortunately now, though, many of our policies and practices are tailored to that 1960 pyramid that you see. We have things like government-defined prime working age as the ages of 25-54. We have things like normal retirement age being considered 62 or 65. For the most part we look at education and higher education as being front-loaded, and we’re not looking at education in upskilling across the lifespan. So all of those things are things that are going to have to change. There are huge implications for all of us on workforce, on public policy, and on markets and products. And I’m just going to touch on markets and products because that’s not the subject of our session today. But we know the economists in conjunction with AARP did a study that was released in January showing that the gross domestic product of what they call the longevity economy — the economy that consists of the economic contributions of people age 50 and over — is $8.3 trillion, so 40% of U.S. GDP, and that basically placed us, the United States longevity economy, as third behind the U.S. ecpnpmy overall and then China. But that’s how important the longevity economy is. And unfortunately, a lot of the products being developed are still what those of us who are aging advocates would call beige and boring. And they haven’t really thought about what are the opportunities of this increased longevity for our markets and products. We’re not here to talk about that today. But we want to think about what the implications are for the workforce. We know that people are staying in the workforce longer.
Before COVID-19, approximately one in four people ages 65 and over was in the workplace. We know across the United States 250,000 people age 85 and over were in the workplace last year. And again, a lot or our policies are not necessarily accommodating those changes. We certainly see we’re going to need massive shifts in public policy; I’ll talk more about those later. But those are just some of the implications we need to think about. And the implications in the way that I would encourage you to think about it is, what are the opportunities for all of us, knowing that people are living longer, that many people want to and are able to continue to work? What can we do with that built-up expertise and insight that older people have, and how can we use that to benefit our workforce?
So what gets in the way of reaping the benefit of some of these opportunities? The biggest barrier that we know is ageism. And ageism is basically prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination against people based on age. It can be directed against younger people as well as older. So if people are not giving someone an opportunity, because they feel they’re too young, that’s ageism. But we know that ageism has incredibly harmful effects, not only to older people, but to the economy, when directed at older people. So what does the sum of this prejudice look like? It may be as simple as saying “I really don’t like having old people around.” Or the more controversial statement, “Younger people are just smarter.” Stereotyping looks like making assumptions about what people can and can’t do. Hearing things like — “You know what — I really don’t think those older people around — I just don’t think their skills are up to date, and they’re not what we need right now.” And then there is the actual discrimination that comes and can take place at all stages in workplace. It can take place in recruitment and hiring, when we do things like include high school graduation dates on online applications. And we screen — when we use online advertising to only target people of younger ages. It can look like when we call, in a job description, for things like digital natives, or we say things like we only want people who have under three years of experience. So those are the ways it can play out in hiring. Where it can play out once someone is on the job, is denying people the opportunity to get advancement, to participate in new training initiatives. To actually be pushed out.
Is this real? Is it serious?
Well, a study by the Urban Institute that was released at the end of 2018 showed that 56% — 56% of people who entered their 50s in the United States with stable employment were pushed out or laid off. And only 10% of them ever recouped financially. We know that age — about, and as I mentioned before, about two-thirds of people age 45 and older have either seen or experienced workplace discrimination themselves; we know that if you are a person of color or if you are female, that the whole situation is exacerbated. So we know that women, for example, who are working full time, are much more reluctant to leave their jobs and see that opportunity because they are afraid that they’re going to be held back and have a harder time getting another job. The same study showed that 50% of people who were African American felt locked into their jobs because if they left, they might not be able to get another opportunity, and many of them said they felt they were being pressured into retirement. We also know that older women and people of color tend to — if they are laid off, experience much longer periods of unemployment before they’re able to return to the workforce.
And of course, I don’t need to tell all of you about what it looks like in the tech sector, that surveys say three-quarters of professionals believe that ageism exists in the tech sector, and 40% — and in the overall workforce we hear about discrimination starting in the 50s, or early 50s, and we know that that age is much younger in the tech center that people feel age discrimination based on age, but we also know this has an incredible dent to the overall economy. So — the Economists Intelligence Unit in conjunction with AARP did a study that was released in January, and they found that the cost to the U.S. economy in 2018 of age discrimination in the workplace was $850 billion, and of that, $44 billion was the cost specifically to the tech sector. Looking forward and projecting forward in the longevity economy into 2050, the projection is the tech and automotive sectors have the most to lose, and on the other side, if we’re looking optimistically about this, potentially the most to gain, if there are active recruitment efforts to really look at how can we attract older people to our workplaces.
So why is this going on? Well, an organization called Frameworks Institute, which is a national strategic communications firm based in DC, did a study over a period of the last few years. And it was a study about how people think about aging and ageism in America. A lot of the ageism that we see now is a result of deeply embedded cultural models or patterns of thinking that we have about aging itself, about older people, and the fact that we kind of ignore ageism. It’s for the most part something people don’t want to think about or talk about. Or as Frameworks found, they don’t even know it exists. I would like to briefly run through some of the cultural models that Frameworks Institute found are deeply embedded how we in the United States think about older people. And I would like you to take notes, because this will be followed by another poll where I ask you to apply how these cultural models play out in very common stereotypes about older workers.
