The Incredible Disappearing Woman: Lessons on Dealing With Ageism From Mollie Katzen
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The Incredible Disappearing Woman: Lessons on Dealing With Ageism From Mollie Katzen

Are you of “a certain age” yet?

Have you heard that Sixty is the new Forty? And Seventy the new Fifty? Sounds appealing until you fully realize the implications.

Although women are more engaged and successful than ever (remember today’s International Women’s Day), the woman in the mirror might not have much to say about the fact that her image is likely to disappear right before her eyes – just as she’s reaching the pinnacle of her career.

In a “visual culture” like ours, where youth and beauty are often valued more than experience and “foundation,” many women find that they eventually cease to exist.

A notable observation by Australian researcher and psychologist Dr. Lauren Rosewarne refers to the fact that society renders women of “a certain age” invisible and unattractive, i.e. synonymous with a failure to contribute meaningfully to society.

Short of throwing in the towel just after you celebrate your 40th or 50th birthday, what steps can you take to stay relevant, visible and empowered in your career and in your business?

Chef/author Mollie Katzen has managed to buck the trend, primarily because she is in a field where, she says, “women are not only allowed to age but where age is seen as an enhancement to credibility.” Think Julia Child, Alice Waters, Marcella Hazen, etc.

This on Mollie from her website:

Mollie Katzen, with over 6 million books in print, is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. A 2007 inductee into the prestigious James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, and largely credited with moving healthful vegetarian food from the “fringe” to the center of the American dinner plate, Ms. Katzen has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat.” An award-winning illustrator and designer as well as best-selling cookbook author and popular public speaker, Mollie Katzen is best known as the creator of the groundbreaking classics Moosewood Cookbook, and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

However, it’s not just a matter of the field you choose; it’s also important to devise a strategy that ensures that you continue to matter.

Stay centered in your “standard.”

Mollie attributes her longevity to a commitment to “serving others,” i.e. anticipating what people need and then providing that.

“I see myself as reaching out and picturing my audience in their own kitchens, on their own budgets trying to balance work, family and home. I think and wonder a lot about my readers  [think: customer]; it’s not about me, I just want to help.”

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Buck societal aversion to age by avoiding dogma and overcoming prejudice. Continue to evolve your business in new ways that positions you for longevity.

For Mollie, what’s worked is embracing objectivity and tools that have allowed her to create recipes [think: services] that she believes benefit others.

In other words, cater to, anticipate and be inclusive of your customers’ tastes regularly.

Leverage your power to empower.

“Women age better in the food field than in other fields,” says Mollie.

Are you in a field where age is not as important? The more that women are able to embrace their age, play up their strengths and share their wisdom, the likelier it is that the universe of older women will be empowered and enabled.

Look in the mirror…often.

What do you see? “I was greatly helped by Gloria Steinem’s famous quote when told she didn’t look 40,” Mollie explains.

The quote: This is what 40 looks like. This, Steinem repeats every decade.

Dramatic social change takes time. To truly overcome ageism in the workplace, women need to overcome their own insecurities about age, support older, age-peer role models in authority roles and challenge dogma.

More from:

Liz Scherer 2009-09-11 at 18.03 #2-1

Graphic, Taiga, used within Dreamstime distribution rights purchased by Liz Scherer

Regular contributor Liz Scherer is a digital writer and consultant specializing in health/medicine/wellness. She produces Flashfree which brings her closer to her goal to engage, entertain and provide women in midlife with the tools to make informed decisions about their health. In addition to her blog, you can find Liz on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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  1. Ageism can work both ways. The expertise and contributions of people who are younger than 40 can also be discounted. However, it is more commonly associated with people over 40 years old, so much so, that there was legislation passed against it. Unfortunately, I have found that ageism is rampant, but particularly so in the fields of public relations, advertising, and social media, where I and my 40+ colleagues encounter it on a fairly regular basis.

    Ageist remarks and policies can be difficult to detect, particularly if people are not sensitive to age as legitimate (and desirable) difference.

