Not so long ago, if older workers muttered about age bias, many would write them off as probably not doing a good job any more. That was a different time.
Now, just about every constituency, ranging from public policy leaders to career experts, are taking those kinds of observations seriously. Gone is the happy talk that it’s not one’s age but one’s performance which determines employability and even upward mobility. Instead there is the admission that, you bet, there is a bias against aging professionals. The threshold for that begins at 40.
To use the cliché, call it a perfect storm. There are simply a lot of older professionals looking for work, mostly because they can’t afford to retire. Simultaneously, the brutal economy, along with downsizing in both the legal sector and financial services, has made it harder for all generations to get and keep jobs. The over-50 are competing directly with the under-40.
In addition, employers are reluctant to provide medical benefits to any generation, but especially to aging workers because of the greater probability of health problems. In 2012, no one over-50 is imagining being targeted for a layoff, being passed over for a promotion, or not being hired. The reality is that they are.
The beginning of the solution is recognizing that you are now in a separate category. Sure, it’s possible to go to the EEOC or file a lawsuit, but that takes years and bread has to be put on the table now. That’s step one: Embrace what is.
Step two is to decide whether to continue being an employee or to become an entrepreneur. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation documents that baby boomers have a high rate of self employment. That’s exactly why trade associations such as the New York City Bar Association (NYCBA) are doing so much to help those starting small businesses. For instance, the NYCBA recently distributed a white paper for solos and small firms on everything from how to unbundle services to pricing.
Step three is, for those remaining employees, to understand that they have to raise the bar on their game. It’s not an option to simply do your job. That’s one of the factors which leads to targeting. Someone half your age might be able to do that job at less than half the compensation. Instead, your performance has to exceed requirements, preferably in ways that are unexpected.
The role model here for raising the bar is Hillary Clinton. She keeps surprising with how she leverages her experience and skills. After losing out on her presidential campaign, she could have vanished. Clinton’s most recent success as U.S. Secretary of State bears out what research is showing.
That is, for the aging, everything, ranging from work to life itself, usually becomes binary. On the one hand, you can open yourselves up to newness. Those who do that frequently wind up thriving. Or on the other hand you can shut down, turn inward, and become bitter. Marie de Hennezel in “The Art of Growing Old” confirms that binary reality. There doesn’t seem to be anything in between.
Accept that your job is and will always be on the line
Decide if you are going to remain an employee or opt for self-employment
Open yourself to newness.
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Jane Genova is a contributing writer at the Wall Street Job Report.