So here’s how the public thinks about aging in the U.S. Cultural model number one is this conflict, if you will, between this idealized view of aging and the perceived reality. So the idealized view is I call it the pharmaceutical ad version, we’re on the beach holding a glass of champagne, everything is lovely, it’s a time of self-sufficiency, or leisure. But it’s quickly — that image, as quickly as it flashes in our mind, is instead drawn down by what the perceived reality is of aging. The perceived reality is basically, it’s all downhill. It is a time of decline. It’s a time of loneliness, a time of dependence. It is all about loss. It totally, how the general public thinks totally ignores what experts know, that as we age there is an enormous opportunity for contribution to grow to our communities, to our workplaces and our economy if we don’t allow ageism to get in the way. That’s cultural model number one, ideal versus perceived real.
The second cultural model, no surprise because we’ve certainly been treated to a number of generational warfare themes in the last year, and being exposed even further by the onset of COVID-19. And it’s called us versus them. Us versus them is when we other “all of us,” and then there are “them” hanging in the corner. Them, in this case, is obviously older people pitted against younger people in the workforce, and broadly in the community in some sort of competition for resources. Us versus them sounds like — well you know — “if older people stay in the workplace they’re taking jobs away from younger people,” ignoring the reality that all of us have the opportunity to learn from each other, and also ignoring all the economic studies that show that actually the reverse is true. The longer people stay in the workforce, actually is better off for everyone on a macro level, both in terms of overall economic growth… But there is a very strong us versus them.
Individualism is a very strong theme, certainly, in America. And individualism sounds like this: If someone isn’t doing that well as they get older, it’s kind of their fault. They didn’t make the right choices. How it plays out in the workplace in our current topic, age discrimination: you know, Judy over there, if Judy had just kept up with her skills… We kind of ignore that factor that maybe our companies did not provide the opportunity for Judy to participate in training, and studies have shown that older workers are much less likely to receive opportunities for ongoing training and upskilling than individual workers are. And then what we kind of do — we turn around and blame it on Judy. We don’t look systemically [at] what kind of practices we might have had in place.
The final cultural model that is very strong is this idea of nostalgia, and the threat of modernity. This always starts with, “in the good old days…” In the good old days, the economy was stable. In the good old days, we had pensions and social security was solvent. I’m not exactly sure how the good old days is going to play out right now, especially in light of COVID-19. We know it’s a very dominant pattern of thinking, and the challenge of this particular line of thinking and cultural model for all of us is this — If we’re thinking about the good old days we’re not able to go ahead and see — think innovatively about what are the opportunities presented by an aging demographic. What are the opportunities if we had people with a lot of expertise that could work on some of our problems? What are the opportunities that we have, if we just take our current example of COVID-19, of having someone on our team who has already navigated a company through a former recession. Through post-September 11th. Who has already figured out how to garner that federal paperwork and deal with it in order to go ahead and accrue whatever federal programs are available.
Those are the dominant patterns of thinking. Take a look at them one more time. Because now we are going to do our second poll. And what we’re going to be doing is sharing common stereotypes about older workers, and we’re going to ask you to basically vote on which of these, and you can vote on more than one, which of these is reflected? What patterns of thinking are reflected in these stereotypes?
Okay, can we have poll two please?
So stereotype number one, older workers aren’t willing to learn new things. Stereotype number two, older workers’ skills are not up to date. Stereotype number three, older workers won’t stay around, and stereotype number four, older people cost more than younger people. Let’s go ahead go ahead and vote.
Okay we’ll do about 15 more seconds so get those last votes in. We have a lot of great stuff coming in.
Alright, so I’m going to go ahead and end the poll. And share the results. And what I love about this, I’m already looking at kind of the distribution. What I love about this is the acknowledgment that many of these stereotypes reflect multiple cultural models, and that’s actually how these patterns of thinking work. It’s rarely that just one key theme is coming out. It’s when we know this is the way we think about aging America, and the way we think about older people. As these stereotypes emerge, we’re thinking about all of them. So the first thing, older workers aren’t willing to learn new things. A strong — that that’s a perceived reality of aging, absolutely. But it absolutely reflects us vs. them thinking. It’s their individual fault. Why aren’t they willing to learn new things. And a nostalgia and threat of modernity. This is a stereotype we need to refute. It’s actually not true. We know that all the research has showed that people are very willing to learn. Older people love learning new things, and what happens as we get older and we’re in a workplace is very often opportunities start getting closed down to us. So there was a particular study that showed a large percentage of people who had actually been pushed into retirement did want to participate in training programs but were not allowed to do so. Older skills not up to date. So kind of the same thing. A little bit stronger us versus them. We’re going to favor the younger person because we have this perception that their skills are not up to date. And again, I think that we need to look at the research, and AARP has done a load of this, that shows that very often companies train younger workers more than they do older, under the mistaken idea that they’re going to stick around more. We all know this, if anybody who’s on this call is in HR, we know that’s not true. And the research actually shows that on average, older people are four times as likely to stay around as someone younger. And not in any way to create us versus them with younger people; as we’re younger we have different things happening in our lives. As we’re older, we’re more likely to stay around. But that’s a perception that stops companies from training older workers. And then, older workers won’t stay around. So perceived reality, that somehow people are going to get sick, retire. We know the numbers absolutely define that. The numbers show that people are staying on the job longer. Again, one in four people age 65 and over in the workforce pre-COVID, and a study that was done by TransAmerica Institute showed that 41% of people in their 60s wanted to continue working past what some people might consider normal retirement age of 65. And then finally, you know older people cost more than younger people. So yeah, I’m glad to see the distribution here. Perceived realty, us versus them. What’s really, really important to note here is that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, and we’ll talk a little bit about strategies around that. But we know that for example, it’s important to do an overall cost-benefit analysis about what your workforce looks like to make sure you’re considering the value of experience and opportunity costs. The cost of turnover and that kind of thing. But we know that kind of stereotype is just very often in place. And it creates justification for companies to think we are going to go ahead then and get rid of those older workers, so we’re rid of those older workers. So we’re going to stop sharing now and go to our next slide.