    Here are some examples that come to mind, although there are many more…

    • An HR recruiter is frustrated because digital and PR agencies reject her candidates for being “too experienced” or “too senior” for positions for which they are qualified. (These terms are commonly used in age discrimination in hiring).
    • In a PR volunteer organization meeting, a woman proposed inviting Diane Rehm as a guest speaker for a signature event. The chairman of the event rejected the suggestion, joking that the noted media personality was too old.
    • A successful advertising executive who had managed important national accounts is let go when he reached age 50.
    • A 20-something speaker on a social media panel made the analogy to an audience of primarily under 40 y.o. participants (but including several 40-60 year old participants) that companies that didn't use social media appropriately were like “creepy old men” who tried to fit in at a night club.
    • The 20-something president of a social media organization refers to something she doesn't like as “retarded,” apparently oblivious that older women with families in her audience may have children, including children with cognitive disabilities.
    • The younger, childless planners of PR and social media events routinely schedule professional development events at 8:00 a.m. in the morning, when professional women with school-age children are taking their children to school or bus stops, thereby effectively excluding professionals who happen to parents from participating.

    I think it bears discussion: why would a professional make an ageist remark? Why would a company institute an ageist policy?

    There are many reasons.

    • Ageism is still accepted as okay in our society. People who would never dream of dropping a racist or sexist remark in networking situations, will freely (and unconsciously) make ageist remarks.
    • PR, advertising, and digital are highly competitive fields. There are far more people who want jobs than positions are available. In a competitive environment, it's common for people to disparage the attributes, experience or skills of others in order to appear more capable themselves, especially if they feel threatened by someone who appears more experienced. You will see this type of behavior in business graduate programs, for example, where minority students and female students are on the receiving end of subtle (or not so subtle) racist remarks or exclusion. It's easy to detect when it's sexism or racism; less so when it's ageism. It's just, unfortunately, how some people and groups operate under stressful conditions.
    • Birds of a feather flock together. It is natural to associate with people who are in the same life stage as yourself. After age 40, these differences between generations are less acute, because people age 40 and up share common life experiences (marriage, bearing and raising children, the loss of a parent, owning a home, starting a business, etc.) People who are over age 40 can relate to people in their 20s and 30s because they have experienced those life stage events themselves (college, first apartments, first jobs, etc.) but the reverse is not true. Much is said about adapting to Millenials in the workplace, but you don't often hear about the need for Millenials to try and understand people older than themselves.
    • For some younger people, I think older people represent something too close to their fears. In our society, people commonly fear becoming old. Also, people in their early to late twenties are often still at the point where they are separating — emotionally and financially — from their parents. So they may feel uncomfortable interacting with a person that is an older generation in professional situations (such as a subordinate or peer), because of this internal struggle (whereas a person in their 40s does not typically have the equivalent reluctance to engage with someone who is twenty years older, for example.)
    • Companies, unfortunately, have a lot to gain by practicing ageism. Although older professionals bring much needed experience to a business or organization, they are more expensive for companies. They tend to have families, so they use more costly benefits, and require reasonable amounts of leave, and can't travel as much or work extended hours, or socialize after work. Their salaries are often higher. Some companies will let go people to avoid paying their retirement benefits. Younger people are less expensive to hire, are more willing to accept less than desirable work conditions and lower pay to obtain needed experience, and are easier to let go, and usually have fewer life circumstances that may interfere with work. I think the worst example of this is how many nonprofit organizations and PR companies exploit young interns, often not paying them at all, or using them to replace jobs which should be filled by regular employees (both practices violate the Fair Labor Standards Act).
    • There is also the popular conceptions that older people are less skilled in social media, IT and other desirable skills. I have read that ageism is particularly problematic in IT, with some companies refusing to hire anyone over age 35! However, personally, I have not found it to be true that older people do not know how to use social media, or acquire new skills. Some of the people I know who are the best expert users of social media are over age 50. I have taught several Millenials how to use social media, myself.

    How can ageism be overcome, particularly in these fields? I think professionals, networking organizations, and companies should thoughtfully approach how they speak and present themselves, and examine their perceptions. Just as we would be sensitive to create an environment that is inclusive of people of different backgrounds, genders, and orientation, we must also create that setting for people who are older than forty.

  2. most are use this site and i think there are more tips!

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