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It started from a post on LinkedIn from author Brigette Hyacinth: “’He is ‘too old’ for this job,’ the HR manager said to me after we interviewed John (not his real name). John had been laid off by his previous employer due to restructuring at the age of 53 yrs. Ageism in the workplace is very real. I see uproars over every other “ism” (sexism, racism…etc) but everyone turns a blind eye to ageism.”
Brigette hired John in spite of the HR manager’s objections, and she wrote that John’s experience proved invaluable. It’s time, she said, to “stop discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.”
Her words resonated with my husband and me. We are both photographers and videographers, and we have experienced what it is like not to get an email reply, let alone an interview, even though our resumes showed our skills matched the desired qualifications. Fearing our age may be a factor, I suggested taking graduation dates off our resumes.
I posted Brigette’s story to my Facebook page and it struck a nerve. One man said he could get an interview, but once they saw him and his gray hair in person, he could tell they would not consider him seriously.
Our research in age discrimination led us to Ashton Applewhite, a Brooklyn, New York writer and activist fighting against ageism. She pointed us to a campaign called I, Too, Am Oxford that used photography to make an impactful visual statement about racism.
And that has led us to use our photography skills to illuminate the injustice of ageism, “the most socially condoned form of derogating someone based on social category,” as NYU professor Michael North puts it.
In October 2017, after posting ads on Craiglist and Facebook, we launched a website and a Twitter account called I, Too, Am Qualified. It features photographs and statements from people who have been victims of age discrimination. We urge you to visit and tell your story.
This Friday, Dec. 15., is the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Lyndon B Johnson signed the ADEA into law to protect people over 40 from unfair treatment by employers and to prevent bias due to age. But ageism continues to hurt older workers, their families and the economy.
The AARP reports in 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 20,857 charges of age discrimination. Age discrimination makes up more than 1 in 5 of the discrimination charges received by the EEOC. Many instances are subtle. A representative from the Denver field office of the EEOC, described to me the scenario of a manager approaching an older worker just before renewing his or her benefits package and asking if there were plans to retire soon. She called this the “gentle push.”
Ageism has no boundaries in terms of gender, race, religion or creed. It is, as Applewhite writes, “a prejudice that pits us against our future selves.”
When we take a look in the mirror we see maturity, professionalism, corporate knowledge and experience. We ARE qualified and the time has come to put corporate America on notice.
Nancy Fingerhood is a part-time photographer and writer based in Westminster. Michael Lindenberger is a full-time photographer for a Denver-based vintage auto dealership. Please visit https://itooamqualified.wordpress.com to learn more about the campaign and to share your stories. You can also follow us on Twitter.