So I want to talk about three umbrella strategies, first, to reduce ageism, and then we’ll talk about specific tactics. Research says there are three things that are actually effective in reducing ageism. The first is, and this was from a meta-analysis of all the interventions to reduce ageism everywhere, not specifically in the workforce, we know that fostering intergenerational connection is an important strategy. That can take place starting in K-12 where we have intergenerational mentors, it can happen in higher education, it can certainly happen in the workplace. We’ll talk more about that. We know that in the same way that exposure to any group that is other than the group that you maybe identify with, creates increased awareness and understanding fostering intergenerational connection and education, is very effective in reducing ageism. Second thing: train all managers on implicit bias. Certainly hiring managers who are kind of on the front line, but also train managers kind of across the company on implicit bias. Research by FrameWorks Institute, but also by other people specifically in human resources, shows that when managers are trained in implicit bias and are shown how to recognize it, it kind of stops it in its tracks. So an important strategy. And third is reframing the older worker. So part of what we’re doing today, instead of just relying on those myths and stereotypes, is really looking at what the reality is of aging, and reframing the older worker as a valuable source of insight, experience, connections, and resilience.
And so let’s talk a little bit about how you do that. Here’s something the research shows about older workers. Older workers are very motivated to learn, love learning new things. They may learn in different ways, but they are very motivated to learn, are very motivated to exceed expectations and have higher degrees of engagement in the workplace, so that can lead to productivity gains. They have better communications and soft skills, and I would like to say it’s because we have made so many mistakes in our communications over time that we have hopefully learned from them. We know that older workers tend to be very loyal and on average again, have four times the tenure of younger workers. And they can be an incredibly important source of transferring knowledge and mentorship. And we also know that if older people are not pushed out, if they’re encouraged through great diversity, inclusion, and equity policies in the workforce, it creates more economic opportunity for everyone.
But the idea here that we are trying to promote is not just — let’s just hire older workers and push younger workers out, absolutely not. The real benefit comes in the benefit of intergenerational teams. So what the research shows is when you bring generations together, there is that opportunity for not only knowledge transfer, and not just mentorship one way, older to younger, but the real opportunity is in reciprocal mentorship. We know when we have age diversities similar to when we have teams that are diverse, racially, ethnically and gender, that we have improved team problem-solving and improved creativity. All of us will be tackling challenges we had no idea would exist. But having the diverse generations come together to think about those problems… One study shows as a result of this increased problem-solving and creativity, actually increased innovation revenues, so, the amount of revenue of a company that could be directly attributed to new products and innovation. And finally, importantly, we know that intergenerational teams both increase productivity, and over time profitability as well. So there are real benefits to having the intergenerational workplace.
Now I want to chat about what are some very specific and concrete actions you can take. So we talked about the umbrella strategies, and those umbrella strategies being — you know, fostering intergenerational connection, training managers on implicit bias and busting this and reframing the older worker. In the recruitment and hiring stage, one of the things, and I’m delighted that almost half of you already have this: deliberately including age in company diversity equity and inclusion policies. Across the country, they are not in those policies. And that forces people to kind of think about what that would look like. Using age-friendly languages and images. So if you are doing recruitment, but you are saying, you know, we are looking for digital natives or all of the images are simply of younger people — or you are including language that says you know, we want less than X-number of years of experience, those are kind of code telling older people — we really don’t want you to apply. Removing age identifiers from applications. This is probably one of my pet peeves. Why exactly — and what business benefit does it ask, after someone applies for their first job at McDonalds, to ask for high school graduation dates on online applications? Shortly after I started Changing the Narrative a little over two years ago, somebody was telling me about this, and I absolutely couldn’t believe it was true. Of course I had to go online and check this out, and of course found out my high school graduation date was not a — and fortunately it was a job which I was not interested.
And further, there has been discussion in the field the last year or so about algorithms and built-in algorithms are biased. Really important to look if you’re using online screening mechanisms and using algorithm-based screening to make sure there isn’t bias built in. So for example, I think there was a study out of the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco that showed that two identical resumes go in, in terms of experience, type of skills, etc., but the only difference being age, and younger people were called back for interviews, older people not. So again making sure — and then finally to refute this sort of myth that older people don’t have skills, use skill-based assessments. Don’t look at someone and say oh, wow, look they’ve been working for a while, they probably don’t have the skill in this new thing that we want. In recruitment and hiring make sure you’re using skill-based assessments to remove that implicit bias.
