Discrimination in the Workplace & Jeans
I found out recently that I’m too old to wear jeans. I’m 54 and, according to a new survey out of England, I should have stopped wearing them last year. It’s not that middle-aged people like me don’t look good in jeans anymore, the survey report assures us; it’s because we can’t handle the stress of searching for the right pair. Perhaps I’m unique, but I don’t get stressed out shopping for clothes.
Are the British so fragile that having to try on numerous pairs of jeans is too much for them to handle? Or, are people 53 and older being discouraged from wearing jeans because the 18-24-year old survey respondents think they’re too old to wear them? I’m willing to bet it’s the “too old” thing.
Disdain for one’s elders, whether it’s because of wearing jeans or not, is nothing new. In her article “Why young people need to look at older people differently,” Lauren Stiller Rikleen says that, “Throughout history, elders in the community were treated with respect, revered as wise sources of advice resulting from their life experiences.” Yeah, we’d like to think that.
However, A.J. Jacobs disagrees with that sentiment. In his article “Coming of age,” Jacobs says that, “In the good old days, it wasn’t so good to be old” and provides a number of examples of how being old was frequently not in one’s best interest. Here’s one: in 19th-century England, many old people were put into workhouses and forced to labor for free. Says Jacobs, “You were essentially put in jail for overstaying your welcome.” Maybe resentment toward old people is in their DNA and explains why young Brits are against middle-aged jean-wearers.
Perhaps Rikleen meant that elders used to be treated with respect in America. If that were true, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 probably wouldn’t have been necessary. The act prohibits employers from making employment decisions about applicants and employees (such as hiring, promoting, firing, etc.) because of being 40 or older (I guess 40 was considered to be old in 1967). However, age discrimination continues to happen. It’s a more prevalent issue now because people are staying at work far longer than they did historically. And, it’s a more prevalent issue for women than men.
In a different article by Rikleen called “Older women are being forced out of the workforce,” she says that she travelled the U.S. for the past five years and heard hundreds of stories from women in their 50s and 60s about their demotions, job losses, and inability to find other jobs, which they attributed to their age and gender. “These women often have long histories of career success, but they have seen their responsibilities assigned to younger workers, their compensation lowered for inexplicable reasons, and their career mobility impaired by a workplace that seems to value youth over experience,” according to Rikleen.
Gerald Metals, a commodities trading company in Connecticut, is being accused of doing just that. The company recently fired its 61-year-old female general counsel, who immediately filed suit for age and gender bias. In her article, “Older women have it rough!” Patti C. Perez says that plaintiff Roxanne Khazarian claims the company has a “good ol’ boy” network and a new male CEO who is “dedicated to lowering the age of employees by 15 years.” Additionally, the CEO allegedly gave raises and bonuses to younger employees, but not older employees; provided younger, prettier women with better pay, bonuses, and flexible work schedules; and prevented employees from discussing compensation so the pay inequities would not be discovered. The suit also alleges retaliation because Khazarian was fired after she complained about the situation.
Perhaps the younger employees were out-performing the older employees, which is a good business reason for providing them with raises and bonuses. And perhaps the flexible schedules for younger women was because of accommodating their pregnancies or other medical leaves, which is required by law. However, employers don’t get to prevent employees from discussing their pay, nor do they get to fire people because they complain about perceived discrimination.
A law against age discrimination is nice, and the older I get the more I appreciate it. However, the law is not enough to make discrimination go away. The point Rikleen is trying to make in the first of her articles that I cited above is that, because of today’s glorification of youth, younger people now tend to “perpetuate stereotyped notions of a person’s value based, in large measure, on age.” The only way age discrimination will cease is when the young value the old for what they can contribute instead of the way they look.
I’m going shopping to buy a new pair of jeans now that I’m done here. Just my little way of contributing to the cause.