Ageism an Evolving Metaphor


“Ageism”, being an “ism”, means that it is a matter of subjective thought. The implication: Ageism is a matter of perception, which as an employee or job candidate, you have some level of control. Historically, those most concerned were largely those in their 50s. Now we have the millennials; who are known to place quality of life ahead of work achievement. Ageism is now a metaphor, which is multi-dimensional and evolving. With better healthcare, many in their 50s are performing at the same level as those in the past did when they were in their 40s. While ageism is known to affect organizational hiring practices, you as an employee or job candidate have more control as to how you’re perceived now than ever before. Thus, this publication deals with matters which are under your control to mitigate the risk of ageism’s impact on your performance ratings or job candidacy.

candidate_ageism_perceptionInterestingly, and topical, is the age of the current US presidential candidates, one is 68, and the other is 70. Both candidates are old enough to get full US social security benefits, so how is it possible for both of these individuals to have, seemly, a “free pass” as it relates to ageism? Another example is the median age of Fortune 500 CEOs, which is 55. Their stories can uncover some of the secrets to avoiding age discrimination’s impact. Top of mind for all of these individuals is their presence (stature within a room) and unique qualifications. The totality of these traits, when packaged together, generates confidence and trust with the governed, shareholders and employers alike. Regardless of you being an individual contributor, manager or executive, these same traits are your individual free passes to avoid ageism’s impact on your career.

Unique Qualifications

If you are an individual with technical skills, is your current technical skillset ahead of others? If you’re a manager, do your demonstrated management skills reflect that of being equal or ahead of others? If you are an individual who works in business operations, does your operational performance reflect that of being at or ahead of others? How have you performed in your current or previous role? When you have strong, up-to-date qualifications and are performing exceeding well in your role, matters related to ageism self-resolve. You can continue to demonstrate your unique qualifications to an organization to ensure they’re aware of your unique value proposition (what makes you stand out amongst other candidates of all ages). As with presidential candidates and CEOs, age reflects that of an evolving differentiated skillset, which can only be acquired with age. Has your experience through age had the same differentiating effect?


In the US, as well as in many other developed countries, a third of the population is obese. We all face this, among many optical matters. For example, I find that my full head of hair has seemingly disappeared overnight. As there is often little we can do to control our genes, you still have to self-assess. A great tailor can make you look your absolute best. Own your physical presence, and make it the best that you are able to make it.

During the course of your day, other’s perceived presence captures your attention. Some seem constantly tired, others seem to be constantly unhappy, and others seem energetic and ready for each new day. There are also those who present themselves in such a neutral manner, that you take no note of them at all. Luckily, few of us ever have to present ourselves as presidential. However you do need to present yourself in a manner where current or future employers find you fresh and competent.

Don't Be a Helpless Victim

Even though it’s clear that active ageism still occurs today, you as a candidate should not approach a job interview with the assumption that your candidacy will be discarded due to age. If you bring this referential mindset to the interview, you will often lead yourself to a self-fulfilling prophesy.

In contrast, if you own your presence and unique qualifications, you’ll present yourself as the best candidate for the job. Candidates, especially in those in their 50s and beyond, far too often use age discrimination as an excuse as to why they are not being hired for positions. Certainly this excuse is far easier than facing yourself in the mirror and realizing that you may not have kept your personal appearance up to date; or let your referential skillset lapse into irrelevance; or no longer pay attention to your personal performance in recent years.

If you feel you have fallen victim to age discrimination, prior to heading to an attorney’s office for relief, consider that age discrimination is not a terminal condition, but rather one which is quite curative, based upon ones willingness to self-reflect on the topics above. Ageism is more of a state of mind than a number on an application for employment. Certainly, as one ages, more attention is paid to physical age, as it has long been viewed as an indicator of expected future performance. Prove you're a top performer and the likelihood of being faced with active age discrimination diminishes materially.


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About the author

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Alan RoyalAlan Royal has led large and complex IT and operations functions – as Chief Information Officer and, often in parallel, Chief Operations Officer – to deliver complex global projects across borders for companies like New York Life, AIG, and Manulife. He was the first foreigner ever appointed as an executive officer of a Vietnam State Owned Company, and in this role led the IT Transformation of the State Owned Financial Service Conglomerate Bao Viet Holdings. He collaborated with McQuarie University, Australia, to create an innovative set of management practices enabling better assimilation and performance of executives in trans-national companies sent to emerging markets. He is a regular contributor to BlueSteps’ Executive Career Insider, as well as Meettheboss.tv; and was featured in Harvard Business Review Online. Find out more: www.alanroyal.com.

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