Alright, let’s get specific actions you can take when somebody is on the job. So, to me, one of the best examples, and this is BMW in Germany, and they are doing this because as I mentioned earlier, Germany is one of the countries where the pyramid, instead of moving to the column has moved to a reverse pyramid. BMW was faced with what is going to happen to our partners when all of the people exit at the same time? For a really modest sum of money, I think it was 40,000 Euro, they basically went around and asked the people what would it take to keep you here. And some of the things turned out to be really simple. Geez, instead of standing all day, maybe if we could have high stools, and flexibility in our work hours. And what was interesting was a lot of things that were attractive to older people, some of them were specific to getting older, and some of them were the kinds of things that make your business attractive to anyone at any age. Like flexible hours and that kind of thing. Well, they redesigned their workplace and were therefore able to foster that intergenerational mentoring and connection.
Investing in training and upskilling across your talent pipeline, so not making the assumption that the new arrivals get trained and the people who were deemed promising get trained and move across the level, but basically at every point in across talent pipelines making sure that training opportunities are available. Offering flexibility in time and location: great for younger workers, great for people — to keep on — I’m going to say — I’m going to make a gender stereotype but I know it’s still mostly women that are dealing with a primary care-giving of young children but let’s say flexibility in timing and location, extraordinarily important for parents of young children. And it also is a great way to attract and retain older workers as well.
Deliberately encouraging reciprocal mentorship. So a study that AARP released in the last year showed that 70% of younger people actually wanted mentorship and considered that something that would be very valuable and encouraged them to stay at the workplace. And that older people also had a desire to mentor. But we want to take that one step further and realize that benefit that any organization can realize when they encourage people to learn from each other. Multi-generational workplaces are not simply different generations under the same roof or working space or remotely now. Just side-by-side. It’s deliberately fostering that intergenerational connection.
And then finally, a way if you’re just starting to explore this, one of the things that Changing the Narrative did this year was partner with a national age-friendly foundation which does assessments of organizations to see what extent they have age-friendly practices in place if you want to certify that yes you have age-friendly and you want to improve the benefits of older workers and intergenerational — a way to do that is to participate in this sort of assessment and certification process.
Now I want to talk about a little bit going beyond what happens directly in the workplace and think beyond to the whole ecosystem that we’re trying to develop and about talent development and looking at policy. Really important to foster, not only within your organization, education and training across the life-span, but think of it as the supporting and the partnership organizations within your community or region across the United States. There is a really interesting movement that is emerging, the age-friendly movement. The 60-year curriculum. But the idea that institutions of higher education, community colleges and four year, should be thinking, one, as a strategic business imperative, look at 50-plus and older students as part — in part that helps these organizations become increasingly relevant, as we have changing demographics and there were fewer of those younger students to appeal to, but there are specific ways and principles that can be adopted, programs that can be adopted, but they’re based on this basic principle that as we age we want to continue to learn and our institutions that are out there ought to be available to help us continue to do this for all of us as we age, so age-friendly university, 60-year curriculum is basically higher education people that, think of it, people of all ages.
Increased attention: so we know in the United States we have a federally funded workforce development program, and historically those are looked at typically as being for younger workers or populations that are viewed as at risk, maybe transferring from welfare to work, ex-offenders, etc. I think there is now a push, and we’re participating in that in Colorado, to encourage workforce development programs to look at older workers, and workers across the lifespan ought to be taking advantage of opportunities for upskilling. So it’s not just within your organization, but pushing the ecosystem around you as well to upscale older people. There has been, and I’m going to say this was all post-COVID-19, a lot of conversation about how could states offer employer-incentive programs to — through maybe some combination of tax benefits or tax incentives, to offset what sometimes is the real difference in cost — especially if you already have someone on payroll that you want to keep — of an older worker, because they have accumulated raises over time. Not sure what’s going to happen with that, but I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind for the future. And there have been really interesting proposals about changes in tax policy. So for example, like at a certain cut-off point if someone age 65 is staying in the workplace, suppose you as an employer didn’t have to pay that Social Security match anymore. So these last two really to somewhat reduce what the kind of co-perceived cost is of keeping on older workers.
So what I would like you to do now, and this is where we’re going to use the chat function. Then we’ll open up for question and answer. But based on what you heard, if you would chat in and use the chat function to chat in what’s an action that you think you would like to take in the next month, in the next year, to start thinking about how you could make your organization more inclusive of older people? So if you want to go ahead and use the chat — and then I think Brad will shout out some of them, right?
BRAD: Yes, indeed I will. We’re looking at the questions that are coming in. What are some actions you could take to mitigate or address the challenges of ageism that we’ve been talking about? We’re going to monitor them as they trickle in, so please do use the chat function as we do that. And I think Janine can see them as well.
JANINE: Well I can’t actually.
BRAD: We’ve received a number of great questions.
JANINE: So I’m happy to start answering questions as well.
BRAD: Well let’s do that while we wait for these to trickle in. The first question is an interesting one, something you started out talking about. Somebody observes that age and disability are correlated, as our senses and our abilities decline naturally with age. The question, is ableism part of ageism? Or are those distinct and different in some way?
