Putting Age To Work
By Karen and Erica
We founded Lustre because, as recently retired career women, we had suddenly become invisible. Our age became our defining characteristic. Our experience and perspectives were no longer valued in the workplace. How could that be? We have tested judgment. We can separate a fad from a cultural shift. And we know something about what the biggest market out there wants. Why would a workplace that claims to value diversity want to exclude us? Made no sense.
Tom Goodwin, a young marketing executive, said in his Linkedin post, Why I miss old people in the Workplace, that he doesn’t think it makes any sense either. From his perspective, one of the "worst things" about working today is that he doesn't have the pleasure of working alongside people like us.
It started to happen in the early 2000s--expensive, wise people that hadn’t grown up with Blackberries and expected long lunches and business class seats that didn’t get open plan offices, were slowly removed from the business. We didn’t notice it for quite some time because we were too busy playing with our new toys--the internet, the banner ad, the microsite, and the iPhone. We had rallying cries to get digital folk on the pitch team. We’d fly hapless 24-year-olds around the world to ensure we had the voice of youth on our team, but we abandoned the voice of context.
It’s now been such a long time that we’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to have someone in the room who objectively knows more. Who, while earning the big bucks (that it’s hard to explain to our clients) understands real clients’ issues, and who above all else can see the changes in business and marketing in the context of decades of what has happened before. These days we lazily assume that things have changed and their knowledge would be out of date now, what can we possibly learn from someone who may happen to have a 16 year old daughter, and therefore probably has a more intimate understanding of contemporary behavior than anyone.
Mr. Goodwin reminds us that if we have any shot at eliminating ageism in the workplace, it needs to be a team effort--not just a push, but a pull too. We can offer our services, but current workers and their bosses need to value and want them.
We should ask our children, who now make up a large part of the workforce, whether they will advocate for us. Is it important to them to have in their workplaces the kind of experience and wisdom that they get at home? At the same time, we need to promise them that we don’t want to take their jobs or take over their journeys. We are not competing. Our careers are over. But we do think we can contribute in a different way. Our kids know that we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom. They also know we have some.
Just as Mr. Goodwin misses old people, we miss him.