As women in the digital marketing industry, we are often told, before even entering the industry, to prepare to combat discrimination in a male-dominated field. We’re told by fellow women in the industry to prepare to fight harder to advocate for ourselves, to be firm in asking for the compensation we deserve, and to navigate concepts like sexual harassment and maternity leave, and how they could uniquely impact our careers as women.
And when we enter the digital industry, we go in with eyes wide open regarding our genders. But, often we’re faced with something we hadn’t been preparing for: comments like “oh, you’re too young to understand that,” suggestions that we’re not prepared for difficult parts of the job, little nicknames like “cutie,” or “little one.”
Women over the age of 50 are no stranger to ageism in the workplace either, getting comments implying they’re unable to adapt to new technology, closed-minded, or their need to focus on their health. It’s almost like there’s no sweet spot for women: we’ll always have to navigate this intersection of ageism and sexism in the workplace.
As a generation that makes disproportionately less and gets laid-off more than generations before us, it’s time to start formulating responses now. Here are five things you can do to start pushing back on ageism in the workplace.
Frame your age as an advantage, not a disadvantage
As millennials who are newer to the work environment, often we’re met with leadership that fears the stereotypes of our age. We’re going to leave a new job in less than a year. Or that we’ll demand autonomy or leadership titles before we’ve learned the basics.
What is often overlooked are the many perks of hiring millennials: our fluency in all things technology, our fresh perspectives, and our eagerness to learn more and soak up knowledge. Use your stereotype to your advantage throughout the hiring process and beyond. Emphasize your digital skill and showcase your excitement to learn the processes they already have in place.
As women over the age of 50, leadership expects you to be more expensive and less adaptable than millennials. But, you have something unmatchable in your corner: your experience. Whatever happens, you’ve done it before. Whatever odd request the client has or whatever shocking comment someone makes, it’s something you’ve mastered already. There’s no need to teach you how to write a proper email or how to nurture a relationship with a client, you have it down already.
No matter what, the stereotype that comes before you stinks, and that stinks. Learning to turn the your stereotypes into positives is a great way to get your foot in the door and prove you are more than your stereotype.
Stay on the cutting-edge
Whether you’re seen as too young or too old for the industry, there’s one thing that never changes: you need to keep up with the fast-paced evolution of the workplace. This industry isn’t one to stay stuck in a process or software for 20 plus years like other industries might. In order to succeed, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the hot, new software, processes, and trends.
But how do you do this? Well, you can start by checking in with the news to see if there’s anything notable that will affect your day-to-day work. You can also check out some industry-specific blogs to get a point-of-view that will be more tailored to your work. Or, you can stick with plain and simple person-to-person contact! Grab some coworkers for five minutes in the morning and start a conversation about what updates they’re hearing about in your field. Either way, making at least an effort to stay in-the-know about up-and-coming changes will start to break down those stereotypes (e.g., laziness for millennials, technology ineptness for baby boomers and Gen X) and keep your ideas fresh.
There’s nothing more powerful than a strong network. According to a study conducted by the Adler Group, 85 percent of jobs were filled in 2015 and 2016 with the help networking. That means, your cover letter, your resume, and your portfolio won’t carry as much weight on their own as a personal recommendation from someone in your network.
So, make sure there are people in your network who are more than willing to advocate for you when it comes time to find a new job or some new clients. Having someone who is trusted by the company they work for advocating for your integrity and your work ethic—especially if they are in a different age group than you—will help you get your foot in the door and start breaking down those stereotypes right away.
Stand up and say something
When someone makes microaggressive comments about someone’s age, be it your own or a coworker’s, it’s okay to recognize they most likely don’t mean it maliciously, while at the same time calling in (instead of calling out) the person who made the comment. You can do this as directly or indirectly as you feel comfortable, whether you’re calling it to attention quickly then moving on, pulling that person aside to have a conversation, or, a Minnesotan favorite, cushioning a response with a joke or a laugh. Give that person credit where it’s due, but help them understand why what they said was hurtful and demeaning.
Advocate for and empower each other
Just as much as you want others to advocate for you, it’s important to advocate for women you work with and women in your network. Recognize the strengths of the women around you, and encourage them to harness those strengths and celebrate them. Work hard to unlearn your biases toward women in different age groups and fight to not allow your preconceived notions about different generations get in the way of empowering each other. There’s nothing more isolating than feeling alone in your struggle and nothing more comforting than having someone advocate for you. Advocating for the strengths of women around you will transcend age stereotypes and leave room to celebrate women on an individual level.
/written by Nora Allen
/image by Toa Heftiba