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The Middle Age Divide

Ageism in the workplace is nothing new but, unlike other forms of prejudice, it is one that is rarely acknowledged by firms or hiring managers. As DEI offices proliferate, policies surrounding issues of color, sex, gender, and ethnicity are necessarily checked. Why, then, is it still acceptable to reason away ageism as acceptable? Older adults are politely placated as "overqualified," "too expensive," or "untrainable." For the first time since the 1970s, Americans over 55 faced higher unemployment than mid-career workers (35-54,) as well as slower post-recession recovery. With this trend, we have also seen larger unemployment gaps in older workers.

While the reality of hiring difficulty sets in, it can be compounded for women at a particularly frustrating time. Many women cultivate careers while parenting young children, or assisting aging parents. More often than their male counterparts, women sacrifice opportunities at mobility and advancement for the sake of their family. Now in their early 50s, just as children leave the home and careers grow stagnant, these same women envision following long-postponed dreams of professional renewal. Ironically, it is at the same time that industry regards Gen-Xers as less desirable assets. The discrepancy in how women view themselves in terms of youth and capability is in stark contrast to the way they are viewed by hiring managers.

Barriers cited by middle-aged job seekers include a perception that they are less tech-savvy, that they are incapable of working under someone younger, and that they do not understand social media. As one middle-aged job seeker put it, "I finally get to lift my head up and leave my job of 20 years. I've lived through at least 10 major software changes with complicated systems but, somehow, I still have to convince people that I have the agility to pick up new skills." Furthermore, if someone has spent decades at the same institution, it is likely that they are already used to working alongside younger colleagues who transition to new companies at a higher rate. And finally, in terms of social media, Gen-X'ers may not be spending time on SnapChat, but their wide presence on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and even TicToc is evidence of their facility with social media as a marketing platform.

What can a woman in her 50s do to improve her job prospects? Don’t apply to positions by simply filling out an on-line application and attaching a resumé. Seek out informational interviews, lots of them. Make connections and network, network, network. Let people know that you are looking to make a transition and formulate an elevator pitch. Not only will this cement your decision to move but it will also create buzz to widen referrals. Have a few great resumés on hand so you can send them off if asked. Start blogging, cultivate a professional presence on-line and link your sites to your resumé. The bottom line is that it is incumbent upon you to prove the skeptics wrong.


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