9 executive presence practices that arm you against ageism at work

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A 54-year-old worker who lost his job in 2008 at the beginning of the Great Recession is now 65 years old. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the average unemployment duration for a 54-year-old at that time was almost a year, and it may have taken that person two or three years to find a new job. Further, that new job may not have been on a par with the one she had before. To make up for that financial loss, she will likely need to work longer than originally planned.

Now consider a 54-year-old worker who loses his job in today’s economy. Today, jobs are more plentiful and conditions are more favorable compared to 10 years ago. But, there is one constant for today’s 54-year-old – age discrimination.


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The Bureau of Labor and Statistics sites three findings from a recent study on ageism in the workplace that aren’t good. The statistical evidence on 40,000 job applicants for more than 13,000 job positions in 12 cities spread across 11 states shows that there is age discrimination in hiring—discrimination against both women and men.

Older applicants—those 64 to 66 years of age—experience more age discrimination than middle-age applicants ages 49 to 51. Women—especially older women, but even those of middle age—experience more age discrimination in hiring than men do.

Policymakers have attempted to boost the labor supply of older workers but these measures hurt the worker who has been laid off in her 50s.

Policies center around reforming the Social Security program: reducing benefits for those who retire as early as age 62 or at any time before reaching full retirement age; increasing the full retirement age; and taxing Social Security benefits at a lower rate, for both those who continue working while receiving benefits and those who retire and receive benefits (a double-edged sword in that, at the same time, that it will induce some older workers to keep working, it will encourage others to retire and receive the lower taxed benefits).

But age discrimination in hiring has the potential to thwart all these reforms.

It is increasingly difficult to prove age discrimination so the best point of defense is to remove it as an issue from the hiring manager’s perspective by being focused on your value proposition not your age. This takes mindful focus on your signature strengths and active positivity. It demands a shift in your mindset if you want to convey a presence that will shift theirs.

1. Be the part.

Develop daily routines that keep you in good shape. Dress sharply. Study contemporary magazines to notice what looks are trending at work. Like it or not image matters. When you are in good shape you have a great presence that shows confidence. Show that you understand discipline and structure by how you take care of yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Do yoga. Meditate. Pray. Walk. Read material that inspires you every day. Develop mindful practices that keep you grounded.

Other people are less apt to care about you if they think you don’t think highly enough of yourself to take care of yourself. Your appearance gives a first and lasting impression.

2. Network with people outside your age group

Who will you develop a relationship with from each of the many generations that are in the workforce today? How will you do that? Join associations. Spend time in new places. Attend professional meetings. Go to networking events and MeetUp groups.

  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 – TBD
  • Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 – 1995
  • Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964
  • Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born 1945 and before

3. Seek to work on things that are

Measurable; Not easily transferable; New and different and Hold a high learning curve. This includes relationship building, specific expertise, soft skills, negotiating, inspiring, leadership, strategic ability. If you aren’t, do so. If that means leaving the company or transferring to a different role – consider it before they can replace you with someone younger at half the cost.

4. Work for a company that LIVES the values that hang on the wall.

Define YOUR values. Research companies that actively employ and promote people of all age groups. Ask about this among your friends and social networks.

5. Make time to mentor others.

Share your expertise. Counsel people. Have an open door. Be the person no one wants to see let go.

6. Have a response ready for when the interviewer says, “You’re overqualified.”

“I’ve spent my career with the pressures of corporate America. At this point, I am excited to find a role where I can put my expertise to work to actually accomplish something without the extrinsic noise.”

7. Define your signature strengths and be able to speak to how you use them to create measurable results.

Those results should have numbers in them – increased sales 8% in the first year, decreased costs 9%. Ask your friends and colleagues to define your strengths.

Go online and take free strengths assessments. Build your self-awareness so you can be in a role that aligns with your talents.

8. Write down three people over the age of 55 who you admire.

Then list what you observe about them that draws you to them. How will you emulate them? What is it about their executive presence that intrigues you? Continue to observe the presence – body image, tone of voice, carriage, when and how they speak – of leaders you like.

9. Separate your lifelong career accomplishments from any limiting instance at hand.

Nothing negates all that you have done. Make a list of all that you are grateful for. No one can take that away from you.

For a worksheet on 10 Tips to Develop Your Executive Presence Plan Against Ageism, click here.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be calmer and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at www.MaryLeeGannon.com.


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