JANINE: Great question. I love whoever asked this question. So there is an incredible intersection of ageism and ableism, and I’m not going to say in the same way, but we also know that there are incredible intersections of ageism and racism, and ageism and sexism, so we know, for example, overall in terms of economic security as one gets older, that the people who are worse off are women, and if they are women of color, especially black women they’re — the worst off of all. Here’s how ableism comes in, and it’s really interesting. There is such a strong association that getting older is affiliated with disability, which is not necessarily the case. Geriatricians say if you’ve seen one 85-year-old, you’ve seen one 85-year-old. As we get older we get more different, and not — as we are younger we are more similar, and as we get older over time we get more different. So — but because that fear around disability, we make a lot of assumptions about what it is to get old. And if people — if there is a sort of an occurrence, or what everybody is now using in COVID-19 language, if there is a co-morbidity of being older and also having kind of another chronic condition, or some sort of being differently abled, that people simply push you to the back of the line. Yes, there is a strong correlation. Age doesn’t mean disability. Disability does not mean being older. But there is — I think in public thinking there is great — and I feel like we need to tackle them jointly, thank you for whoever asked that question. We could do another workshop on that.
BRAD: Wonderful. We did get a comment from a couple of people that you’re a little hard to hear, so if we can have you speak a little louder or closer.
JANINE: Okay, no one has ever accused me of not being loud but —
BRAD: Welcome to the virtual experience here. I would like to read some of the responses to your question of what can we do that are trickling in, and after I read a few of them, ask you to respond to some of them.
So — one of the actions is to look for bias in hiring actions. And another is the mentoring that is built into the workplace culture that would benefit all people. Continuing education opportunities that can help. Mentoring in the workplace should happen across generations.
JANINE: So important, underline that, yes. Mentor across generations.
BRAD: And this idea of reverse mentoring is great also. Inviting an older student to present to the class and highlight their maturity and experience.
JANINE: Yeah. Brad McLain-in-training situations, I assume. One person has offered, I will make a strategic proposal to make changes to our search committee policy material to bring ageism to the table.
JANINE: I love that. You’re going to save these chats for me Brad right? These make me really happy.
BRAD: They’re recorded for all of history, yes. And then we do have a number of questions that are trickling in that are excellent. So maybe we should go to another question as we’re — one of them said women are already challenged and have challenging experiences and obstacles to ask for raises and promotions. What are the best ways for older women to advocate for raises and promotions, and is it any different for them?
JANINE: The difference is this. That ageism is so entrenched that what people are finding — what the research is finding is that older women, we sort of freeze in our tracks. Because we think if we ask for that, we are jeopardizing the job we already have. I think the strategies that we have, and I’m going to put myself in that category of women who have fought throughout our lifespan, in our lifetime, for gender equality, find ourselves kind of facing this — no matter how far we’ve gone, we find ourselves faced with this other situation as well. I think the strategies that we’ve been taught are good. I do know — without a larger effort, whether in your company, in the state, in the country, to address ageism head-on, you know that you’re doing it at your peril. The numbers of people and especially older women who have been pushed out of the workforce is pretty high. And I shared this right before we got on with some of the people from NCWIT. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week around this whole sort of notion that’s being put out there as we get older we are weak and vulnerable, vulnerable to COVID, and therefore, well-meaning elected officials have said things, well everybody go back to work but you older people don’t do it so I think it’s imperative for all of us to raise our voices now and say here’s what we’re capable of. Here’s the value we bring. And letting people know that we really — we do want ongoing education, continuing education, upskilling. And forming partnerships with a younger people in our organizations.
BRAD: Let me read to you — another observation that stands out, and then another question. In answer to your query, what can we do to use this material. Here’s an idea. I can bring it up at the dean’s equity and engagement committee. Looking forward to getting more links and the ageism bias test, which I think she is refer — he or she is referring to the implicit association test related to age. Thank you for the presentation. PS, COVID also sort of spotlighted this issue. It is important to care for people who are older, and understand we are all going to be older.
JANINE: Right. So —
BRAD: This is how our future selves are going to be treated we need to show the example now.
JANINE: Right, so thank you whoever asked that question. One of my favorite sayings is for each one of us, what we all have in common today for each one of us is that we are fortunate that we are the oldest we’ve ever been. And think about this as we go to sleep. Tonight is the youngest we’ll ever be. And we are all heading that direction. So I feel like addressing this issue, which is something we’ll all confront, it’s important for us — it is important for our daughters, our granddaughters — and for seven generations to come.
BRAD: Here’s another question about learning on the job. It’s like all children learn at different paces; so do all adults of all ages. How do we shift the vocabulary of the workplace to make older employees not feel judged that they may be slower or are learning the technology slower, for example.
JANINE: Okay. So we have a whole workshop about changing language. We’re not going to do that here. But I think I would encourage, I’ll send you links to kind of our workshops on reframing aging. There is a specific set of tested language that was tested across FrameWorks Institute and their study across a large demographic sample, 12,000 people demographically representative of the United States of age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, there are specific ways of asserting the value of older people and talking about ageism that are productive in those larger workplace conversations and some that are not productive. And so — I would be — I’ll send links to that information as well.
BRAD: Wonderful. Another observation for you to respond to. And this one I like particularly because as you know, as we’ve talked before I’m very interested in how age intersects with different categories. Here’s the observation. Diversity and inclusion, this is one of the ways we believe address this. Include age in your definition of D&I. As a white LGBTQ woman in the south over the age of 40, I’m being told by groups like Lesbians Who Tech that their focus is primarily promoting black men and women and removing opportunities for white women, regardless of discrimination based on ageism or LGBTQ.
