Field Notes: Deconstructing ageism in the workplace

January 27, 2020
  • Competencies
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Well-Being
  • ageism
young black woman and older white man looking at paperwork in office

"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Laura Remillard, Associate Director of Graduate Admissions, Stanford University

When I was in my twenties, I was so focused on getting a job right out of college, I didn’t think about the future in terms of where I would be working, or if I would still be working at this stage in my life. Now that years have gone by, I find myself still working; still being able to contribute something, and to my delight -- working with people who are my children’s ages. 

It’s a new working environment: older workers working side by side with younger workers -- Baby Boomers working with Millennials. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030, the first millennials will start turning 50, and the first gen Xers will turn 65. By the end of 2030, the first Baby Boomers will start to turn 85.

What does this all mean?

It means that in order for everyone to get along, it is important to get over the myths about older workers (and younger workers). Most Baby Boomers can remember the days before cell phones and computers, but it does not mean they are incapable of learning new technology. In fact, most know that in order to be productive, they need to learn and keep up with new technology. Older workers also have years of experience, maturity and institutional knowledge.  These are qualities that are priceless and irreplaceable. As cliché as it sounds, they do have the “been there, done that” under their belt and can share the highs and lows of their work history, and personal life.
 
I remember having lunch with some younger coworkers, and our conversation took on a philosophical tone and I ended up giving them some advice. I remember their expressions, how they listened intently to what I was saying. It meant so much to me when at a future time, one of them repeated what I had said and how she took to heart my counsel about regrets. 
 
Moreover, older workers can learn from their younger coworkers. Certainly, younger workers can encourage older workers to embrace diversity, learn new technologies, and have a more collaborative mindset. Most importantly, younger workers can motivate older workers to keep being inspired by ideas and continue to grow. 
 
Keeping an open mind and not focusing on the age, but the person as a contributor, will go a long way for an organization. Studies have shown that when employees – diverse in all areas including age – can work and engage with one another, there is a higher output and healthier work environment.