How you can fight ageism at work, in life

Ageism - discrimination based on a person's age - is all around us. Exhibit A is President Biden, who will be the oldest presidential candidate in history when the 2024 election rolls around. Most of the people who say he shouldn't run again cite his age as their main concern - and that's ageism. At this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, in response, Joe rolled out “Dark Brandon,” a sort of Joe Cool character sporting dark aviators and a sharp tongue.

The term ageism was coined in 1968, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, to describe systematic discrimination against older people. These days, you can also find references to “reverse ageism,” meaning someone is discriminated against because they're too young, too inexperienced, even too tattooed.

In the workplace, age discrimination is illegal under the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The ADEA makes it unlawful to discriminate against any individual age 40 or older because of their age when it comes to recruitment, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments or training.

That doesn't mean, however, that ageism in the workplace is obsolete. A few signs of ageism include:

 Exclusion from a group

 Being passed over for promotions or raises

 Being laid off or forced to retire

 Negative comments about your age

 Having your input or ideas ignored or dismissed

 Losing out on benefits such as paid time off

 Not having access to learning opportunities

Ageism can be blatant but it also can be subtle and difficult to prove. You were passed over for a promotion, but was that because of your age or your performance? Studies indicate that women and people of color are more frequently the targets of age discrimination. Lawsuits are difficult to win because it's necessary to prove that age was the deciding factor (not just a motivating factor) in an employer's action.

So while the law may be on your side, you can't rely on the outcome. Just as we have to learn to advocate for ourselves in health care settings, we have to advocate for ourselves when it comes to age-based discrimination.

Here are some ways you can make a stand against ageism:

<h3 class="leadin">Don't self-inflict

Every time you say you had a “senior moment” or pass on an activity because “I'm just too old,” you're buying into the ageism scenario. If you don't want to take up skydiving, fine, but could it be for some other reason (like being afraid to jump out of an airplane!) rather than being too old?

<h3 class="leadin">Reject stereotypes

TV, movies and advertising are full of ageist stereotypes that typically fall into one or more of these categories: Old people can't handle technology, old people are physically weak or old people lack mental sharpness. Are some of these things true some of the time? Absolutely. But we are all individuals and we vary in our strengths and abilities.

<h3 class="leadin">

Studies indicate women and people of color are more frequently the targets of age discrimination.

Embrace your age

When we change the way, we view beauty and aging, we can change the way the media and the beauty industry portray healthy maturation. All hair colors, skin colors, wrinkles and freckles are beautiful.

<h3 class="leadin">Interact with people of all ages

There's evidence that interactions with people from all generations improves perceptions of aging. Age-inclusive workplace training can also make a difference.

<h3 class="leadin">Speak up

Words matter. Our society has transitioned from a place of deference for previous generations to one of dismissal, even contempt. Do you sometimes feel like a health care provider is speaking to you like a 2-year-old? Do you hear people using words like “geezer” or “codger?” Call them out - courteously but firmly.

Our society is rife with examples of older Americans who are embracing the notion that age is just a number. (Martha Stewart, age 81, the oldest person to ever appear on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover!)

We have so many timely topics lined up for our June 16 Patient Advocacy Conference, but ageism, and how to overcome it, is one of the most timely. I hope you can join us on to learn more about navigating and combating ageism, along with other issues of aging.

Our speaker on ageism, Dr. Lydia Manning, is a social gerontologist who focuses on resilience, which you need a lot of when you are faced with someone who thinks you're just too old.

Teri Dreher, a registered nurse, is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( To learn more about patient advocacy, join Teri at the first Patient Advocacy Conference, being held June 16 at Abbington Distinctive Banquets in Glen Ellyn; visit for details. Daily Herald readers can also take advantage of a free 30-minute phone consultation with Teri. Call (847) 612-6684.

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