Women Share Their Experiences of Ageism in the Workplace—and How They Handled It
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When Linda Williamson's children were young, she worked as a freelance writer as a means to stay home with her kids while also continuing to build her skills and network. However, when she began applying for full-time staff writer positions years later, she had difficulty landing an opportunity, even with an impressive resume under her belt. The reason? Employers claimed to be in search of recent graduates. "When I did land a staff writer job, I watched younger, childless reporters with fewer bona fides given job opportunities I could have only dreamed of," she says. "Basically, I believe the perception was that because I was about ten years older than most of my colleagues, I must have screwed up somewhere along the way to be so far behind them in my career path."
Williamson's experience with ageism, or the discrimination against a particular age group, is not an isolated experience when it comes to women in the workplace. According to a trend brief by Catalyst, reports show that while job searching, older women will face more rejections than older men. Furthermore, it's been reported that women under 45 are more likely to be called back for a second interview.
We spoke with professional women to learn how ageism impacted their careers and what advice they have for others facing similar challenges. Here are their stories and their very best tips for getting ahead.
Celebrate Your Experience
Ashley Orfus was 24 years old when she launched ALAB Group, a communications and marketing business. Initially, she took on meetings with senior male executives, many of whom believed in corporate and traditional values. "Despite being equipped with valuable expertise, and corporate industry experience, I dealt with a few challenges where my age was brought up at the business and negotiation table," she says. For women in similar situations, Orfus recommends focusing on your strengths and the value they bring to the table. "Don't be afraid to challenge the viewpoints of your audience and make a case for why they are considering you. I humbly believe that in the right settings, your ideas, perspective and what you bring to the table will ultimately shine," she says.
Williamson agrees, explaining that she wouldn't change her journey, which includes awards and stories in notable publications along the way. She says, "I would, however, wave any magic wand I could get my hands on to do away with the perception that if a woman has gone less than full speed on her career in order to be available to her children, that she has somehow missed the boat."
Let It Motivate You
As a seasoned plastic surgeon, Dr. Lisa Cassileth has seen her fair share of patients over the years. But when she was just getting started, her age impacted the trust her patients had in her skills. "When I was just out of training, about 32 years old, I set up shop as a young plastic surgeon. I was really high energy, and well-trained, and connected well with most patients," she says. "During a new patient consultation, they would often pause, and look at me, and say, 'but... how many of these have you done?' I would assure them I had done many, but I still lost out to the old guys sometimes."
Her advice? Keep the faith and show them what you've got. "For women in similar situations, I recommend showing your work when you are young," she says. "If I have a great result with a procedure, and a prospective client sees that result, they can more easily envision themselves as being your client. That way, your work speaks for itself."
When Lauryn Evarts Bosstick was bartending in her 20s, she would often tell her patrons, many of whom were in their 60s, about her dreams of becoming a blogger. "They did not take it seriously and I could tell that they didn't think anything would come out of it," she says, adding that they would laugh at the idea. Now, more than a decade later, Bosstick is the founder of The Skinny Confidential, a brand that includes a podcast, book, YouTube channel, and one million followers on Instagram. The moral of the story? According to Bosstick, "Ageism has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person making you feel like you're 'too young' to do anything of importance. Put your head down, do the work, hustle, and prove them wrong."
Ashley Judge, founder of AlwaysFits, recalls a moment in her career when she was 25 and her boss at the time called her into her office to share an article she said reminded her of Judge. "It was an article about how millennials are lazy, difficult to work with and lack the motivation to be successful," Judge says. "I've been CEO of my own company for over a decade. Imagine what I could have accomplished if I weren't such a lazy millennial."