The recent increase in unemployment has brought attention to age discrimination in the workplace. It is well known that older workers can face discrimination when applying for jobs. Common stereotypes are that older workers are out of touch with the latest technology, set in their ways, and more expensive in terms of salary and benefits. There are many strategies that an older worker can use to shift the focus away from age, or to use their age as an asset. These include positioning themselves as experienced candidates, formatting their resume as functional rather than chronological, and highlighting their flexibility and strong work ethic. What about younger workers? They also face stereotypes, such as being inexperienced, self-absorbed, slackers, and having an undeserved sense of entitlement. It stands to reason, then, that younger workers also face discrimination in the workplace. However, so-called reverse age discrimination has not received the same attention. And there does not seem to be the same empathy for the plight of young workers.
When it comes to your job, are you too old? Too young? Just right? According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADED) of 1967, there is no such thing as too young, and you are just right until you turn 40. That is when a person can be legally viewed as a victim of age discrimination by a Federal court. The Supreme Court recently upheld the ADED as a law that only applies when an older worker receives unfair treatment relative to a younger worker, demonstrating the general indifference to the complaints of younger workers, who are seen as just another 20-something complaining about something. So what can younger workers do to overcome reverse age discrimination?
Strategies for Younger Workers
Play into the positive stereotypes. In addition to negative stereotypes, young workers are also seen as being tech savvy, ambitious, innovative, and open to change. Highlight these attributes on your resume by including your work-related experience with the latest technology, or any ideas you had that were implemented at work. Come to the interview prepared to discuss examples that demonstrate your ambition and willingness to take on new challenges.
Reverse age discrimination is not an issue only during a job search. It can actually become more apparent after a young worker has already landed a job. They can be given below-average salaries (even after considering age, experience, etc.) or passed up for promotions. There are many people who simply don’t want to see a 20-something have a six-figure income or receive three promotions before they turn 30. This can be extremely frustrating for younger workers who have put in huge amounts of time, effort, and money, such as doctors and lawyers, to acquire the knowledge, skills, and experience that command high salaries.
Young workers who are trying to climb the ladder should avoid behaviors that erode professionalism in the workplace, i.e., starring at your phone and texting as you walk down the hall, to a meeting, to the lunch room, to the bathroom. If you want to be cautious, don’t use texting abbreviations or slang in office emails, even though some more common ones, like “lol”, have become more accepted. A colleague of mine recently used “totes” in an email to me. I had to Google what it meant. You don’t want your coworkers having to Google the latest lingo to interpret your emails. Most people appreciate a relaxed, informal work environment, but keep in mind that it is a work environment.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you tackle any form of discrimination, the reality is that the problem is not you – it’s the person doing the discriminating. So, the biggest challenge in overcoming reverse age discrimination may be realizing when you are fighting a losing battle and shifting your efforts toward identifying a better fit somewhere else. Currently, the Federal law is not on your side. For those younger workers, the best advice might be to look forward to the 10 years in your 30s when you are least likely to experience any type of age discrimination.
This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.