JANINE: Wow, what a great group. These are really big questions. So a couple of things. First I’m going to jump ahead to who actually fares the worse off as we get older. And it is the people who are LGBTQ, so I’m just, one; two, that’s how strong, I think your observation goes as to how strong us versus them is in our overall culture, we are gay or straight, we are black or white, women or men, and part of what we all have to do is to recognize that different groups will have priorities at different times. But if we don’t tackle this on a systemic, we are all in this together — Brad and I, when we were doing a prep call last week… One of my favorite phrases since COVID-19 is we’re all in the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat. I think it is important to recognize that certain people, you know, do have, on the basis of who they are, more privilege than others, but to be strategic, we need to be looking across at, for example, in a particular sector like this one, tech, who is being disadvantaged and how do we ally instead of pitting one group against the other. Again these are really big questions to answer; I feel totally ill-equipped in short sound bites but I’m trying.
BRAD: And speaking of short sound bites, we have just over five minutes left, so we’ll try to get as many of your questions in, and Janine may be able to hang around a little bit longer to address questions beyond the hour, just so you know.
Here is an interesting question. Have you seen reverse ageism in the workplace? In higher education, we have a bias the hire the PhD candidate or someone who has had many, many years of experience versus the newer younger candidate?
JANINE: So I’m not — so a couple things. Higher ed, and I’ve been adjunct faculty for years. So I kind of understand somewhat, but not in the same way that those of you who are tenured faculty understand, how higher ed works. But, yes, the short answer is yes, there is, but I would not call it reverse ageism, I would simply call it ageism, it can be directed against younger people and against older people equally. If someone is making — is discriminating, stereotyping someone on the basis of their age, and not looking at the individuals in front of them, that is absolutely ageism, and in my view, ought to be addressed in diversity, equity, and inclusion policies that address age. Actually, so this is a little aside. I ended up having this conversation with my two millennial daughters who both have heavy duty rockstar jobs when we were at an OU-Texas game last fall, and as a result of that, at Changing the Narrative we launched this initiative called “On the Same Page,” which is a series of intergenerational conversations about ageism. And we actually have a toolkit on our website, I’ll send a link to that as well. If someone wants to initiate some of those conversations, this way is a real — and again because the research shows that having those intergenerational conversations and starting to introduce it actually does start to reduce ageism.
BRAD: Another interesting question that popped up about the post-COVID world. How do you think that COVID-19 and its aftermath will affect inclusion and accessibility for older folks in a positive way? Noting, the elected officials are in the age-range that would be considered old. So — not only about being old, it is being old and not rich, or the owner of your own company where you can retire when you choose.
JANINE: Right. So there are a couple of things. And I just did a workshop on this last week. So here’s my one-minute version of the hour and a half workshop. On the plus side, and I think for those of us who are anti-ageism activists, this, all of COVID-19 has really exposed ageism in a really powerful way. There are things like triage decisions being made in states where people are simply using age as a factor. Now the U.S. Office of Civil Rights has said that that is not a legal thing to do. But it doesn’t mean people aren’t already making plans to push older people to the end of the triage line. There are the current, and this has happened as all the states are starting to “reopen,” a lot of the states have said everybody can reopen, everybody go back to work, but you older people stay in your houses. I find it interesting, because we also know, for example, men compared to women in terms of mortality rate, men are dying at a 60-40% rate and nobody is saying well, men stay home. But older people stay at home, because some older, older people have higher mortality. It’s an opportunity for us to talk about it. We need to talk about it, so that it doesn’t result in the reversion back to — but the real opportunity I personally believe is not around the elected officials being older. I think the real opportunity is to think about when you want the experience of someone who has been through some hard times, who has navigated a company through the recession, who knew how to go out and find new customers, who knew how to manage federal contracts, you’re looking at someone who was pretty active in their career in 2008-2009, 2010, so I think asserting that value is going to be really important for all of us.
BRAD: I’ve saved one final question for you. If you can answer it briefly, I’ll be most impressed.
JANINE: If you’ve noticed I’m not good at brief answers.
BRAD: I think you are. We’ll move to closing comments before we move to an informal Q and A for those who want to stick around.
The intergenerational wealth gap between baby boomers and millennials is wider than it has ever been before. When baby boomers’ median age reached 35 they owned 21% of the nation’s wealth. Millennials are on track to hit 3.2%. How do you balance policies that support older workers while addressing the growing levels of income inequality that disproportionately impact younger workers?
JANINE: So I’m staying on for another hour. And the person who asked that question — I think there are a couple of things. One thing that is really important to know, and I’m going to try to say this without being political. This country has an income inequality problem, period. We know among older people there are people who — there are members of the boomer generation that are just fine, and it is close to 50% who are like on the verge of poverty. One of the reasons in Changing the Narrative that we started the Age-Friendly Workplace initiative was when I was traveling around Colorado, especially but around the country, doing workshops on reframing aging and workshops on ageism, we encountered people every day who had been pushed out of the workforce in their 50s, had burned through any retirement, are living on tiny amounts of social security. So the — there is a very strong us versus them narrative out there that boomers are wealthy and millennials are not, and we need to put that to rest and look at, in my view, the larger issues of income inequality: who’s experiencing it. We also know among millennials the difference between white, black, brown, I mean there is so much — inequality layered in here that I feel totally incapable of answering this by the time the clock on my computer turns one. But I’m happy to discuss this further. Or we could do another workshop.
