Aging seems to be on everyone’s mind. Commercials extoll the benefits of creams and serums that will prevent the signs of it from showing on faces. Plastic surgery can erase years by removing eye wrinkles, make one thinner, create high cheeks – even make one taller. Hollywood produces movie after movie pitting one generation against another. Reality shows depict actors in this same industry struggling to keep up with age-defying beauty standards. The topic is aging is everywhere, which is understandable given that it’s an inevitable part of human life.
However, in my field of human resources management I see the ugly repercussions of this preoccupation with aging. Ageism, the practice of age discrimination, is rampant in American culture. When searching for employment, I see older candidates both consciously and unconsciously discriminated against by employers. Unless job seekers fit a fit a pre-conceived physical profile targeted by a recruiter, odds are they are not going to get to the second round of interviews – much less get an offer.
My mission in life is to find meaningful long-term employment for victims of domestic violence as a tool to break the cycle of abuse. Through my non-profit, Second Chance Employment Services, I see the impact of age discrimination every day. I wish I could easily reject the beauty and age standards that society sets for successful people, especially women, but I’m in the business of helping women. I must work within this hiring environment now to help my clients, but I hope that by calling attention to the problem of ageism,we can begin to change the culture surrounding it.
For any doubters of the rise of ageism in America one only needs to look to Hollywood for examples. Recently, a group of actors filed a suit claiming posting their age on the Internet hurt their career. The California legislature passed a bill in September 2016 requiring websites to remove the posted age of actors if requested to do so. The Cable series “Younger” is about a woman 40 years old seeking employment, but not being able to get past the 20-something interviewers. So Liza, the main character, changes the dates on her resume, the clothing she wears, her facial appearance, and poses as a young professional in her mid 20’s and lands the employment and life she desires. This series’ large viewing audience shows a broad identification in the US with this type of employment-related discrimination.
In the work of my organization, I've seen how critical looks can be to a battered woman's success in obtaining a job and staying in that position long-term. Clients usually come to us by way of referral from women’s shelters, outreach programs, or friends. We work with the clients to discover what skills and talents they have and help them develop resumes and job applications. We help them with every phase of the job search process, with the hopes that a stable job will grant them the financial independence to permanently escape their abuser’s control.
This careful and individualized process sometimes increasingly involves making changes to their physical appearance as well, which is often damaged as a result of the abuse they have suffered. With older clients, however, I’ve found that we’ve had to go a step further. One past client was in her late fifties, we can call her Cindy, and we worked with her for about four months to find employment with no success (this timeline is usually long for our clients). Cindy was very distressed and felt like there was nothing left for her. Finally, we thought to suggest a makeover. We brought her to Benjamin Duboeuf and Katy Duboeuf, currently at David Rios Salon, a frequent help to our clients, in the chic Georgetown neighborhood of DC, and he graciously gave her a fabulous haircut and Katy changed Cindy’s hair color, as she put it, better suited Cindy’s skin tone. With just that change, she appeared much more youthful and vibrant. Soon after the change, Cindy was able to secure a job. Given that none of her qualifications had changed, nor her personality, we at Second Chance Employment Services very much believed it was her new appearance that gave her that final edge.
Other clients have had similar experiences. Patricia (a changed name) was in her mid-sixties when the financial troubles of 2008 robbed her of her job before she could reach her retirement. She, like all of my clients, was a victim of violence and had lost all hope. Patricia’s abuse and age resulted in teeth issues, which we helped her to fix thanks to the generosity of Dr. Claudia Cotca. However, her job interviews still weren’t going well, even with Patricia’s sterling career experience and education credentials! We changed her resume to reflect a younger worker, removing about 20 years of experience while moving pertinent skills forward; we struck the dates from her education so her age could not be calculated; changed her clothing and haircut to reflect a seasoned worker in her early 40s. The results were astounding! When a single interview could not be found, she now received three interviews over a 2-week period. She landed a high paying job with full benefits.
Patricia, Cindy, and so many others have shown me the nasty side of our society’s preoccupation with youth and beauty. We were happy to help them with their appearances because it meant finding employment and changing their lives. But an emphasis on looks is an expensive, time-consuming, and discriminatory exercise. I just cannot emphasize how futile it seems – everyone ages every day! In this situation, women cannot win either way. If they look their age, they’re discriminated against and if they attempt to keep up with today’s unrealistic beauty standards, they’re derided as vain or wasteful. Ageism and sexism should have no place in any society.
As long as a person is strong in health and well-being, they can function in any position (assuming they have the work experience to back it up). Age and appearance should not present a barrier to anyone, and we should strive to create a society where these factors are not a focus. There are no limitations to what we can achieve – at any age. www.scesnet.org or www.ludygreen.com