BRAD: Wonderful. Well in the minute or so we have left let me make some closing remarks and notices to what’s coming next in our virtual summit this year. First of all, wonderful talk Janine, thank you so much for your expertise, your time, your attention, and your willingness to stay on for 15 extra minutes. Here at NCWIT, many of you will be familiar with the fact that we define inclusive culture and inclusive culture construction very distinctly, and inclusive culture in our research is defined as a place where all people can thrive, feel a sense of belonging, contribute their abilities and perspectives to the work at hand, and also receive credit and recognition for those contributions. And I think it’s pretty easy to see from Janine’s presentation that age alone is an important identity component that we need to be aware of in our D&I work. And also this is interesting to me as well. Age as it intersects with other identity categories, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, it adds another layer of nuance which can help us all become better honed, better developing our skills, and for empathy and inclusive practice in our policies and our everyday interactions. So I think that’s very important and often neglected, as we said at the beginning, in all of our work towards diversity and inclusion. So once again let me thank everyone for their time and attention; presenter Janine; as well as our audience and sponsors. The next session, if you would like to attend it, will be on Wednesday at 5:00 Mountain Time; it will be Temple Grandin, with her talk titled “Different Kinds of Minds.” In order to find a direct link to the Zoom, we ask you to participate in the pop-up survey that will soon be presented to you. And as we said before, Janine has agreed to stay for an extra 15 minutes, if you have more time to spend in a more informal Q & A session that we’ll facilitate in much the same way as we have done before. And for those of you that have to sign off at the end of the hour here, thank you for coming, and we’ll resume in one minute with the Q and A panel afterwards.
JANINE: And I am stopping share so I can see people.
BRAD: All right. Well I’m going to spring in one of my questions, Janine.
JANINE: It’s host privilege, right.
BRAD: Privilege, right. One of the things you mentioned as an effective mitigation to combat ageism is training managers regarding the bias of ageism. My question, is what kind of training? Because we know in training about unconscious bias in general that bias training alone seldom works. It has been shown not to move the needle in the last 30 years, where it’s been kind of a place to hang your hat and show that you’re doing something about bias but it hasn’t made much of a difference. So when you say training — and the training manager is effective, what kind of training are you recommending or not recommending?
JANINE: So I would say it is the same kind — one, it needs to be embedded. It’s not like the one-off workshop. Now I’ve done my implicit bias training, check mark, I’m good. I think it starts with — and I would highly encourage everyone, especially because most people on the call hadn’t taken the implicit association test, to take it. So I’ll tell you what happened when I took it, when I started this, I thought I’m going to be leading this initiative to end ageism, and suppose I hate old people, this would be really bad. I took the test. I scored 0, which means I don’t like anybody, older people or younger people, or I suppose you could look at it another way, that I’m — I would like everyone. I don’t think that’s true, but when I took it, what was interesting to me was that that immediately sent you not only your own results, but the results of like the million people who had taken this test for — the past few years. And 77% of people who took this particular thing had a bias in favor of younger people, against older people. So I think it starts with just, any kind of training has to start with us sort of understanding where we are, identifying motivation, why do I care about this. Because if someone is just doing the training for a check mark, it’s not going to work. So identifying why this is important. Why is this going to make our workplace stronger? Why is this going to make our company stronger, whatever it is, and then it’s going to be, like any good workshops or training, embedded within the organization. So then it’s, we’ve trained the managers, but then it’s — how are we continuing to provide follow-up, how is it linked to our diversity, inclusion, and equity policy. And you probably know the answer to this better than I do, so add what you know, Brad.
BRAD: I completely agree with that. If they want to know what I think, they’ll have to come to some of my sessions. Let’s go to the chat again for some excellent questions.
JANINE: I’m hoping to get to most of these. There are so many good ones.
BRAD: Here’s an interesting one. Have you seen ageism driven from the demographic being stereotyped or discriminated against? In other words, older people discriminating — almost a reverse notion of individualism, or the us vs. them situation, and the second part, what tools could we use to help mitigate this? Could this be something?
JANINE: Yeah, so a good friend of mine who — so, yes, ageism exists and ageism has been internalized, and I think the older we get, we are so surrounded that we just internalize it even more. We know that kind of the studies show that children start developing this implicit bias as young as 3 or 4, and then it’s reinforced by the kind of cute activities that we do in schools like dress up like an old person for 100 days of school and that kind of thing. We know we are in the media surrounded by images of anti-aging, “battle aging,” and all of that, so of course we internalize it. So the answer is yes, we have seen it. I have been chatting with people who will say “I’m having a senior moment,” I’m like, you’re not having a senior moment, you have a lot of stuff in your head or you were always like that. You always forgot your car keys. I have heard people who muse about whether they should go for a promotion, and then just say well maybe I’m too old, maybe I can’t learn new things. So one of the things we’ve done at Changing the Narrative is we have developed a specific workshop called “Ending Ageism Together,” and it is specifically geared for older people to call attention to the fact that ageism exists, that we often use it in our own language, and basically tell them to stop it. So — we have people identify what are things that are ageist about what they do. We talk about implicit bias and how it plays out and how we are ageist against ourselves. But actually the highest, when you look over a number of studies of the group that is most biased against older people is older people.
BRAD: That’s very interesting. I suspect that is very layered too — another one from the chat. How can managers help to bridge the generational gap around workplace culture, for example, and not to stereotype; older individuals may feel more comfortable with structured workplace environments, whereas younger individuals may be comfortable with informal workplaces with less structure. How to create a cultural environment where everyone feels they can thrive?
JANINE: Yeah. I don’t know, so that feels like a little stereotypical to me. So whoever asks the question, you need to know the thing I hate the most are those generational stereotype charts. It’s like okay, if you’re Z you’re like this. If you’re Y you’re like this, if you’re X you’re like this, it has all of our characteristics, and here’s the music and here’s the event, because I think those reinforce stereotypes. I think it’s more — having conversations about workplace culture, what it is, and not making assumptions that because someone is a certain age, that they necessarily want more structure. There may be some people who do, and maybe some people who don’t. But I think the heart of it is having conversations and asking people and looking at people as individuals as opposed to generational clumps.
And I hate structure, I’m an older person who hates structure.
BRAD: And of course there are many different types of structure. Sometimes an unstructured workplace is indeed very structured below the surface. Question: In my business I have encountered clients who will give excuses along the lines of “I’m too old to learn new things” when we introduce technologies, as well as teammates won’t offer tech-based solutions because they have expected that response or received it from the client. What advice would you give for uncovering the reasoning behind these failings and for overcoming it?
JANINE: Well, and I think first we need to acknowledge, and understand, it’s ageism, and we need to be asking people like — and it’s obviously challenging. I’m a business owner. I get it. It’s a little bit challenging to ask your clients, “you’re ageist,” not helpful. But asking people why they believe that. Showing them the data. To me, and this goes back to whoever asked about the COVID-19 question, the other amazing thing that I think has happened with COVID-19 is we now know that people of all ages have learned how to use Zoom. And all of a sudden, like, we had a reason to do it. And regardless of age, people are learning new things. So it supports the research that shows older people, if there is a connection to why — will learn new things. And I also think that in this — I don’t think we’re knowing back to whatever normal was. And — I think having everything being technology enabled, and it’s simply going to be — I think you as a business owner can offer to clients, you know, this is a way for them to kind of stay connected, get their work done, whatever reason they’re looking for you for business solutions. But I think we need — all of us need to reject when people kind of throw stereotypes at us, we need to just go — and simply asking questions now, is this real, is this a stereotype, and having said that, somebody will say — well my uncle Fred refuses to use Zoom. The fact your uncle Fred refuses to do it has nothing to do with the number of people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who have all been using it over the last month, right?
BRAD: It’s an indicator of tokenism. And mitigation strategy. Just ask a question. Spirit of inquiry. Is this an aging and biased thing, let’s unpack it before we move on. Back to your one-storm many boats comment and question from the panel. The visual of the same storm, different boats is spot-on. A 65-year-old Republican male and a 22-year-old Latino Democrat deserve the same protections and support and can equally contribute. How do we give everyone a seat on the best ship?
JANINE: That was so profound. Whoever that was, know that I’m stealing that line. I think we do it through all of the strategies, we can’t do any of it if we don’t acknowledge that ageism exists. And one of the things that was so profound to me about the frameworks research was that when they basically found that among the general public, people don’t think ageism is a thing. Which is why it’s so important when we’re talking about age, to talk about ageism, to explain and define what it is. So we need to start there by defining what ageism is, and then we need to — one of the things this is really important. We talked about this in reframing training. It’s not a good idea to compare ageism to sexism, and racism, or declare it’s a civil rights issue. Because what FrameWorks found is when we do that, people who experience sexism or racism say, it can’t possibly be as bad as that. Or it narrows people’s thinking to litigation, instead of having people think broadly, how do we change policy and practice to be more inclusive to all. If I look specifically even at the example, I think of the stereotypes we’re embodying in that. That the younger person is Latino and democrat. That the older person is — you know, male, 65, Republican, and I think we need to even challenge, even though we know there are percentages and with any stereotype there are always elements of it that are true, we need to — to me the bigger question is how do we ensure — how do we do a combination of policies — training on implicit bias, embedding it in our diversity, equity, and inclusion, and defining what do we think is a good workplace. What is a good workplace culture? What do we all want? In every place we taught, older people and younger people want flexible schedules. Older people and younger people want meaning and purpose in their jobs. Older people and younger people want to be fairly compensated. So if we can focus on “here are the things we have in common,” I think we’re going to get there. Maybe not by the end of this year, but —
BRAD: Well, the COVID world is shining new light on this topic, and I, for one am looking forward to more closely integrating the whole challenge of ageism and intersectionality within our work at NCWIT, our tools, our new Tech Inclusion Journey, and I’m also looking forward to addressing this topic on our new podcast, which is available wherever podcasts can be found. It’s called “Tech Culture Interrupted.” And Janine, perhaps you would consider being a guest to continue this conversation. I can’t think of a better way to end it than on your final comment there, and to everyone who stuck around for the informal question and answer, thank you, please feel free to reach out to Janine, or NCWIT independently after we close the session, and with that, have a great day, and thank you all.
JANINE: Thank you all, so fun, bye.